“If you break up with me I’m going to die!” is a clear example of emotional blackmail. The idea is: I’m going to FORCE you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do …by inflicting guilt, or putting you in a situation where you look like the bad person. It’s the jilted boyfriend or girlfriend who says to someone who wants to break up, “how can you do this to me? After all the time we’ve been together?” In other words, you’d be a horrible person to do this after leading me on. It’s the parent that says, “I will never be happy again unless you do this…” It’s the same with the child who holds his breath or refuses to eat unless he gets his way. I’m pretty sure everyone has experienced this at some point, and anyone who’s ever loved anything has probably dabbled in trying to control others this way… Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because people sometimes think this is what God is trying to do: “look I DIED for you, and this is how you treat me? How can I ever be happy when YOU do sinful stuff like that?” Some people who grew up in churches even “like” that feeling; someone once told me, “a good sermon is supposed to stab you with that pang of guilt.” But this is NOT what God does, and here’s why…
Reason #1 Emotional blackmail is not love. Sure it feels like love to the people involved… that’s because of Sin. Emotional manipulation is the sin-fallen version of love (I call it the Orc version of love). But when we manipulate someone it shows that we care more for our feelings than for the other person. Why would you want to make someone you love look like the bad person? Love covers over sins instead of exaggerating them. Why would you want to force someone you really love into doing something they do not freely choose to do? Real love cannot be coerced… Real love is patient, kind…it “does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13). [By the way, logically, if an all powerful God wanted to force you to do something He wouldn’t need to guilt you into it…even our ability to sin is evidence of His love and character…]
Reason #2 Your sins are already forgiven. “As far as the East is from the West so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103). Forgiveness is the opposite of emotional blackmail. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Bible couldn’t be clearer about this…but when you come from a place where emotional blackmail the regular currency, it’s easy to read those kinds of motives into everyone… People who grow up in emotionally manipulative homes often have trouble believing another person loves them unless they “love” them enough to manipulate them. But God has a different way, and a better kind of love.
Reason #3 The greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart soul mind and strength.” But if you do things out of guilt, you’re not doing it out of love. When you do something because you feel guilty, you’re doing it for yourself (in a way); so that you don’t have to be the bad guy. Real love is self forgetful: When you do something out of love, you’re not thinking about yourself (or guilt) but about the person you love. When you love someone, you delight in doing things for them. Grandparents have fun by buying stuff and spoiling grandchildren. Car-lovers delight in doing things that are good for their cars. God-lovers delight in doing stuff God likes…not out of guilt, but “just because.”
Almost forgot…Reason #4 “But what about all the “Sin” talk in the Bible? Isn’t that emotional manipulation? Threatening bad things for not obeying?”
The reason why God talks about “Sin” is not in order to manipulate us… (remember we’re forgiven?) But because sin harms us in ways we don’t understand. Whenever God tells people NOT to do certain things, that certain things are sinful – it’s actually for their own good and happiness…
So a good example of that is: the Bible teaches no sex outside marriage… But we think, “what’s the big deal? If two consenting adults want to sleep together, who’s to say otherwise?” Why should God object?? That’s our perspective… But if you’ve ever thought you were in love with someone, but eventually broke up – you know how much that hurts… it’s even worse when you’ve been sleeping with the person pretending to married. God wants to save us from experiencing that. Sure, you’ll get over it eventually – but if you keep doing that, it will make it more difficult (not easier) to grow a healthy love relationship with a person…
PS: If you read this far, you might like the follow up post: “How to deal with emotional blackmail (anime version)”