by Robert Brinsmead
Man - male and female - are made in God's image and likeness. This is the only place where God is revealed to us - the arena of human life and existence. "God is manifest in the flesh." "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." We of course, have learned to give these New Testament statements a generic meaning as even Jesus intended we should do. Even Paul says in one place, "That which may be known of God is manifested in them..."
All ideas and theologies have originated in the human mind, including all the distorting myths and the more edifying longings for a more humane order. The clearer revelation of what and who God is comes with the progressive dawning of a human consciousness. There is much in the Old Testament that portrays Yahweh as the tribal God of the Hebrews and a celestial bully at that. Even in the prophets a true monotheism emerges slowly and progressively. Their's was a theology and a morality of the Exodus. God was manifested in what God did for Israel- delivering them from oppression. So Israel's God is the One who "executes justice for all that are oppressed." This sets the pattern for the kind of human behaviour that can create a Promised Land.
In creating a Land like this, the people of the Exodus must act out the story and the spirit of the Exodus in all their relationships including even the life of their beasts. God hates oppression. So the people must hate any and every expression of oppression. They must not oppress the poor because they too had been poor and oppressed. They must defend and protect the fatherless because they too had been fatherless in the land of Egypt. They must not oppress the stranger, because they too had been strangers in Egypt.
Even in the prophets Israel alone is portrayed as a special people with a special relationship to God. The meaning of this only slowly dawns. The real meaning of the election of Abraham, ("I will make you a blessing and through you I will bless all the nations on earth" ) was yet to dawn, yet it emerges in the prophets who could have God finally say, "Blessed is Egypt my son and Assyria the work of my hand." Or as one Psalm dares to express it, "The Lord is good to all and his mercy is upon all his works". The story of Jonah is a powerful parabolic story of God's love for the enemies of Israel, a revelation that made Jonah, representing Israel, angry. But one has to smile as this story unfolds because it shows that even Jonah had all along suspected that God did not have the heart to beat the tripe out Jonah's enemies. That's why he was a reluctant messenger. He did not want to risk giving Nineveh the chance that God would show mercy to them.
I think it was Karen Armstrong who pointed out that a true monotheism only emerges in the later prophetic writings of the Old Testament.
All ideas about God are the human consciousness's expression of what is thought to be the highest good. (Jesus: "there is none good but One and that is God." ) How can God be anything less than the kind of love we conceive of in the unconditionality of the marriage vow or the unconditional love parents have for their children? There are theologies that do not comport with what is truly human. The best expressions of the human spirit sometimes surpass what is ascribed to God. The latter come from the shadows of the beasts that still lurk around in what is to be our Promised Land.. The second book of Isaiah declares that as high as the heavens are above the earth so are God's thoughts of compassion higher than ours. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man, what God has prepared (and I edit the prophet here) for those that hate him." It is certainly not conditioned on our love for God, even as Paul suggests when he says, "All things work together for good for them that love God, for them who are called according to his eternal purpose." The last bit here is fine because everyone who bears the imprint of God's image is called according to God's purpose. So I edit Paul to say, "All things work together for good for them who are loved by God."
I laugh at the unknown poet of the Old Testament who parades this kind of loyalty to God: "Do not I hate them that hate Thee? You bet I do! I hate them with perfect hatred." So too I smile indulgently at those passages in the Bible that indicate how Yahwey really hated those Egyptians. What a surprise when a Promised Land emerges where the Egytians too are included among the sons of God.
I once started out to write a novel in which Joseph, the father of Jesus, was the hero. (a fragment of it has already been published) He was seen by his peers as a quirky oddball little Rabbi (Carpenter was the name for such teachers in those days) who did not go along with the rabid patriotism and sectarian hatreds of his day. There were some heated discussions when his peers quoted all those Scriptures at him about "hating them with perfect hatred, "dashing the heads of their little ones against the rock," "let not your eye spare no show them any pity" etc. It seemed they gravitated to all those hatefully inhuman passages of the Bible like flies gravitate to rotten meat. At the same time Joseph's spirit gathered out from the dunghill* all those gems about God's love for the pagan woman in the time of Elijah, God's compassion for the enemies of Israel as in the story of Jonah, that God is good to all and his mercy is upon all his works, that the Lord executes his saving kind of justice on behalf of all that are oppressed, etc. Joseph grasped this prophetic vision of the the Promised Land as a place where there is no voilence, oppression or inhuman things of any kind. It was because his spirit embraced such things that he took a pregnant teenager under his protective care and was able to lay the foundation for Jesus vision where this Promised Land becomes the Kingdom of God spread out on the face of the earth in the here and now.
* Pslam 113:7-8 He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set them with princes, even with the princes of his people.