God creates a world that has creatures embodying God’s own life. Unlike the angels, these creatures are created incomplete, designed to start out under extreme limitations and develop in an open-ended, variable way, into greater stature. I can’t imagine how many times God may have done this…
Somewhere in that process there needed to be a “disobedience”, some chance for these creatures to test their power and learn the word “trouble.” The necessary tree was provided, and since the humans weren’t taking the hint, the Serpent was sent in to talk them into it (and to take the blame, blame being an unfortunate side effect of said tree & its fruit.) Exit humans, weeping & kvetching, into great adventure and ample opportunity for learning (including the aversive sort.)
If God didn’t give humans enough scope to bruise themselves against the world, how would they develop interesting scars and personality traits? So God leaves them largely to themselves, just observes, and soon they invent murder, agriculture, and civilization.
God feels for these creatures, much as we feel for a baby undergoing some unavoidable inconvenience. And like an inconvenienced baby, humans feel their suffering to be intolerable, unfair, and endless.
Humans develop 1) an insufferable amount of personality 2) great fear of God, the world, and themselves– understanding none of these but inclined to suspect the worst.
They aren’t prepared “to walk humbly with their God”. They’ve tied knots in their minds that make them tie knots in their minds… I don’t need to describe typical human behavior; we’ve all done it.
One way God acts to deal with this is by choosing a People, offering them a great destiny and a list of responsibilities that would require them being “Good”. They fail, like any People, but they make and keep an account of their efforts, of what they thought God was asking, what they thought God was offering, how it felt trying to do right, hoping for God’s triumph and blessing, frequently suffering instead.
That account constitutes the Hebrew Scriptures, which the Christians rearranged slightly and reinterpreted to support their own claims: That one Jew named Jesus had fulfilled God’s purpose for his People, that you didn’t need to become Jewish to benefit, that Jesus would soon take charge of the world on God’s behalf, and people needed to know! Great blessings if they believed, Wrath if they didn’t.
While all this was going on, while God (presumably) didn’t change, our understanding of God varied wildly, changed quite drastically depending on who interpreted His purposes and how they lived:
1) Early pastoral nomads: God behaving much like the gods of neighboring Peoples, no known criteria re who could sacrifice to him or where it could be done.
2) Levites & whoever came out of Egypt with them: God favoring the Jews, hating slavery, giving them much but demanding much in return. Violently dangerous if approached too closely by unauthorized persons.
3) Early Hebrew farmers in Canaan: God evidently accepting sacrifices by local worthies, not necessarily priests, on any properly made altar, any suitable place. He doesn’t call for human sacrifice, but at least one follower vows and carries one out. God as a military god, inspirer and guide of local war leaders against pagan raiders & invaders. Wants people to put trust in His power, not in centralized human leadership– but when people lack confidence, call for a king, God has got one in mind.
4) Retainers of the monarchies: God now likes kings! Wants to keep David’s descendants ruling forever. The kings behave badly; half the nation revolts when Solomon’s son is unwilling to drop the forced labor his father had imposed. God suddenly wants a centralized Temple to be the one and only authorized site for sacrifices– although a lot of residents of the northern kingdom of Israel don’t see it that way.
5) Priests: God wants only priests of the right lineage performing sacrifices. God is very particular about having religious ceremonies properly carried out and priests well supported.
6) Prophets: God wants the kings of Israel & Judea to trust Him for protection– much as God previously had wanted the Israelite tribes to trust Him (rather than a king.) God watches kings & people behaving unjustly, depending on seemingly practical stratagems which will only fail them. If this goes on
7) Prophets after foreign conquests: Widespread misconduct had roused God’s indignation, but God still loved a few (worthy) Israelites and intended to return them to a new, repentant Israel..
8) Prophets after the return: God wants worshipers married to foreign wives to send them away, doesn’t want Samaritans helping rebuild his Temple. God loves Cyrus of Persia and the religious leaders he’s authorized to govern Israel.
Most of the time, the powers that be… see God as favoring the powers that be.
Not only that, but the way people understand God as acting– seems to depend on the form of government they live under. Monarchies put God on a throne… and in modern democracies… it almost seems like God gets reduced to “just another opinion.”
But all the forms of government we know seem to be based on violence and coercion. The Jews of 1st Century Judea were expecting another king (“A good one, this time, okay?!”) And they were given a nonviolent king. One who washes people’s feet, not as a pious gesture, but as a sign of the proper relation of rulers to their people.
That’s pretty radical, as a form of earthly government.
But this happens in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is often portrayed acting and speaking as a stand-in for God! Not only does he wash Peter’s feet; he won’t let Peter stay his disciple unless he lets Jesus wash his feet.
“Get out of the way and let God help us? Let God do the things we thought we could accomplish ourselves?”