God Never Harms
“God is good, dispassionate and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are showing mercy to those who honor Him, while turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean he is swayed by pleasure. It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. … It is not that He grow angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our sins that prevent God from shining within us, …” ~The Philokalia
We love to think of God as being much like us, primarily due to a misunderstanding of the “created in His image” teaching. God is not human, not much like a human, and we should not think of Him as being some kind of super human. It would probably be more accurate to think of Him more like a natural force such as gravity.
The Philokalia says God never does harm, but only good. This is completely true. Some people might say that God does do harm indirectly by allowing those things that harm us to exist, but that is a childish way of looking at it. We need to learn things and if we never get burned by the fire, we never learn to stop sticking out hands in the stove.
If the wind blows down a house, you don’t think that the wind is angry with the homeowner. If a person who runs out into a busy street gets killed by a bus, you don’t think the bus was angry with him; you understand that he died from his own foolish behavior.
In order for a universe to function in an orderly and predictable way, there must be rules, laws that cannot be broken. That is true for both the material planes and the spiritual ones. So it is not that God is angry with someone, or is punishing them, He has simply established laws to operate a functional universe and those who choose to break those laws are “punished” by the laws, not God.
God Cannot be Bought
Likewise, the Philokalia says, God cannot be bought. He can’t be bribed with promises to do good deeds, or follow His laws. It may seem like he does, but it is only because those who follow His Laws automatically reap the benefits. If you buy a ticket for a cruse, you are entitled to go on the cruise, but if you show up without your passport for a cruise that goes to other countries, you won’t be allowed to sail, no matter how much you paid. You have to follow the rules. Its not favoritism, not punishment, just rules, laws.
So does that mean that it is pointless to do good since God cannot be bought? Absolutely not! God cannot be bought, yet doing good, as in behaving the way God wants us to, does reap benefits. But you must not think of it as buying God’s favor because that is not what is happening, you are simply following the laws of nature and God. So you will, eventually, get punished for doing evil, but it isn’t the result of God getting angry. And you will be rewarded with eternal life if you do “good.” which means developing your spiritual faculties more than it means being nice on a material level.
This post is illustrated with a photo of men foolishly sacrificing cows to gain God’s favor and a painting of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son when an angel appears and corrects his errant behavior and informs him that it is Satan who has asked him to sacrifice his son, not God (that last part is usually left out of the description of this event).