How do you know which God anyone follows? Some people practice Islam who are kind, gracious, and compassionate. Others are terrorists. Both claim to follow Allah, but do any of us believe they worship the same God?
The same can be said for those who follow the God of the Bible. Fifty-five years ago, members of the KKK and Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King both claimed to worship the God of the Bible, but do we think they followed the same God? Today the same question can be asked of Westboro Baptist Church whose web domain proclaims godhatesfags and Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber who a decade ago founded a predominantly queer congregation in Denver, CO.
In the words of liberation theologian James Cone:
Oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God. The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery. The oppressors’ God is a God of slavery and must be destroyed along with the oppressors.A Black Theology of Liberation
If we don’t all mean the same thing when we use terms like Allah, God, or even Jesus, then the meanings we apply to the words on the pages of a sacred text like the Bible are often far more important than the words themselves. And this brings us back to last week’s post that introduced the early verses of Genesis as a reaction to the Babylonian tale of the Enuma Elish.
Myths Identify Which God We Believe In
A primal story (aka cosmological mythology) like the Enuma Elish aimed to help ancient people understand themselves and the world they lived in. It also defined their understanding of God. In American culture, we do the same thing through phrases like the American Dream.
In the case of the ancient Babylonians, their origin story opens with a detailed account of how the new Babylonian deity Marduk defeated the other ancient gods to establish a new divine order. The rest of the story reveals Marduk as one who orders creation and establishes Babylon as his temple. As part of creating order, Marduk creates humanity from the blood of his primary enemy. The role of people? To serve the gods, especially Marduk.
So the ancient Babylonians lived in fear of the bloodthirsty Marduk and aimed to serve him by participating in his quest to defeat other gods. This is why Babylon set out to conquer and assimilate other nations, which is exactly what they did with Israel through the Babylonian Exile (6th Century BCE). They took Israel from their homeland to Babylon, but then allowed them to live as free people. Seventy years later, when allowed to return home, many Israelites stayed in Babylon.
Marduk vs. Yahweh
Not wanting Israel’s God Yahweh to be forgotten, Israel’s religious leaders responded to the Enuma Elish with a counter-narrative that opened, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The next line moves immediately into God ordering the creation. There is no bloody conflict in the heavens, no debate over who is most powerful, there are not even other gods. There’s just Yahweh.
And Yahweh is not some bloodthirsty or power-hungry tyrant. Just the opposite, Yahweh is creative, imaginative, and pleased with the creation. Humanity comes, not from the blood of an enemy, but as those crafted in the very image of God.
Which God Does Broken Christianity Follow?
The whole point of those early chapters of Genesis is to paint a radically different picture of what God is like, and in the process give you an entirely different way of understanding yourself and your role in the world.
But rarely does broken Christianity allow the pages of Genesis to do that. Instead, it turns Genesis into a science book and seeks to use it to explain the origins of the earth. It takes the image of a deity who acts like Marduk and projects it onto Yahweh so people end up living in fear and hoping somehow they manage to avoid hell.
In the end, broken Christianity might claim to follow the Bible, but based on how the God they proclaim acts, it strikes me as the equivalent of Aaron standing at the base of Sinai insisting that the Golden Calf is the God who led the exodus from Egypt:
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”Exodus 32:1-4
Article: 5 Modern Insights About the Old Testament That Aren’t Going Anywhere by Pete Enns
I realize that, most likely, I am challenging you to think about the Old Testament in a very different way. Here are five reasons why I can no longer read it the way I learned growing up and while working on my Masters Degree.
Podcast: Finding Ourselves in the Stories of the Bible with Amanda Mbuvi on The Bible for Normal People
In this interview Amanda Mbuvi discusses how the stories of Genesis are actually invitations to not only explore but form our personal and communal identities, including a bit about the Enuma Elish versus Genesis.
Book: The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton (affiliate)
In many ways, this book served as a primary catalyst to me rethinking all of the Bible. In it Walton explores the ancient world and invites us to read Genesis as a primal story/cosmological mythology where Yahweh establishes the whole earth as the divine temple.
Write down a list of adjectives to describe how you think about God. Once you have a list, think about where you learned that. Who or what has most shaped your thinking to date? Who or what do you want to shape your thinking moving forward?
If you’re willing, reply to this post and share what you find with me. Or, if you’re really feeling brave, ask to join our Discord server and share with those who gather there.
How do the early pages Genesis invite us to think about ourselves and how to live in the world? Over the next few weeks, we will dig into some details. This includes things like gender, creation care, and work. Let me know if there’s something you want to dig into sooner rather than later!
Uplifting. I was paddling on Little River with my teenage son when a tiny yellow hooded bird flew by my head and landed on a branch just out of reach. Not that I would have tried to touch. The bird close at hand, close enough to be a sign of God’s presence. I have never encountered the species before. I thought a yellow parakeet! But it was yellow hooded with light green-blue-gray wings and pillowy breast under and the beak was wrong. I said to my son, “a sign from God.” Later I searched for the bird in the books we have. A warbler, a prothonotary warbler. A sign from God indeed. In the way of the songbird cardinal’s red robe and hat, the churchman prothonotary is dressed in a yellow hood. Lived her 50 years and never saw one. The next time me and my son paddled out he spotted an expensive fishing lure caught on a branch in the middle of river. Investigating he found the lure was attached to a nice fishing rig undamaged in the water. Should I be so bold? A sign from God. God is always ready to accept repentance. Thank you for your brilliant post, Pastor Joe. Deeply appreciated.
Seems it would be bold to not see God in all things … or at least that God is active in all things (whether you find an expensive lure or not).