What in the world is God really like? “God is love” is one of the most quoted sentences in Christian literature. Yet, look in the Christian Bible: I Kings 2:23-24 suggests, to modern ears, a horrible picture of God:
He (Elisha) went up to Bethel. And while he was going upon the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him saying, “Go away, you baldhead!” “Go away, you baldhead!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (NRSV)
Great scot! What a peevish God. And that’s to say nothing about the entire book of Joshua where in the name of the Lord entire villages are killed, including all men and women, young and old, and all the animals. There is such a primitive understanding of the Lord who values the silver, bronze and gold vessels more than the lives of the Israelites themselves. Of course, they were very primitive people. They understood their God like other peoples about them understood their gods…jealous, angry, vengeful, and demanding great kow-towing before symbolic items representing the deity.
These primitive people looked forward to a messiah who would liberate them from being in bondage to the various stronger conquering nations…the expectation would be that this fire-breathing guy would blow these pagans away…give them what they deserve. (Sounds sort of like modern-day hell-fire threats, doesn’t it?)
The trouble starts for modern-day Christians when our belief system incorporates and assigns to God those same primitive characteristics.
Did God have to have Jesus slain?
Do humans deserve hell?
Why was Jesus crucified?
What are we actually saying when we say Jesus died for our sins? That God demands blood sacrifice in order to be pacified?There’s that peevish God again. I’ve heard it called the fresh meat theory. That God demands that somebody’s gonna die for being unfaithful.
We must look at Jesus to discover a more accurate picture of God. Why? In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in the main we are reading primitive thinking about God…attributing actions to God that are more human in nature…jealous, angry, vengeful actions. However, there are different ideas of God presented, such as the elegant second Isaiah, e.g., Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (NRSV)
We may infer from that passage that the nature of the deity is not like our nature. When we look at Jesus, we remember him telling us that there is no end to forgiveness of the transgressor… seventy times seven.
He was infinitely kind, regardful of children, women, strangers, the marginalized….totally not human standards.
In Elie Weisel’s Night, he tells of an eight-year-old being hanged for stealing a pair of gloves in the icy weather. Someone behind the men being forced to watch said “where is God now?” Another answered “He is hanging there.” That God suffers with us is a different kind of Godliness. A deity that suffers death with us and for us is truly remarkable.
Is a God like this going to announce at some point that there is an end to forgiveness and send you to burn forever? Rather, wouldn’t this loving God be happy to welcome all?
My belief is that God was revealed to us in the man Jesus, the Jesus who died because of our sins. He revealed the God who loves humankind so that he died at our hands…and because he was deity, he survived death and so may we survive death.