Thursday, October 29, 2015

God against humanity

I'm going to be intentionally provocative here, exaggerating my point just to make it clear.

Traditionally (in our culture) Christianity is presented as a story about humanity. We were meant to live in relationship with God, and the problem is that sin destroys that relationship and leads to death. So in order to fulfill our purpose and find happiness we need to deal with sin. The Christian answer to this problem is to put our faith in Jesus Christ, whose perfect sacrifice on our behalf completely erases our guilty, and whose Spirit enables us to live holy lives.

This story is beautiful, but it's totally anthropocentric. There is no need for the world to exist. "Relationship" can be rather abstract--it can be minds or souls that interact on an ethereal plane, without any need for bodies. Moreover, sin in this story could come from anywhere. It could be that sin exists solely because God has established certain arbitrary rules. If He would just relent and change the rules, couldn't He deal with sin that way instead? So while beautiful from one point of view, the anthropocentric story might be problematic.

What's really interesting is that as I read the Bible, the story is not at all anthropocentric. God starts by creating a world. He spends six days creating before human beings ever cross His mind. When He does create them, He wants them specifically to cultivate the ground and rule over the animals. When they turn against Him, God is sorry He ever made them. He destroys them with a flood, except for one family, whom He watches grow into another human population, most of which will become utterly evil once again.

He calls out the Israelites from their enslavement to go wipe out the people who live in the land of Canaan. He assures them that it is not for their sake that He is calling them, it is for the sake of the land. The evil of the Canaanites pollutes the land, and their evil has to be utterly wiped out so that the land will be purified. If the Israelites sin as the Canaanites did, God assures them that the land will "vomit them out" just like the Canaanites. Yes, God is faithful to His convenant with Abraham, and eventually He will bring the Israelites back to the promised land after they repent with all their heart. But, He says, the land must have a sabbath before permitting them to return.

In this story, the nature of sin is clear: it hurts the land. That is, it hurts God's good creation. God create humankind to tend to His garden, and instead they destroy it. God has to strike back, or else humans will totally ruin everything. It's God versus humanity.

God's violence in the Bible appears horrendous if God is some abstractly conceived "perfect" being--omniscienct, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. But in the Bible, God is first and foremost the Creator of a good world, who must keep things in order by maintaining justice and restoring balance. He creates human beings in order to help Him do this, but they turn against Him and do just the opposite.

From that point of view, the story of Jesus takes a whole new meaning. Rather than continuing to fight back, God surrenders. He humbles Himself to the point of taking on human flesh, then lets Himself be killed by the empire of humanity. Yet He has the last victory by coming back from the dead. What is His purpose? Presumably the same as it ever was: to save the world that He made.

I suppose that raises many more questions than answers, but it's a way to throw out old baggage and to think about the whole story in a different way. Because the story is not so anthropocentric, it's a little more mysterious how humans fit into it. I guess I'll leave that for another time.

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