Jack Miles, a noted ex-Jesuit author, in his extraordinary Pulitzer prize winning book “God: A Biography” presents the God of the Old Testament. He examines YHWH from an entirely literary context, as if the Lord described were a character in a novel. Miles applies the logic that every great character must adapt and change, and if this is true, he wonders if we see this in the central character of the Bible. Yes, is his answer.
In a 500 page scholarly romp through the Old Testament Miles dances through the evolution of God, from childlike loneliness and need for self understanding which prompts creating a self portrait (imagine a painter who can only under themselves as they create on a canvas), to a fierce adolescent warrior God filled with unexplainable nationalistic fervor and favoritism, angrily crushing this nation and that people all so his special friends can secure a place for themselves. He highlights boisterous God. Burly and vindictive God. Regretting and fretful God. Love sick God. Finally he concludes with Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Day’s, exhausted, weary from war and tired from testing his relationships…and then God is silent.
It’s a great book…one that will truly provoke thought and wrestling with the cultural icons we’ve erected regarding the knowledge of the Holy (I’m not saying I agree with any of it…still it will provoke thought)…but that’s not my point…
I want to reverse Miles’ picture. What if it’s not man who has to endure God’s shifting maturation process…but God who endures ours? As Lewis said, “We heard God but as though in a stutter” or through muffled ears. God is forced to negotiate and even accept the catastrophic understanding that those who assumed to know Him held. He is grieved as the tribes of Joshua’s account misinterpret His intentions and then annihilate their neighbors. He is saddened as Israel develops imagery of a god of fire, mountain, wind, and war that resembles the baals more than it does his kind heart. He stares on as they learn to become professional worshipers of Him while completely neglecting the tenderness of His heart. And He waits…He speaks into the chaos…sometimes with clarity (Isaiah 53, 58, Amos, Micah, Hoseah)…and altogether too often is relegated to the sidelines while those who see Him most fail to show Him at all.
Viewed through those lenses the Old Testament becomes the saga of people who are coming to grips with a God who is remarkably “other”. And they come to grips rather poorly. Their story can be seen as anything but prescriptive…except perhaps how NOT to go about knowing God. But really they were simply evolving…their ability to see God was developing.
As humans we cannot perceive things as they are but only as we see them to be, as we have context for them. It’s interesting that we actually fail to see certain objects because we have no “context” to understand them through. So it is throughout the history of God’s people. In fact, they can hardly see Him except through their own biases. Abraham cannot understand Him as the only God, his polytheistic mind cannot shore up the tension, so he calls him “God Most High” or “the high god”…one among many…highest, certainly, but only? Hardly. Moses, and his biographers, whose understanding of Egyptian, Caananite, and Sumerian gods was greater than that of YHWH, find Him in mountain (Baal), in the fiery offering (Molek), and in the sacrifices of harvest (Isis). Later, one prophet, Elijah, experiences a transcendent moment and understands more of God than any who have gone before him…not in the wind…not in the fire…not in the thunder…not on the mountain…but in the still small (and ever present) voice of spirit. And what is actually happening in that moment is our vision of God is expanding…our context is growing…our sight and our hearing is improving. By the end of the Old Testament the disastrous views of God have come crashing to a standstill. They are spent. Powerless and tired…And ready to be corrected…ready to be reinterpreted altogether with a characteristic turn of the phrase, “You have heard it said…but I tell you…”
Alright…so all that has me thinking…
What context am I putting onto God? And though you don’t know what you don’t know…here’s one that I’ve been chewing on: I think that I know Him as the angry God who is perpetually against.
Surely this must be my view of God, because it is certainly how I have approached each successive spiritual movement in my own life. Angry at secularism and science I cling to rationalism and the retreatist sacred (5 years spent in that tomb). Angry at the institution and organized way of relating to God I devolve into primitive church, I deconstruct Him, His people, and His words (8 years spent in that tomb). What am I now angry at? All that I have done before? Materialism? Consumerism? The world system? The Empire of the West? Recently a friend said something to me in the passion of a spiritual moment we were sharing concerning greater revelation about God’s Kingdom, “it’s so exciting that rather than being against the institution (organized church) we now have something to really be against…the world system“…and yes…that’s true…I believed it when he said it and I still do…but why, oh why is my god always against something? Why is he always demanding the holocaust of burnt offering and the devastation of other tribes and cities? Is that the only context I have for Him?
Recently I posted about not wanting to be critical in my blog posts…I wanted to forge ahead and create fresh and new without reference to the distasteful (which I feel seems to be in vogue). Someone told me that they imagined it’s just easier to be critical on a blog…it requires less energy and less creativity…just log on to what someone else is doing and start picking it apart…tadah! You’ve created a successful and popular blog entry. But that’s just life…it’s easier to deconstruct, easier to devalue, easier to criticize, easier to be against than for.
And in the end…maybe my perception of God isn’t as highly evolved as it should be…maybe I’m back there with these other folks drawing my sword and looking for a better battle ax to use against the “heathens” (whoever happens to be on the other side of me at that moment).
I don’t know…I’m just so weary of dreams whose only reference points are failed realities…it requires so little…
Perhaps YHWH here and now will close this section of my life as he did the Old Testament, with silence…with waiting…with painful and agonizing emptiness…
Perhaps only then will I be ready to hear Him and see Him as He is…God with us…Immanuel…”The kingdom of God has come!”
Filed under: confession | Tagged: creativity, deconstruction, emergent, emerging, empire, evolution, God: A Biography, house church, Jack Miles, New Testament, new thought, Old Testament, the god of violence, the irresistable revoltuion, Walter Brueggemann, world system | 1 Comment »