Still Wrestling With This

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?”

9 responses

  1. Excellent post, Forrest; it might well be named your vision of God, or even better your image of Reality. I trust you're gathering these posts into a larger form, perhaps in a website?You might also provoke me into "going and doing likewise".Everything comes together in the End.

  2. Thank you; it hasn't all rolled easily off the old tongue here, has been an effort to be as outrageous as truth without being needlessly offensive or inaccurate– and I do need somebody in the congregation yelling "Hallelujah, Brother!" every now & then!!!I'm not trying to accumulate posts anywhere, or try to assemble them into a book called "God". (I used to occasionally think I was writing a Poem With Everything, but always there was too much left out. Anyway, I want my thoughts to stimulate & encourage other people's thoughts, not to become the Forrestian System for tastefully decorating unfurnished minds!)Provoke, provoke! ("The blog-partner You sent me provoked me, and I wrote!"? ) Okay!

  3. I don’t have much firsthand knowledge of all the images of God you have presented here, but what you say makes a lot of sense to me. The one thing that doesn’t make sense is that, with an ever-shifting view of God (as you point out, he is generally a reflection of the powers-that-be) and absolutely no permanence to be found in our image of him, what leads to a belief in him in the first place?

    I started reading the Bible with the (obviously flawed) notion that I would find there a single, definitive description of the God people believe in today – the source, in fact, of that belief – only to discover that he is, in the books of Genesis and Exodus, at least, as primitive in his demands as the people of that age would have been. People whose intellect I respect very much are quick to point out that our understanding of God has evolved a lot since then, but I have never found a satisfactory answer to the question: Evolved from what? If the Old Testament borrows from earlier mythologies; if God is someone different for every different person who describes him; and most importantly, if there exists no actual ‘authoritative’ direct communication with him, then from whence does he come?

    Probably the greatest problem this question indicates, though, is that if the nature of God is able to change along with the nature of human beings, and he’s not going to correct our understanding by explaining himself directly, then what does he actually do that human beings can’t do on their own?

    This is an earnest question. Most conversations I’ve ever had about it go around in circles. Is God someone who has communicated with man, or is he someone whom man has invoked to explain the unexplainable – a placeholder theory until we come up with a better answer?

  4. You keep making the tacit assumption that “God,” and “human beings” are disjoint entities, as well as assuming there’s no ‘God’ distinct from ‘ideas of God,’ to serve as a model.

    Analogy… “I”. People have been saying “I” for a very long time now. Conceptions of what it refers to have varied all over the place, from Descartes’ ~’thing that thinks it is’ to ‘member of such-&-such tribe, son of ____, married to ___ and ___ and ___,’ to ‘owner of ____’ or ‘this person with a Phd’ or ‘temporary collection of thoughts here’ or ‘side effect of really big, complex structure of electric depolarization waves moving along the membranes of long skinny cell bodies’

    but there you are, despite all that! Whatever idea of yourself strikes you as most cogent, there’s this person Robert and that elusive word ‘I’…

    It’s no coincidence that I picked that word. The idea of ‘God’ needs no more explanation than the idea of ‘I’, both being facts of human experience; and both are best defined by a ‘There it is!’ approach.

    “I” is a kind of approximation of “God”… If you can keep examining yourself internally, down toward ‘seeing’ your true self as a core of ‘bare fact of existence existing’, you converge on what God “looks like”.

    It isn’t so much that God isn’t going to explain himself directly; it’s that the explanation takes the form of the very life you’re living. That’s the kind of form it necessarily takes.

    God is “only” ‘the mind’s I’? Be careful of that word “only”!

  5. If i silence my mind, then who am i? Then i’m not my ego with the conceptual name bert anymore. I am beyond concepts. Am i then interconnected to something greater?
    Am i always connected, but does my mind act like a jamming signal?

    1. That’s how a lot of yogis read it…

      The trouble is, this could be interpreted to mean that the mind is merely a nuisance, that ‘enlightenment’ would involve getting rid of the silly thing.

      But then we’ve got Judaism and Christianity telling us that God deliberately created little blobs of ’embodied, limited God’ — and said that ‘It was good.’ Christianity, as I see it, adding that God intends to continue this arrangement indefinitely… which suggests that there’s a way to harmonize ‘thinking for ourselves’ with ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ That Jesus managed it, and said that anyone who learned what he was teaching could do the same.

      How? Guidance and Inspiration remains available. We learn what we’re given, and more comes to us.

  6. No, i don’t see the mind as a nuissance. It is necessary to interpret silence and to apply logic. It is often in the way of inspiration. If bright ideas come directly from god, they didn’t come out of logic or interpretation. John van Ruysbroeck, a christian mystic, went to the forest to pray and meditate and be inspired. My catholic parish priest, from whom i learned that there is more than church service, did something like that. I see that great saints like saint francis, john of the cross and teresa de avilla and padre pio, all went this mystical path. Not to forget meister eckhart or bernadette roberts.
    I don’t see an incompatibility between christian faith (any faith in fact), god and meditation. But in my world, i have seen in my own lifetime how the church in my country declined from 95% catholic churchgoers to 3%, and i don’t want to sit in between the fundamentalist what is left. As Kant said, we feel ashamed when talking about prayer, but he did pray himself. So when i wrote my ’12 discoveries’, i only briefly talk about prayer which is the 2nd person singular applied to God/All.
    To bring the message to an audience, and not be diskwalified like a jehova witness or a mormon, i apply that kantian quote. Meditation is the 1st person singular, God in Me. Talking about the Force is the 3rd person singular still talking about the same God.
    To me all life also including the entire universe of matter and energy is ’embodied limited God’

    1. God at work in what seems utterly pedestrian to us. We think, “It’s just us,” but even our mistakes fit in…

      My own ‘church’ aka ‘the Quakers’ has problems of its own.

      It looks to me as though humanity has been ‘turned away from’ God for some centuries now. But if that turning is God’s work — What’s come to me lately was an analogy with something that happens in child raising: At some point a kid needs to assert independence, and rebelliousness is often a normal expression of that. It may look like mass ‘running away from home’, but it’s really a step toward maturity. Not towards alienation, but towards freeing our minds to see the way God really intends for us…

  7. “At some point a kid needs to assert independence” That is the best way of seeing it. And rebellion is but the first step. Next they taste everything there is, travel the world, and only after that play their role and visit their in laws once a month.

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