The Concept of God and Severity of Symptoms

February 22, 2011 Becky Oberg

In 2007, Baylor University released a controversial study detailing Americans' concepts of God.

According to this study, 91.8 percent of Americans believe in some sort of Higher Power. Four distinct concepts emerged, and these concepts spanned religions. The person's concept of God was a stronger predictor of his/her moral beliefs than denominational or political affiliation.

  • 31.4 percent believed in an Authoritarian God, who is actively involved in human affairs in order to judge people and punish wrongdoing
  • 23 percent believed in a Benevolent God, who is actively involved in human affairs and loves to love, help, and forgive
  • 16 percent believed in a Critical God, who watches with a judgmental eye but does not intervene
  • 24.4 percent believed in a Distant God, who created the world and left it to its own designs

Based on this Baylor graduate's experience, the concepts of an Authoritarian God and a Benevolent God have a powerful impact on the severity of symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD).

[caption id="attachment_358" align="alignnone" width="114" caption="Ary Scheffer's painting "Maria Magdalene Praying" depicts a woman talking to God. A person with BPD may have symptoms affected by his/her concept of God."]maria_magdalene_praying2[/caption]

BPD viewed through an eye of rage

The Authoritarian God is full of wrath and ready to punish. So are this Being's followers.

One symptom of BPD is self-injury. According to 1 Kings 18:28, priests of Baal "slashed themselves with swords and spears ... until their blood flowed" in an effort to invoke the Canaanite storm god. An Authoritarian believer might use this Scripture as "evidence" that symptoms of BPD are "Satanic".

This accusation can be explicit--"that's straight from the Pit of Hell" or "you're under demonic attack". The words on their own are hurtful, but when they lead to actions like an exorcism (it's happened), they spiritually, emotionally, and physically destroy a person.

This accusation can also be implied--"you don't have the joy of the Lord, so you must have done something". In the Book of Job, this theory is discussed, and many argue debunked. However, the view is still prevalent.

The accusations and their consequences make suffering even more painful. These negative beliefs may keep a person with BPD from seeking help due to fear of further condemnation. Unjust judgment will prompt negative feelings, which can lead to negative coping skills such as self-injury, which leads to further condemnation.

Judgment and condemnation worsen symptoms

Another problem with an Authoritarian God concept is lack of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful and healing mystery. It enables people to move on with life after unspeakable disasters, it allows one to get a suffocating burden relieved, it can lead to radically changed behavior.

A lack of forgiveness, however, poisons everyone involved. It leads to physical and emotional problems. When internalized, it leads to one of three responses: a constant frantic effort to "make things right", despair and anger over the damaged relationship, and a self-destructive mentality in which the person believes "I'm doomed anyway, so why bother?"

Interestingly enough, all three of these responses can be symptoms of BPD. Overcompensating in an effort to make things right can hint at a fear of abandonment or a need for approval. Despair and anger over the status of a relationship might indicate swinging between extremes: depression over the damaged relationship indicating a desire to reconcile, anger over the damaged relationship indicating no desire for reconciliation. Self-destructive mentality can result in reckless conduct, one of the criteria for BPD.

The power of a Benevolent God

While the concept of an Authoritarian God can leave a person with BPD in a downward spiral, the concept of a Benevolent God can provide a powerful motivation for treatment. The person might believe, "God loves us and wants what's best for us, so I should stay in treatment." This belief can convince us we're worth saving and that we are valuable and loved.

However, it can be difficult to believe in this concept of God, especially if we've survived abuse. Theologians call it "the Question of Evil": if God is loving and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?

You could fill several libraries with books attempting to answer this question. I'm no theologian. I'm just a writer with opinions.

In John 9, these two concepts of God clash. Jesus, acting on the belief in a Benevolent God, heals a man born blind. The religious authorities, believing in an Authoritarian God, are enraged because the healing didn't fit into their concept of God. As they question the healed man, he exclaims "All I know is I was blind, and now I see!"

All I know is that under the Authoritarian God I had no hope, and under the Benevolent God I do. What about you?

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, February 22). The Concept of God and Severity of Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Becky Oberg

July, 8 2014 at 9:42 pm

Sandy - Reading Your entry about not giving up means a lot! It is a daily fight and struggle especially when someone close to You decides not to Love or help to support and blames You for having these struggles and knowing The Word says to do the opposite! It already hurts dealing being way over the years and to the point of getting worse and to add with it someone who should Show The Unconditional Love but instead does not look at Me to be worthy of receiving Love, Respect support etc that could help for possible Healing! I don't try to judge My Wife because I know it is Challenging but to throw Me aside and stop looking at My Heart is so, so painful to experience! I will keep You in My Thoughts for Deliverance and Healing and Hopefully one We will be able to. "Rejoice Together In Our Deliverance!" "Love Lifted Me!"

June, 11 2014 at 5:34 pm

Jeff, you have described me, the part where you feel Jesus doesn't love you. I have 4 illness altogether. It's a struggle I deal with daily and it gets harder instead of easier. I keep clinging to hope that some fine day I will be able to change and get sanctified and be able to feel that the Holy Spirit dwells within me. Until then, I suffer every day. When I pray to God I sob, even with the smallest prayers. I've become more isolated than I've ever been. But I won't give up, I can't. Not an option for me. And I won't stop praying and asking. For now, no peace or joy for me either!

January, 30 2014 at 6:28 pm

I have BPD along with 4 other Mental Illness. My whole life has been tortured being like this and does not get Better! I am a Christian but I have problems there not believing Jesus Loves me so things stay confused and out of control for me! Also the challenge where My Wife is also a Christian but tells me "I have ruined Her entire life and have brought her and My two Daughters Misery and tells me that they don't want me here! My wife does not want to read anything on these problems but gets made because of all the problems I cause even letting her know that getting information on it can Better Our Household but she does not want to but wants to steel treat me like nothing!I feel that I do more harm than good being here and everyday I have two fight these demons that are killing my soul and latch on to something which is my youngest Daughter and she tells me She Loves Me And Needs Me Here In Her Life but that gets harder and harder to use as a reason to kill myself with these vile spirits! A miracle that I last this far but I just want to go because there is no Peace for Me in this Life!

Dr Musli Ferati
March, 9 2011 at 6:19 am

It is right that the belief to God is crucial matter in well-being of human creatures. Forever in historical development of civilization, people were believed to someone with superhuman power. In the past, the religious faith caused many bloody wars, even the clergymen attempt to to confess the opposite. The cost-benefit of religion was negative. The same faith today, generally, is concentrated to a omnipotence creature denominate as God. As for me, the prepossessing type of of believe is the forth model of Your perpetuate classification about concept of God on close relation to symptoms of mental disorder, particularly to border personal disorder (BPD). This is more exactly because every social differentiation depend on religion faith. So, God as superhuman power should promote this message: I bestowed all the best things, You should use them with responsibility!

February, 22 2011 at 3:28 pm

I just know that I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for my belief in God. I believe I have had interactions with God as well. Knowing God is there for me in a benevolent way ---- well, I don't know how people do it without that belief. I know I'd be dead by now. Because of God (and even more, because I believe He came as Jesus and suffered what we suffer and felt what we felt), I actually have some hope. .... I think hope is worth more than gold.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
February, 24 2011 at 5:23 am

I feel the same way. After some well-meaning people performed an exorcism on me, I went into a "who cares" mode for years. I became an alcoholic and I thank God that I didn't kill myself or someone else. It took a long time to move on, but I had to do so or I'd be dead by now.
After getting sober, reconnecting to God was the hardest thing I've ever done.

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