Stories about God

Stories about God

Jack Miles has written a couple of books about the life of God.  They are not new books.  New, or rather recently renewed, is my appreciation of them.

What’s different about Miles’ books is that he assumes that the Bible, Hebrew Testament and New Testament, can be treated as literary works, biographies that tell us about the development of the protagonist.  No historical criticism, no redaction criticism, no textual criticism (who wrote what when).  He treats the Bible as you would a biography you pulled from your bookshelf.  What type of person (that’s really the term for how he treats him) is God, what does God learn along the way, how does God develop and change in the course of his encounters with man, particularly but not exclusively the Jews?  Miles’ God is a Trinitarian God, particularly in the sense that whatever we learn about Christ we learn about God, for they are one.  “Jesus is Lord.”  While God: A Biography stands alone, it is only complete with his second volume, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.

A harsh God

Though the God of the Hebrew Testament can be loving toward his people (1 Kings 10:9), he is fundamentally a warrior God, which is what his people wanted.

In rage you stride across the land, you trample the nations in anger as you advance to save your people, to rescue your anointed one. You stave in the sinner’s roof beams, you raze his house to the ground. You split his skull with your bludgeon. (Habakkuk 3, quoted in God: A Biography, p 98)

God is praiseworthy because he smashes the heads of Israel’s enemies.  Pity the poor Amalekites.

The Lord swore to Moses: “Record this in writing, and recite it in Joshua’s hearing, that I will utterly wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14)

Now, go and crush Amalek. Put him under a curse of total destruction, him and all that he possesses. Do not spare him, but slay man and woman, child and babe, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15: 2–3)

Miles comments, “what the Lord swore and Moses solemnly witnessed was, in more modern language, an oath of genocide.” (p 101)

What changed with the New Testament?

What changed is that God was confronted with his own weakness.  His strong right arm could no longer protect the Israelites against Babylon, and then Rome.  But rather than admitting defeat, God changed the terms of the covenant.

God does have, however, one alternative to simply bringing his storied career to an ignominious close. Instead of baldly declaring that he is unable to defeat his enemies, God may declare that he has no enemies, that he now refuses to recognize any distinction between friend and foe. (Christ, p 108)

To make this argument, to exemplify and die for it, is the job of Jesus.

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Christ: vindicator or lamb of God?

Christ: vindicator or lamb of God?  

If Jesus Christ is the Lord’s vindicator, how can he be at the same time the Lamb of God?  In trying to understand this and more, I’m going to follow the lead of a marvelous work of scholarly imagination by Jack Miles, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.  This does not mean that I agree with it.

The winnowing fork

Consider the image of the winnowing fork, which Christ uses to separate the wheat from the chaff, burning the chaff in an endless fire.  Attributed to John the Baptist by Matthew (3:12), the image captures perfectly Christ’s self-description of his mission: to bring hope to the pious and powerless, and punishment to the rich, who have had their reward in this world (Luke: 6:23-24).  But the statement I will never understand is Christ’s explanation of why he speaks in parables.

And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” (Mark 4.10-12)

No matter how many times it is explained to me in terms of Christ’s regret and understandable anger at those who will never understand (Young 1998, pp 263-264), I cannot make sense of Christ’s claim.  Why would he speak in code?  Are there no second chances?  This is not the statement of a loving God.  Christ’s statement has been explained as “the wistful longing of frustrated love,” but it doesn’t sound very wistful to me. 

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