This article is part of an ongoing God-beliefs investigation. This one
is AWESOME to know about . . . many so-called “Bibilically literate” folk have never
learned this stuff. – RB
Just as our image of God changes as we age, the
God of the Bible ages and changes – in attitude, attributes, location,
and sovereignty. (For more about the science of how belief changes as we get older, here’s a link to an article about it.)
see these character changes throughout the Bible as controversial or
inflammatory. But, really, they’re not. (Read this and you’ll see why.)
Character changes. God
starts out in the Bible as a jealous totalitarian ruler. That’s the
Biblical God that many are familiar with – the one who does all the
smoting and the smiting. Do something wrong, disobey, and you are
killed, turned into salt, swallowed by the earth, etc. At this stage in
the Bible God is corporeal – God walks, smells, and even closes Noah’s
ark door with a hand – a fact that people aren’t as familiar with. If you look at the last word of Genesis 7:16 in Hebrew you will see that it is (b’yad’o)
– which means “with his hand.” I can find no English translation that
reflects this, so you’ll either have to study Hebrew, ask someone you
trust who has studied Hebrew, or just take my word for it. The
traditional explanations as to why the Bible describes God having a
physical form is that the Bible was written in language meant for the
common people to be able to understand. The inference is that you,
asking the question, are more evolved than the common person. (Yikes!)
As I understand it, the Bible is humanity’s attempt to talk about God.
And as time has progressed, we have come to more and more sophisticated
understandings of God and reality. Next,
beginning with the stories of Abraham, we see God portrayed more like a
constitutional monarch: there are rules and contracts to be followed.
If the covenant is kept, then God will do God’s part for the people. If
agreements are broken, God will follow through appropriately. If you
know the story of God and Abraham negotiating the number of goodly people who would
have to be found in a city so God would spare it, then you’ve got a
good sense of this stage of God in the Bible. Then,
starting in the book of Exodus, the Bible portrays God as the nameless
deity of history. God, now, is mainly bodiless – except when God
speaking out of the wind allows Moses to see God’s back. God
self-identifies as the God who took the people out of their
constrictions and as the God who was the God of each patriarch and
matriarch. This version of God won’t tell Moses what God’s name is.
Just that God is. Geographic and other changes. Throughout
ancient times, gods were always associated with specific lands. The
earliest biblical texts are very clear about this. (And remember, in
the ancient Near East, the God of Israel was just one of many gods.) If
you moved, you might take a favorite idol or two with you, but you did
not continue to worship the major deities of your homeland; instead you
worshipped the God into whose jurisdiction you moved. (It’s similar to
sports teams today – people root for the home team.) A fantastic example is found in II Kings 5 where Naaman , a commander of a foreign army, is healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha. Having had this religious experience, he wants to return home with the God of Israel. So, very creatively, Naaman solves his predicament by packing two mule-loads of earth to go, thereby allowing him taking the God of Israel to go. After the destruction of the first Jerusalem temple and the mass exile to Babylon in the late 500s BCE, the unthinkable question is asked in Psalm 137:4 – and made famous in the musical Godspell – “How can we sing, sing the Lord’s song, in a foreign land?” Barring packing up a lot of dirt, it seemed impossible.
we take for granted the solution to this problem: God is not limited by
geography. It was only after the Babylonian exile that the notion of
God being the only one and true God really took off. (Holdover
notions of God’s divinity being somehow more potent in a certain land
is seen to this day in the practice of Jews and Muslims facing a
certain direction in prayer and in Jewish cemeteries offering the
family of the deceased the option to have some dirt from the land of Israel interred with the coffin.) So what’s the point here? The
point is that just as you and I change and in changing have different
understandings of the reality we live in, so too does that which is
portrayed as unchanging – God – change. I’m on a bit of a mission to help people to see that the word God isn’t as monolithic (or scary) as it might at first appear. Spiritual-religious advice for the week: try to be comfortable with the fact the only true constant is change.
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