Christianity--Church History/help understanding
I really don't know the best place to ask this question, so I'll try here. I was raised with Protestant Christian beliefs. My mom read me the bible stories and we had prayer and even at just 2 years old i could quote the bible. My grandmother joked I gave a real, "fire and brimstone" sermon. We only attended church at Christmas though, and I, myself, started attending a Vineyard church when I was about 16 through 18.
As early as two I recall having a very close relationship with God. I learned early on that He speaks to us, through us. I learned early on that His will is always for the best, but may not necessarily be viewed that way. One tragedy might be just the key to set another thing in motion that leads to something very good or very important. I learned to listen and to follow what messages I was sent, and I also learned that God is good.
The problem I have faced recently is this: my relationship with God is VERY personal. I stopped hearing the bible stories my mom read to me when I started getting older, and having jumped into attending church on my own so late i really never got a wide range of info. I also took many courses on religion and sort of started thinking for myself and working out my own beliefs, as I later learned my mother had done, too. I took into account different common elements from different religions, I took into account what made the most sense based on what I know of God, and what I know in my heart. But recently, now that I have children of my own, I decided to raise them as I was: with the typical Christian beliefs, and the bible, as I had been, to give them somewhere to start. But now, going back, re-reading the old stories, I find it astonishing how much God was basically portrayed as...well, there is no better word for it other than to say a power-hungry, authoritarian-type who liked to flex his muscles and control people not with love but with fear. The stories aren't far off from taking a parent now-a-days who smack their kids across the face and then turn around and say, "but know that i did this because I love you." And this image of God is NOT the God I know. or have even known.
As well in my reading I have been more and more confused as to how some of these stories can be taken seriously 9especially the ones that ca be dis-proven, such as that God made the earth and than on the 6th day made man. works well except for the fact that they have proven the earth existed LONG before man did) and in these hard-to-swallow tales much of what God is said to have done/wanted is...well, utterly ridiculous - stuff that doesn't make me think, "O that makes sense," but rather makes me think "what is God's problem? Does he get off on these weird power-trips? these strange requests? Putting people in awful awkward situations just to force them to *prove* to him they'll obey him?" he doesn't come across as sounding Godly and fatherly, loving and sane, but rather comes across as sounding completely loopy - crazy, like he's three feet short of plugged-in. and yet Man apparently has bought into this whole heatedly without questioning "does this sound right to you?"
I'll provide specific examples in a second, but to foreshadow my question I want to say that basically I want to know if religious people, the churches etc. take the bible to be 100% truth and every story in it or if there people view it as analogies - sorties to make a point, perhaps with some truth, but not all truth. and if they DO take it as 100% truth then I have to ask: HOW?! I believe as much as the next guy in miracles, and in God's magnificent power, but the question is not in disbelieving whether it *could* happen, as much as trying to decide why on earth God would want such ridiculous things in the first place, and what would it say about him if he did?
For example, to start, God made the earth for the people, but apparently kept Adam and eve in the garden, supposedly wanting them to stay there with Him for all-time. Then why did he create the whole thing? Why not just the garden? And apparently back then animals talked? in human language? do people believe that? And for example taking Samson and Delilah, why would God care of she ever cut his hair? why would one baby be born and all of a sudden God decides to make it really strong but puts some ridiculous clause in that his hair must be kept long? I mean what is THAT?! It sounds like kindergarten play to me - the flexing of a muscle: "I can so I will, haha" sort of thing. I mean I understand that the idea behind it as is with everything else, that God wanted to make *sure* that Samson obeyed him, and and if did not obey him then he was undeserving of the strength. But why not have just asked Samson to live virtuously? To honour God and to be a good person, to pray and be God's servant in general if needed? And for that matter why make him strong in the first place? who cares if he's strong? if it was all just so Samson could kill the Philistines then what's with the "you will lose the power if you tell". if God waned the Philistines dead he could have simply given Samson the power to do it and placed him where he needed to be at the right time. I mean if it was God's idea that Samson needs the power then why make a stipulation -like come, on! If you want Samson to have the power than don't make it seem like it's something he has to want and prove to you he won't let you down... simply let him have it and come through for you when you need it. the end. And if it was really all just Samson's mother wanting Samson to be strong why did God ever agree? of all the prayers out there why something so silly?
Also God gets so mad at the people building the tower of babel that he changes all their languages. He's angry that they did not consult with him before building the tower. Well from what I've heard God sure didn't make himself too known all the time. I mean if he really wanted people to come to Him for advice, etc. you'd think he'd have realized they all might have been far more likely to do so if he WAS around answering people's questions more often. "why didn't they ask me?: he wonders..."well, perhaps it's because they ask you hundreds of other things all the time and you never say a peep. how are they supposed to know that THIS time you'd actually respond?" Do I think God is that stupid not to realize why nobody consulted with Him? NO! He is NOT that stupid. So whats' the deal? do people believe the tower of bale story to be true?
and lastly, overall, so many tales are about God being angry and destroying people/ towns/ things. He apparently wants people to worship HIM and to obey Him and to believe in Him and 9for some reason) to also believe that he's loving...yet he started this whole thing off by giving Adam and Eve a test that they failed and his reaction was to banish them, and his next steps were to pretty much disappear out of people's lives permanently, except for the odd drop in here or there to give people "tests" to see if they're going to be obedient..ad if they are not obedient He destroys them! Or does something terrible to them. When from the get-go if he waned the human race to be obedient and with their own free will, he'd have been far better staying in TOUCH with them. all we see of God is him coming down from time to time declaring somebody or other is "bad" and choosing some poor devoted soul to *prove* himself, and when he inevitably fails God hurts him, too, until he prays his head off, then God kill off all the bad people. Ad then apparently wonders why more people don't blindly follow Him? What were Adam and Eve's kids supposed to think? and those that followed down the line? Great great great gram and gramps told the story of how their mom and dad came from God. We never see or hear from God but they say he was there and that he got really REALLY mad at the for not obeying him." and then they do something bad and God destroys them and tries to tell those left over that "no no, I really DO love you, it's for your own good". And then the people are supposed to obey him out of LOVE for him? If they obeyed at that point he must have been aware it was as much about pure fear. Even Jonah and the Whale. Both the city or Niveah and Jonah did not obey God. All God ever seems to claim he wants is that his children obey him and love him of their own free will, but both the people of Niveah and Jonah himself only obeyed of fear - God threatened to destroy them both and they freaked out and prayed. Then God decided that was devotion enough? Being threatened with death? If you have a gun to somebody's head and tell them to say they Love you it's isn't really love when they say it.
I just don't see God as that....way. He is not that way. so why does the Bible make him seem that way and why do people believe the stories that are not only far-fetched in the fact that many of them would have to break all the laws of physics (which I believe God can do, but in most of these cases - why?)but far-fetched in the fact that God comes across as a mean little kid who is upset nobody wants to be his friend. And all the issues He encounters are all stuff he could have prevented by being not only a little more loving and nice, but a little more forgiving, and *the key element here* : present! If you want someone to believe in you and to seek your counsel that have to know that you are THERE and listening for REAL. not just because someone taught them you're there, but because you actually ARE there responding to them on a regular basis. and then don't also wonder why things don't change when you finally DO show up only to kill a bunch of people. Gee, I wonder why the people don;t feel real comfortable seeking your counsel after THAT.
Am I making fun of God? No. I am taking a shot at the stories themselves, which I have to believe myself are just that -stories. because if they were truth I can't see how a parson alive today could be willfully devoted to God and believe His love. Am I saying nobody should ever be destroyed? no. but I am suggesting that the way he appears to use death as a threat all the time to force people to *love* him doesn't spell out a good story to me. I want to know how the church really views these stories, how they explain some of the hard to buy components and what in their minds (if they believe the stories are 100% true) makes God seem so loving to them?
As I said, I have a different relationship with God. On of the first messages I ever received was that he isn't as intolerant as people make him seem. I was only 5 when I learned that. I'm not a disbeliever, I just find trying to understand everyone else's beliefs hard to grasp...
In your second paragraph you reveal that you do know what God is like. He is "good" and even more than good. Then later you get to the real crux of what is bothering you now: " And this image of God is NOT the God I know. or have even known."
I hope that I can be of some help in restoring your faith in the goodness and love of God for you.
The place to start is in the first two chapters of Genesis. God created the world and all that is on it and lastly created man in His image. Then, He gave everything created to man for man to rule over. God is a "giver" and not a mean slavedriver. The words He used to tell them that the world was theirs literally mean that we were to "tread down, subjugate"(have dominion) and to "make subservient, put the foot on the neck" (subdue) the earth. Man was not created to "take care" of a part of the creation considered by God to be more precious than man...as some would teach today.
God has not changed since then. MAN IS THE ONE WHO CHANGED. Man believed the lies of an angel who wished to usurp God's authority and glory. And by their decision man to believe the devil and not to believe God, they lost the pure image of God. And we have been born in the corrupted image of man ever since. We are not born trusting in God for all things but rather look to ourselves; our own powers of mental and physical strength to understand life and to have a good life such as the one God "gave" to Adam and Eve. He still wishes to give this to each person on earth even now. Since that "fall" natural man can still will to do right and avoid doing evil to others BUT we can't achieve it completely any more... no matter how hard we try.
After that, he evil of man against man became so horrible that God let the waters of earth cleanse away all mankind except the one family (of Noah) who still knew God and trusted Him. Even they were persecuted by all the neighbors living close enough make fun of them and curse them. Yet God saved them from the flood because they were still His children. God still acts this way for the sake of those who have been born again into His family. Of course those who don't trust God will see this and teach this as "meanness" on God's part. But it is only a loving father protecting His children from the evil intent of others.
God's grace is still extended to all people. Jn 3:16 is popular to those proclaiming God's love because it sums it all up. God loves the whole world enough to give up His only descendent, His only perfect Son to save people from the righteous judgement against any and all of our sins. Salvation was achieved for all by Jesus the Christ Who was promised to Adam and Eve immediately after they turned from God. He is still available to all who will trust Him to have made this sacrifice for us.
I still can't understand how God, the Father, could have a child by the virgin Mary and thus the child would be sinless at birth, never do anything contrary to His father in heaven, always do whatever His father wanted and then take on the sins of the whole world on Himself on the cross while giving His perfect righteousness to all who would receive it from Him. But, happily, I don't have to understand the "how". But by the power of the Holy Spirit in my life I know that it is true. And so do you.
The wisdom of man mixed with the father of lies who spoke to Eve in the garden is still appealing to us. But God's love for us is greater. And even when we begin to question "why" He has done things and still does things we don't fully understand, He still loves us and still works in our hearts to bring us back to seeing that His good intent for all who are His will be worked out in our lives so that we can have an abundant life on earth and eternal life basking in His love and glory when we leave this "body of death" behind.
Instead of trying to answer each doubt about God that you mentioned, I propose that you find a fellowship of Christians who know God from their hearts (not just perform outward acts to make themselves look like true followers of Jesus) and look for the answers BASED ON THE PREMISE that God has not changed from the time of creation but is still the God Who IS love. If "why" is the question then be detectives who look into the background of "why" God did what He did. I am still learning and seeing more and more that He has not changed in His character towards those who are being restored to His image by the power of the Holy Spirit as we look to all that Jesus has done and is doing in our lives.
May God be with you and His love be revealed more and more to you.