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.