The most devastating consequence of spiritual abuse is a marred image of God.
If your church or pastor practices spiritual abuse, chances are that your view of God is filtered through twisted scriptures and an untrue characterization of what God is like. In these situations, your view of God probably looks a lot like how your pastor relates to you.
When I was in my Bible cult, I thought God loved to shame people, to publicly humiliate them, and to steal their joy. That was how my former pastor acted, and since my pastor claimed special wisdom from God and close relationship with him, I assumed that this was how God related to me as well. But it was just my pastor’s sin. It was a broken reflection.
While God is complex and balances justice with mercy, wrath with love, there are certain things he just doesn’t do. With that in mind, here is a list of 12 things that God doesn’t do or isn’t like:
1.) God Doesn’t Control – God is all-powerful but he gives human beings the freedom to make choices which genuinely make them responsible for their own behavior. God doesn’t create robots or zombies, he creates people who can think, choose, love, and believe or refuse to believe. God respects the decisions of his creatures by refusing to coerce them to do what he wants. This is freedom.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by a need to control?
2.) God Doesn’t Fear – God does not spend his time in heaven chewing his nails about the state of the world or whether or not you’ll follow him. Nor is he hiding under his throne. He is unafraid of the world and entered into it experientially through the person of Christ. Your mistakes, sins, and errors do not catch him off guard. God has a plan of salvation and nothing can thwart it: Everything dark he will either judge or redeem. He does not fear.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by fear of the world?
3.) God Does Not Promote Uniformity – God loves diversity as evidenced by the fantastic variety of creation, by the diversity of believers in the church, and by the future kingdom which God will fill with people from all peoples, tongues, and nations. At all times and in all places God promotes the beauty of diversity.
Question: Is your church or pastor obsessed with uniformity?
4.) God Is Not Legalistic – While orderly, God is never obsessive. Even in matters of the Old Testament Law, God always had three primary things in mind: justice, mercy, and humble faith. He boils down the entire Old Testament into two commands: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms this.
Question: Is your church or pastor defined by legalism rather than love?
6.) God Does Not Manipulate – God states his commands clearly and lets people decide whether or not they want to obey. He doesn’t give contradictory commands, and he doesn’t guilt people into following him. He does not deviously influence you to do something for his own gain against your best interest.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by manipulation?
7.) God Is Not a Workaholic – He needs no rest, yet he ordained an entire day of rest in order to set us an example of balance in life and work. He praises the contemplative life and brings his children into seasons of peace and quiet. He is okay with people saying ‘no’ to good things in order to pursue what is best and lasting (Luke 10:42).
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by frenetic activity, poor boundaries, and excessive demands for commitment and involvement, regardless of your need for rest?
8.) God Does Not Punish His Children – He doesn’t. He disciplines. Punishment has to do with retribution. Since Christ has already taken our punishment upon himself, God never punishes us retributively. He never brings us harm. Instead, God uses the pain or suffering that come into our lives as discipline which effects change, shapes our character, and results in our ultimate blessing.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by retributive punishment or shunning?
9.) God Is Not Rigid – While God is immutable—which means he can never change in his God-like qualities—he is a model of wise flexibility when it comes to relating to people. Look at the Old Testament and see how many times God dealt with people in surprising ways. Look at the New Testament and see how often Jesus surprised his contemporaries. A study on the surprising flexibility of God will fill you with delight.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by moralistic or interpersonal rigidity?
10.) God Is Not Proud – If anyone has a right to be proud, it is God. But he makes no claims which cannot be backed up, he draws attention to himself only as is his due as God, and he shows remarkable interest and care in the lives of his creatures. God is not a narcissist. He lovingly engages in the lives of his creatures, loves the lowly, and reaches out to the marginalized and oppressed. These are not the actions of arrogance.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by pride?
11.) God Is Not a Hypocrite – His character is consistent with his actions. What he says, he does. He asks his children to do nothing that he himself has not already done.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by hypocrisy?
12.) God Is Not Exclusive – By this, I mean that God has made his salvation available to the whole world and loves the whole world and each individual in it. His kingdom, which is coming and will someday be complete, will contain people from every tongue, race, and nation. While the means of salvation are specific (by grace through faith in Christ), the opportunity extends to all.
Question: Is your church or pastor characterized by exclusivity?
We become like what we worship.
If you are in a spiritually abusive church and find yourself worshiping a God who appears controlling, fearful, uniform, legalistic, manipulative, driven, punishing, rigid, proud, hypocritical, and exclusive, stop.
That being is not God—you are just worshipping a cosmic version of your pastor.
Instead, worship God for who he is in all of his marvelous freedom, confidence, diversity, love, clarity, balance, flexibility, humility, truth, and open-armed welcome.
You can dare to love a God like that.