Friday, December 28, 2012

A Black and White Vengeful God?


God is vengeful.  It’s right there in black and white.

So say more than a few believing Christians who were well taught that whatever grace might be, it is delivered by the hand of a God who is quick to anger, unforgiving, and ready to condemn for all of eternity.  Years of Sundays devoted to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, and long standing involvement in adult bible studies, cannot erase the damage done.

I wrote a newspaper article some years ago about the progressive nature of biblical revelation, how it is a constant unfolding of new and deeper understanding, always headed in the directions of inclusiveness, love and reconciliation.  I was slammed in a letter to the editor by a local pastor who demanded to make it known that there is nothing progressive in the bible.  It is all of a piece, and no part takes precedent over another.  All is equally true and inerrant. 

How sad is that?  I’ve tried to explain to those in my classes that God can only speak with the vocabulary that his listeners can understand.  The early followers of the God of Israel had a vocabulary that could accommodate neither monotheism nor the mercy of a God who loves his people and desires to engage with them for their wellbeing.  What vocabulary did they have?  It was the vocabulary of the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia who were ruthless, capricious, numerous, needy and vengeful.   Nevertheless, as God spoke through successive prophets, he constantly pushed the vocabulary envelop in new directions, until we receive the full unveiling of God through Jesus Christ.  However, it seems that that it came to us in the form of a very complex origami package.  Two thousand years later we are still trying to unfold what that full unveiling is about.  God, it seems, is not done speaking.  That insight is hung on banners outside many UCC churches, and I think they’ve got it right.

That should not be hard to understand, but it seems that too many Christians have been treated with some kind of repellent.  They nod yes and go right on trying to read this or that text in it’s plain as day black and white meaning according to their early 21st century vocabulary, and without the slightest concern for how it relates to anything else in scripture.  The fact that God is not an American, that the two thousand years of Hebrew scripture cannot be judged as if nothing developed over those two millennia, and that the people of Jesus’ day cannot be imbued with contemporary American ways of thinking just does not penetrate.  

Oh well, I’ll keep on trying.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

CP, Yes I understand progressive revelation, but still insist that histical biblical criticism demands that ancient documents be interpreted as they were, to use Justice Scalia says, to abe understood as of their suthors' original intent. The Church Father Origen wanted to use an 'allegoical' as he called it, approach to exegetics, in spite of some 'difficult' parts, that only strict Calvinists could take in a literal sense. I still think that one should not take the later to interpret the earlier views of God, unless to say, "You have seen it written, but we now say" and acknowledge the change from that ato make it palatable, like new versions of the Bible do, when "he" is rendered "they" or "brothers and sisters" for brother.Dr. B.Just s pedant. ;Even Zeus cannot change what is past' Greek proverb.sThe past is another country. We are srangers there. A modern anthropologist. We cannot make Jesus into a modern man. Albert Schweitzer, 1900.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a growing chnge in the later prophet from the eaqrlier ones in th O.T. Snd Jesus seems to be more sympathetic to thoe later oens. When he was rejected back home in Nazareth, Luke has him remark:"A prophet is not wihout honor, except I his own country. And John's preface concurs: He came into his own, and his own received him not. But much pf the 'progressive' mature of that development would seem to be from the change in biblical interpretation of the late 18th-19th century rom the Enlightenment in both Chistian/deist/Unitarian/Reform jewish thinking rather than in the Bible itself, I would propose.DrB Thaat Old School minister you quoted did see something still in "blaCk & white" that still is read there by some consevatives. evem after 2 centuries of liberal reinterpration. Is it exegesis or eisegesis? dO WE JUST read ourselves into what we read there?