Thursday, January 20

A Disturbing God

What makes the Christian faith different from any other, from that of the Jew or the Mormon or the Jehovah's Witness or the Muslim or the Buddhist or the Sikh? Aren't all who fervently hold to their faith determined to be good people, to do good things, to be a positive influence on their world? Quite frankly, I know plenty of Christians who are simply nasty people. (I may be one.) And I know lots of extremely good people who are Jews and Mormons and JWs and Sikhs. So I cannot help but wonder if the behavior of the faithful is not really the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.

We had a bible study at the office today and read Genesis 39-41 about Joseph, and the leader asked what the story taught us about how we should behave, (I think.) But it seems to me that is the wrong question. Rather than asking, "what does this story teach us about us", it seems to me the right question would be "what does this story teach us about God?" And quite frankly, I find it pretty darned disturbing. Here is a God who was apparently powerful enough to prosper Joseph as a slave and as a prisoner, wise enough to give him the interpretation of dreams, in control enough to cause them to come to pass, faithful enough to be with Joseph wherever he found himself, and yet this exact same God also allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, allowed him to be cast into prison, allowed the baker to be hung, and allowed the famine to occur. It seems to me that such a God is utterly unlike anything we could imagine on our own. It seems He cares not one whit about pain - He certainly allowed, if not outright caused plenty of it. So the thought of us being "used by Christ" to be nice people in hard circumstances seems utterly laughable.

What kind of God allows a beloved son to suffer from cancer and die at the age of 9? What kind of God says "I am with you no matter what", and then allows or causes all hell to break loose in our lives? What kind of God allows over 100,000 people to be swept away in an instant by a tsunami He darn well could have prevented?

If our job as "believers" is to help people by being nice and not causing pain and helping relieve painful circumstances and bring comfort in pain, then why doesn't our God simply arrange things so that people don't experience hard circumstances? Why in the world would He need me to be a pain-reliever? What lunacy!

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know that the God I see in the scriptures is not the tame and kindly old grandfatherly figure much of Christendom seems to imagine and teach. The God in these stories is terrible and wild and utterly beyond our comprehension. He keeps the universe spinning, for pete's sake. Does He actually need us to be nice to other people? The sheer folly of such thinking simply overwhelms me. If He was incarnate in Christ, (and I believe with all my heart that He was), then what do all these things tell us about God? I just don't think it tells us to be nice people, to say nive things and think nice thoughts and be a postive influence. I'm really not sure what it tells us, but a God who names the stars, puts the planets in place, sets the galaxies spinning, builds an earth that wipes out people as if they were nothing more than kindling for a fire, presides over cancer and AIDS and divorce and alzheimers and even became a man and DIED a horrible, humiliating death, such a God certainly has absolutely no need of me for anything. The whole idea of "morality" utterly pales before such a God.

For some reason I keep thinking of that story where Jesus was teaching in somebody's house and these guys cut a hole in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend through the hole right down in front of Him. Jesus looked at the paralyzed guy and said, "Your sins are forgiven you." And then, because He knew the Nice People, the Moral People, the Upright People, were all pissed off about that and saying to themselves, "who does He think He is", Jesus said to them, "I know you are offended that I granted this man forgiveness for sins. You concept of God does not allow me to do that. So just to show you that your concept of God is completely wrong…" and then He turns to the paralyzed guy and says, "Get up. Take your mat and go home." And the guy gets up. And takes his mat. And goes home.

Who is this God? And how could I dare imagine He needs anything from me? My intellect is not merely humbled, it is driven speechless to the ground where it wallows face down in the dirt. My emotions short circuit from the nearness of His overwhelming power. My very body wants to find a small, dark place to tremble in fear and hide.

This God is not what I would have imagined, not what I would choose, and certainly not what I have been taught.

But I want to know Him. Dear god, I want to know Him...


Anonymous said...

The best thing I think I've ever seen written on this aspect of God is Playing with Knives: God the Dangerous by Douglas Jones.

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