The Bible doesn’t give us a consistent portrait of God’s character.
1st John assures us that God is the light of love and in him there is no shadow of darkness.
But the Almighty has another side. The God of Deuteronomy is “a consuming fire; even a jealous God.”
When the jealous side of God takes over he is pitiless, remorseless and violent. King Saul lost his crown because he failed to utterly destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). Or check out the entire book of Joshua.
For much of the Old Testament, God’s murderous rage is frequently turned against his own people. (The word “murderous” is used advisedly; when God is provoked people die. By the thousands.)
It has been argued that God only gets riled up when his people aren’t behaving themselves. But God’s people are never behaving themselves.
Or it might be that some biblical writers see God as merciful while others associate God with wrath and brimstone.
That doesn’t fly. In Hosea 11, for example, God moves from wrath (“My people are bent on turning away from me, so they are appointed to the yoke, and none shall remove it”), to tenderness (“How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger”).
The God of the philosophers never changes his mind. The Bible God changes his mind six times before breakfast.
Jesus teaches us to love everybody, especially our enemies, because that’s what God is like. Jesus knew his portrait of God couldn’t be squared with vast swaths of Scripture, but he didn’t care. He had a new commandment.
For over three centuries, followers of Jesus took his radical love commandment literally. But when Christianity was embraced by the Roman Empire, things got dicey. How can enemy-lovers defend an empire?
Suddenly, that “consuming fire” God was looking mighty fine.
Then the philosophers got involved. If all Scripture is inspired by God, and if God cannot change, we must find middle ground between the enemy-loving Jesus and the enemy-devouring Joshua.
I am tempted to say that the enemy love of Jesus was abandoned by the Church , but that’s not quite true. The teaching of Jesus continued to exert a leavening influence, but when push came to shove (as it inevitably did) consuming fire carried the day.
Does every passage of Scripture carry equal weight, or does Jesus wield a veto? That’s the big question.
If Jesus is one voice among many, he will lose the popular vote every time. But if Jesus gets a veto, Christianity must be reimagined from the ground up.
We do not worship a bipolar God. God is love. God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. None.
6 thoughts on “Our Bipolar God”
I read everything you send, Alan Bean, and love you a lot. There’s just one “tiny thing” and, at last, I have to comment on it……..GOD has no gender.
Bravo for confronting inconsistency and contradiction of ideas conveyed by the Hebrews and Jesus. Those things have driven thoughtful people away from church.
I know God has no gender and I used to twist myself into grammatical knots to reflect that awareness. I came to realize, however, that only theologically educated people care much aboit inclusive language and that isn’t my target audience.
Inclusive language, when applied to God, has a wooden and arcane quality. At least to me it does.
I think inclusive language SOMETIMES has a wooden and arcane quality. When inclusive language can be used without being awkward, I like to use it.
When we (the church at large) became creedal because Constantine wanted us to be united and help unite his empire and wanted our young men to join his armies and kill his enemies, we abandoned the teachings of Jesus.
But followers of Jesus must give Jesus the last word. Sometimes there is no specific word from Jesus. Like with LGBTQ issues. But a Jesus attitude permeates the synoptic gospels. And that attitude is an attitude of loving acceptance.
Except sometimes. Like in the Parable of the Wedding Feast where the guy w/o the right clothes on is thrown out into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. I think that is an aberration from the Jesus attitude, brought in by folks who couldn’t quite accept the Jesus attitude. Like those folks who insisted gentiles had to be circumcized. Paul caught the Jesus-tude on this (but not everything).
You raise great, important questions. So what do we do with the God of Joshua?
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