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Does God Give Us the “Fist of Love” Like Garp?

Updated: Nov 8

Monkey D. Garp is a side character in One Piece—grandfather to the main character Luffy. As a Marine vice admiral, he is very eccentric and very intense. He believes that throwing people into the raging fire is what’s best for them. Since they were kids, Luffy and his adoptive brothers Ace and Sabo could always count on one thing each time they saw their ol’ grandpa: receiving the Fist of Love, aka getting punched in the head as a form of supposed discipline whenever he got angry (often over trivial things).

Admittedly, Garp isn’t a character I ever thought about much or cared at all about. My precious Straw Hat children, Luffy’s brothers, and the amazingly ridiculous Bartolomeo take up all of my One Piece brain space. However, one night in my Bible study group while we were trauma dumping about different familial issues we had growing up, some of which are ongoing even now, I started thinking about how much I project all of that onto God, and Garp came to mind. As someone who grew up with certain individuals who were obsessed with punishment and the use of fear and threats to make me submissive, my natural default is to view God through a “Fist of Love” lens, and not in the humorous way that the anime aims for. Having this self-awareness has helped it ease up, but I still do it constantly regardless.

It bleeds into everything. Every time I mess up, whether big or small or anywhere on the “Be Good” spectrum. Every time I feel inadequate. Every unkind thought. Every time I start feeling selfish or like I’m wasting time doing things I enjoy rather than spending every waking hour doing something visibly “spiritual.” Some of my biggest panic attacks have been triggered by thinking God was mad at me and possibly having second thoughts about allowing me to enter His Kingdom. I’d say I feel like a failure at least 80% of the time, and always with the natural instinct to hide in shame from Him out of fear of being granted whatever “Fist of Love” punishment He may have for me. I’ve always been conditioned to be afraid of authority figures of all shapes and sizes, and with God being the ultimate authority… it’s kind of a recipe for anxiety disaster sometimes.

Thing is, God isn’t Garp. Easy as it may be to think of God being eager to punish, we ought to remember His love—the real kind, not the distorted ideas of it that we pick up from broken humans. As Dane Ortlund says in Gentle and Lowly: “This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being ‘provoked to anger’ . . . But not once are we told that God is ‘provoked to love’ or ‘provoked to mercy.’ His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth” (Ortlund 148).

Elsewhere, Ortlund points out of Hosea 11:

We read:

I am God and not a man,

the Holy One in your midst,

and I will not come in wrath.

Is this what you expect God to say? Don’t you actually, deep down, expect him to say the following, with one small word change?

I am God and not a man,

the Holy One in your midst,

and I will therefore come in wrath.

. . . Once more, we are corrected; we are brought out from under our natural ways of creating God in our own image, and we allow God himself to tell us who he is. (Ortlund 74)

(I highly recommend reading that book, especially for those like myself who struggle with anxiety.)

Perhaps it would be helpful to start picturing God’s love as an embrace rather than a fist, even when we feel we’re at our worst. The father of the prodigal son welcomes him back as such, after all (Luke 15:11-32). He doesn’t punch him in the head. He doesn’t eviscerate him for his actions. He’s overjoyed to be with his beloved child again.

I love that God meets each of us where we’re at. This can range wildly from one person to the next. Despite my deep inclinations to imagine Him waiting with crossed arms to shame me until I’m a puddle of mush ready to evaporate, He knows exactly what I need and don’t need. Many of us are already pretty good at kicking ourselves in the dirt. A generous dose of grace into our mindsets could be just what we need in order to breathe again.

Lucky for us, God is full of that.

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