GOD IS NOT THE GOD OF YOUR NEIGHBORS
You know the expression “poop happens?” It sort of implies that bad things happen sometimes just because that’s how “real” life is. And I get that.
I really like Rabbi Kushner’s work, When Bad Things Happen To Good People. It’s a good read even if you haven’t incurred a host of so-called bad luck. But it can be particularly healing for those who experience being on the short end of God’s stick, so to speak.
I also know there are what we call “natural” consequences. When you run a red light, for example, there are all sorts of possible “natural” consequences, some of which can be quite deadly and costly. So I get all of that too.
And I know there are many folks out there who cannot figure out why a loving God allows natural disasters to occur. Of course, no one stops to realize that the natural disasters were occurring long long before we showed up! And back then, there was no one around to label them as natural disasters, no television coverage, no storm watch or disaster watch to bring it to us while it is happening. In fact, disasters were not disasters in those days, just Nature doing its thing. But I do understand why folks ask the question.
However, it has always been intriguing to me that a great many of us have developed a notion or a picture, if you will, of God sitting up somewhere, overlooking life in general, and just waiting with bated breath to strike us down or punish us. And worse, God sits around thinking up tests for us just to see where we stand.
So, in our endeavor to understand reality, we "create" and perpetuate a God of rewards and punishments. Interestingly enough, focusing on rewards and punishment represents what Kohlberg calls a preconventional stage of moral development which is not exactly complimentary to either God or ourselves.
Now, I also know a little bit about Scripture, New and Old Testament, and I realize there are plenty of stories clearly suggesting and depicting a God who IS waiting to wield punishment upon us, is constantly testing us, and is very much a God of rewards and punishments. But it is like anything. If we bring to the Scriptures a preconceived notion about God being a judge, a Grand Inquisitor, having an insatiable divine appetite to test us, then we will find that God in every Scripture story, or we will go out of our way to interpret the scripture stories in that vein even though the story may actually be suggesting something else all together about God.
And I suppose I might as well go the next step and suggest that if the person receiving the divine inspiration already conceptualizes God as “Da Judge,” then the divine story will be funneled through that mind set. Wow! That makes God absolutely wonder filled! God "allows" inspiration to be completely formed by the receiver. What is that telling us about our God?
Well, for one thing, God is certainly not a control freak, that’s for sure. It suggests that God expects us to grow up and develop our vision over the centuries, over the millennia. God expects each generation to uncover (reveal) and discover more and more of the divine "truth." Inspiration is re-revealed with each new generation seeing yet another piece of the big picture, much like seeing reality through a clear kaleidoscope. What we are viewing keeps changing with each turn of the cylinder. Jesus' life and message is a model of this process. Jesus' view and interpretation of Scripture and the Law was so "new," so outside the box, it was considered blasphemous!
What I like about my “theory” is it makes each of us responsible for continuing to unfold the mysteries of our Creator, and, in so “responding” to that responsibility, develop the “creator” inside each of us. No, I’m not suggesting we are creators unto ourselves. God created us to be creators. Creativity is our heritage. We are called, like Jesus himself, to envision outside the box.
And so I take up my responsibility in sharing with you a different way of SEEING one of the all time all time Genesis stories. The new awareness of what the story is "really" about just literally exploded in front of me the other morning, like fourth of July fireworks, extremely colorful, brimming with awe, breathtaking to use a cliche, and, as Billy Crystal would say, mawvelous!
ABRAHAM AND ISAAC, GENESIS 22
So here’s the passage. Genesis 22: 1-13. This translation can be found in one of my favorite prayer books: Daily Prayers For Busy People, by William J. O’Malley in “Third Wednesday, Morning Prayer,” page 118.
“Father,” the boy said. “Here are the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb to be slain and offered?”
And the old man said, “Son, God has provided it.”
When they arrived at the place that God had pointed out,
Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood.
Then he bound Isaac, his beloved, God’s promised gift,
and laid him on the wood and raised the knife to slay him.
“Wait!” cried the voice of God. “Enough! Enough!
Don’t raise your hand against the boy or harm him.
You know now that your trust in me is secure;
you know that Isaac is Isaac and God is God.”
And Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught
by the curl of its horns in the gnarls of a thornbush.
And he sacrificed the ram in place of his only son.
The line that exploded for me is You know now that your trust in me is secure....
In the past, I struggled with this being a story of obedience, perhaps because of my own upbringing wherein everything in life was about being obedient. It was never within the will of God for me to say NO to any authority for any reason even though my precious soul was screaming NO. AND, that’s for another blog! Suffice for now to let you know of my prior struggle, and thank God, I know now, that God has blessed me with both Yes’s and No’s.
So guess what? Now my "mindset" is open to seeing a different message in this story, namely, the message of trust.
And that is so fitting because in recent years, I have chosen to center my life around TRUSTING, and trusting God in particular, trusting that God, as well as the people who love me, have my best interest at heart, and that God, in particular, will take care to see to it that everything works out, and even sometimes with very little input from Vern! I have embraced Wayne Dyer’s experience of God as my Senior Partner. I love it!
So I have learned in recent years that the harder I try to control other people, life circumstances, the universe, the way the sun revolves around the solar system, the time it takes for traffic signals to change from red to green when my car is acting up and cannot tolerate having to stop....well, you know what I am talking about, don’t you? Yes, the list goes on. At any given moment, there are so many people and so many things we desperately strive to control, and yes, we do strive, and with little or no success. I mean, let's face it. We are hell-bent on controlling!
It is so difficult, in fact, it seems impossible for some reason, and yet it is the easiest route to take, namely to let go of desperately trying to control and instead to turn what I can't control over to God, to literally surrender it all, to trust that God is a good God, to trust that God will work it out. No, it is not about being naive or unwilling to do my part, nor about being helpless or weak. It IS about wisdom. And The Serenity Prayer sums it up so well.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
And it may or may not surprise you that on any given day, I cannot get the first line out. I keep saying, God, grant me the serenity to control the things I cannot control..... Of course, I stop and say to myself, “No, I know that’s not how it goes.” And I keep attempting to retrieve the first sentence, and sometimes it takes me three and four tries till I finally burst out laughing and I remember the word ACCEPT. Too funny.
Now here is my take on the Abraham story after grasping the importance of TRUST.
Abraham’s introduction to God was a big deal because this new God was quite different from the other gods of the neighborhood. Abraham’s God wanted an interpersonal loving relationship with him, which was unheard of. Abraham’s God loved him so much that he blessed him and Sara with a child which was downright miraculous.
But Abraham never stopped worrying. He couldn't quite trust this new God. He couldn't get passed the fear that this new God just might be a trickster like the other gods of his neighbors. You see, the gods of the neighborhood in those days all required their subjects to sacrifice their children to them, and Abraham could not get it out of his head that someday this newfound God of love would also ask him to sacrifice not only one of his children, but Isaac, the only son from him and Sara.
Abraham was stuck precisely where so many of us live our lives--in perpetual fear of the catastrophic. We just know there is a lineup of catastrophes and losses awaiting their turn in the wings, waiting for God’s signal to enter our lives. This fear of the unknown, of the future, of catastrophes, of waiting for the other shoe to drop, of impending doom, has obviously been a part of the human condition perhaps from the beginning of time. And it is easy to identify the character flaw here, our inability to trust. To go further and speculate about how we have inherited that flaw is yes a good topic for another hub! But suffice to say now, that flaw of distrust is there for us and it was there for Abraham as well.
Perhaps this was Abraham’s soulful conversation. “I just know that as much as God loves me, God is going to ask me, just like the other gods of the neighborhood, to sacrifice my beloved son, Isaac. So I might as well get it over with now, and take Isaac up to the mountain and offer him in sacrifice to my God.”
Isn’t this us? So often, when trouble of some kind or another befalls us, we begin anticipating the worst. We can’t even imagine an outcome where everything works out. We cannot muster up the courage to TRUST, to trust God, to trust the universe, to trust those around us who love us, to trust that there is an outcome that will continue to give even more life to the Life God has already bestowed upon us. And so, we take action to anticipate the other shoe falling, we beat life to the punch, and in the process, literally create our own pathetic and or tragic outcomes, pathetic and tragic outcomes that are not God’s will, but outcomes of our own design grown out of a fear that has no foundation in reality.
Take note how adamant God is in screaming to Abraham.
“Wait!” cried the voice of God. “Enough! Enough!
God is crying out to Abraham and to us, however many thousand years later.
“Enough! Enough of anticipating the worst, enough of seeing me as a cruel God who has nothing better to do than to trick and test the ones I love. You don’t feel secure yet in trusting me? Come on! Trust me. Know who Isaac is and know who God is. Isaac is your son, for crying out loud. Don’t hurt Isaac. Don’t hurt anyone. Don’t sacrifice anyone. There is no good reason to sacrifice another human being to God. Don’t you remember from the story of creation? We are not a cruel God. We are not looking for sacrifice. That is not who we are. We are looking for a love relationship with you whom we created in our image and likeness. And we will take care of you. It is safe to surrender to us. And yes, you still have to take charge of what we have given you to take charge of. And we will give you wisdom every day to know the difference between what you can change and what you cannot. But surrender to our love. There is serenity there just for you.”
Perhaps you too are searching for God. Well, take some insight from Genesis 22. God just may not be the god of your neighbors, the god who is demanding sacrifice and justice, who sits around devising tests for you to pass or else. Beware of any religious message that becomes more complicated than simply acknowledging where in your life you are powerless and then turning that part of your life over, surrendering it.
BUT, by all means, BE SOLD on changing what you can. Yes, absolutely change what you can. Then trust that God will take care of the rest. And in the meantime, God will give you the serenity you deserve.
Now, one more thing. As long as we hold on to an image of God as a God of rewards and punishments, we will continue to view other people in terms of good guys and bad guys. And as long as we divide the human family into good guys and bad guys, we can justify all the inhumane activities we participate in including holy wars for so-called just causes, and we never have to question the agenda of the leaders who declare those wars. Now that is scary to me.
And secondly, holding on to the image of a God of rewards and punishments never leads us to a theology of love where we learn to love unconditionally, the very way God loves us, the way we are so inexperienced at loving each other. As an infant, as a child, as a teenager, it is imperative that I experience being loved unconditionally. It is the only way I will be able to grow up and become a responsible and accountable adult who knows how to love another human being and then together to love and raise our children.
There is an interesting popular trilogy, The Hunger Games that has also been made into a movie. I have only begun reading the trilogy and have no idea what the movie will be like. But I think this trilogy speaks to much of what I have been writing here.
I hope you enjoy "chewing" on this blog. There will be a sequel further exploring the implications of Genesis 22 for us parents and lovers.
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