A god needed to be known for something. It helped if it added a domain to its credentials. Better still if it cut (or rather was cut into) a figure that matched its boasts. So a god of fertility for instance needed to have a phallus down to its ankle if it was a male figure, or breasts that swept the floor if it was a she. They didn’t make demands on your conscience. They had no highfalutin ideas about how to shape the world. They approved of bribery; their currency of choice was human blood, rivers of it.
Baalim went several steps further. Its shrine was a theatre for fornication. Not only did it have the look and the domain, it also offered the licence to thrill. And it’s sport of choice: let’s just say a lot of fun-loving women and men hung about its temple. A god, any god, would struggle to trump that. Of course there were several pretenders to its throne, but nothing succeeds quite like… well… you know what.
Into this world in which gods justle for space and dominance, one made an appearance. He was too shy to reveal his name. When pushed he said “I am”. Twice. He talked of judgement, justice and he disapproved of the sort of monkey business that made Baalim so attractive. He was bound to struggle.
Into this world in which gods justle for space and dominance, one made an appearance.
To be sure he split seas and caused mountains to quake. He brought water out of a rock and had a penchant for consuming offerings in smoke. He was definitely not short of pyrotechnics and was fairly liberal at filling the skies with them. In a world that was available to be won over by the largest display of muscle, he proved his mettle. We love such stuff.
He was obsessed with fairness, proper conduct and consideration. He appeared to like the poor, going by all the laws to protect them from covetousness. He also loved widows and orphans and threatened in the body of his laws to fight for them. Oh yes…those laws, all 613 of them! He was bound to struggle.
Gods were supposed to rule and have subjects. They weren’t meant to babysit. No moral obligations or filial responsibilities required. Love the stranger! 1Deuteronomy 10:19 What was that about? In fact, if you want to do good, sacrifice a stranger, if you want to do better, sacrifice a virgin. And if you want to achieve the ultimate in status, then sacrifice your children.
Not so with the new one! He took relationships seriously. He carved covenants around every little thing and expected people to honour their sides of every bargain…I mean! He was strict; hard as a nail. Boundaries all around: people, animals, nature, everyone and everything must know its place in the larger scheme of things and respect each other’s spaces.
He laid claim to goodness. Why was that necessary? Don’t ask me. The more fierce, blood-thirsty and whimsical a god was, the more we loved them. Goodness? Gods weren’t meant to be good. Who dared judge them? They were expected to reserve their prerogatives for bullishness and cause famines, drought and natural disasters for no good reason. Hell! They didn’t need a reason good or bad.
He poured his essence into flesh and broke into time. The Lord of salvation came to his own.
Realising he needed public relations, some offered help. Those to whom he initially revealed himself tried to give him a profile. They called him the God of Israel. But he didn’t want to be just a national God. He said the earth and its fullness were his’. 2Psalm 24:1 Then the Syrians offered him a territory. They called him the god of the hills. 31Kings 20:23 Mistake! By the time he finished proving he was simply the Lord, they were toast. What to do?
In insisting on being different he struggled. Those to whom he gave his love cheated on him with…guess who… Baalim, ha! They took all he gave but gave their hearts to another. His covenant they cast aside. 41Kings 19:10 The place in their land he chose for his name to dwell became a den of the occult. 5Ezekiel 8:16; 2Kings 17:16-17
What was that thing about loving thy neighbour… Please! They swore, lied, stole, murdered, broke out and blood touched blood. 6Hosea 4:2
Even he realised things weren’t working out quite well, so he changed tact. He would no longer be invisible, no longer a voice in the head nor an image in a vision of the night. He poured his essence into flesh and broke into time. The Lord of salvation came to his own.
He came without any presumptions of holiness or righteousness. No airs, no grandeur, no office. Though he was without sin, he nonetheless submitted himself to a baptism of repentance. He bowed himself before one who was not qualified to undo the latchet of his sandals, and asked to be initiated. And the point of his visit: he came to:
“preach the gospel to the poor; …to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” 7Luke 4:18-19
Basically he came to do good. This time he didn’t give laws, just exhortations that went a bit further. He sought to free himself from situations and dicta by which human beings imposed their predilections on him. So instead of ‘an eye for an eye’, he asked that we turn the other cheek. Rather than just limiting the love and the peace to kith and kin, he encouraged to love our enemies, to do good to those who hurt and despitefully use and abuse us. 8Matthew 5:44 Strange doctrine and a tad too fantastic, he was bound to struggle.
Basically he came to do good. He loved the poor, taught women and entertained sinners.
He loved the poor, taught women and entertained sinners. He had particular aversion to anyone with a pretension to holiness or righteousness and really, really laid it to the hide of the clergy and the elite. He called them blind, hypocrites, serpents and generations of vipers. 9Matthew 23 In short he asked for trouble.
And trouble came thick and fast. By the time they were through with him, he stood no chance. All the wisdom (transcendental stuff), meekness and lowliness could not save him. Those he spent much of his life healing and delivering were hired to scream for his head. He willingly gave it to them, a sacrifice to reconcile heaven and earth.
But not before he had left a legacy: his church; the place where the dream of monotheism had the biggest chance of fulfillment. And he charged his disciples, to invite all, irrespective of gender, race or colour, to a fellowship with him. 10Matthew 28:19 He gave one commandment: love. 11John 13:35 That would be the token of citizenship of his kingdom.
No sooner than he laid down his church and returned whence he came that men hijacked his church. The ‘guardians of light’ waged war in the name of the God of peace, preached hate and separation from the pulpit of an inclusive and loving God. Between the inquisition, wars of religion, anti-Semitism, blood, not righteousness, flowed. But that wasn’t the biggest challenge.
In ancient times, he worked to prove there wasn’t enough space in the world for him and Baalim. Today, he is fighting a losing battle with another god. He foresaw that it had a potential to cause him problems, so he warned his followers: you can’t serve two masters. Beware of covetousness, he warned. What if you gained the whole world but lose your soul? he asked. His church found an answer to all that, a way out of a spiritual conundrum. They called it buying indulgences. Let me explain.
You could flout all 613 laws, if at all they were your sort of thing; walk in the opposite direction to the beatitudes, 12Matthew 5 if they were too comprehensive for you; look your neighbour in the eye and draw first blood; damn the Holy Spirit and call heaven to bear witness. Your sins would be written off if you paid the Pope loads of cash. That is how people bought indulgences in the middle ages.
Considered deeply, the story of God is very much about the problem with mankind.
These days, Christian citizens of the kingdom of God need not bother with buying indulgences. The Catholic Church should have known it was settled on the cross, silly. The fad now is seed-sowing. Mammon has succeeded where Baalim failed.
Considered deeply, this story of God is very much about the problem with mankind. An Apostle of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus made a rather curious remark. He said we were created subject to vanity. 13Romans 8:20-21 So that the good that we would, we do not: but the evil which we would not, that we do. 14Romans 7:19 Each time God’s best schemes confront man’s base instincts, the latter trumps the former.
We pride ourselves on having free will and accord credit to the creator for continuing to allow us free choices even in the face of the most abominable acts. A species under bondage to vanity or any other yoke are hardly free agents. Until heaven undertake a major re-wiring, even the Second Coming will be stretched beyond all elasticity.
Is such re-wiring to be hoped for? Doubtful, for this is the story of an incurable optimist. A God who acts in hope in the face of abject hopelessness. In Healing a Fractured World, Lord Jonathan Sacks invites us to consider the faith God reposed in Job, that come what may, Job will not betray him. What in the whole world made God take out a wager on the integrity of a human being, especially one driven over the edge?
Would God have changed had Job failed him? Unlikely; for this is the story of a God who’s hopelessly in love. He’s lived with a broken heart ever since Adam and Eve. And successive generations have stuck their daggers in mindlessly, endlessly. He’s nonetheless kept his heart open and his arms stretched out to embrace any who would come in to him. The psalmist said of him:
“Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” 15Psalm 78:36-39
Let’s give it up for a God that will not give up on us, no matter.
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|5.||↑||Ezekiel 8:16; 2Kings 17:16-17|