What do we do when God isn’t like God? When I say that I am pointing to those parts of the Bible that portray God as doing something other than, for example, causing the sun to rise on the evil and the good.
The Ninth Plague
We see this in the ninth plague against Egypt:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.Exodus 10:21-23, NRSV
God Ordained Genocide
Or we could look at God not loving an enemy by ordering genocide:
But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.Deuteronomy 20:16–18, NRSV
When God Isn’t Like God
How do we make sense of these passages when God isn’t like God?
Rather than trying to make sense of these passages or the numerous other examples when God isn’t like God, today I want to offer some broad thoughts on the Bible that serve as guideposts while working with contradictory passages.
The Word of God
First and most important, the Bible is not the Word of God. In John chapter one the Bible itself identifies the man Jesus as the Christ, the Word of God, made flesh. The Bible then repeatedly points to the Christ most clearly revealed in and through Jesus as the centerpiece of divine revelation. This means the Bible is not the Word of God. The Bible is words ultimately about the Word of God.
Stemming from this, the Bible did not drop down from heaven. God did not write the Bible. Rather a wide array of human beings wrote the Bible as an expression of their ongoing development and understanding of their relationship with God. The first thirty-nine books even center around the communal story of a people whose name means, struggle.
Now, this in no way dismisses the argument of 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (NRSV)
Instead, we often find Scripture’s usefulness, not in what it says, but the struggle it invites us into. A helpful way to think about this is to remember that Scripture offers the author’s subjective description of what happened. Scripture is not always the divine prescription for what should happen.
Scripture Pushes the Envelope
Finally, as we saw when exploring sin loopholes and turning the other cheek, what often appears like a regressive text to our modern sensibilities, was radical and progressive in its day.
Moreover, as you move through the text, the Bible increasingly pushes the social envelope. It is almost as if God realized that the ancient world reject a society based on love rather than power. Four-thousand years ago, the notion of breaking down social divisions based on race, class, and gender was too much for society to endure.
So instead, God built provisions in the Law that provided foreigners, the poor, and women with a modicum of human dignity. If only humanity heeded the divine prompt. Instead, we still find ourselves in a world where those claiming to be God’s children mirror a god who looks nothing like the one Jesus called Father.
A Final Thought
In the end, this is a long way of saying that, when God isn’t like God, odds are, it is not in alignment with the heart of God. That does not mean I just dismiss those verse, rather I wrestle with how they too can ultimately point me to the God Jesus calls Father.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.
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