Friday, January 27, 2006

God of Mercy?

Ok, I promise not to turn my blog into a boring health crisis diatribe. I have done three posts on my knee. There is nothing to report. Still in pain. Still not diagnosed.

Having said that... I do want to talk about the Bible in 90 Days.

I am blown away by it.

First, I am incredibly grateful that a friend suggested reading through the whole thing rather than piecemeal. It strikes me that for the part I have read, at least, continuity is critical. I can't imagine reading Judges without having first read the Torah, for example.

About a year ago, my former UU Minister lent me a book called God: a Biography. I never did get around to reading it (I am terrible that way!) but the basic premise is that you can see God as a character who develops over time. Now, I know that this is not going to sit well with some folks, and I am not going to apologize for the author, especially having never actually read the book. But I have to say, looking at God as a character, in the literary sense, is kind of intriguing. His character does seem to change. There are times when he is loving and merciful and other times when he comes across as a bloodthirsty brute. ("Kill every man, woman, child and infant in that pagan town. Leave nothing breathing....")

The big struggle in the years after the Exodus seems to be that the Israelites were originally pagans and now are trying to adapt to monotheism. And they keep backsliding. They do ok for 40 years, then the King takes on a pagan concubine who convinces him to slaughter a bull on the wrong day and put up a little alter in the living room and all hell breaks loose. Plagues, disasters. You name it.

So much of what I have read so far is this crazy back and forth wrangling between paganism and God. Man-made idols VS. the Big Guy. The Big Guy always seems to win.

The question I keep having is: When does mercy come in? Can a case be made that slaughtering the innocent is a kind of mercy? Is it better to be dead than worshipping some stone idol? I don't believe that literally. I might believe it metaphorically.

But these were literal deaths, weren't they?

Reading this stuff makes me want to sit down and talk to an Orthodox Jew. I want to understand how these stories fit into their spiritual landscape. What is gleaned from them?

For me, the only way I can really make any sense is to see it as a big metaphor for my own struggles. I come close to God, then pull back. I do something completely unChristian. I turn away and then come running back.

What is different is that I never get a sense of being punished. Even this health issue seems loving and benign. Hard, yes. Painful, yes. But I just have faith that somehow it is leading me to a place of Grace. In fact, it already has in a way. I have read the bible at a much faster rate this week because it was about the only thing I could do.


You seem like a stranger when I read about you in the Hebrew Scriptures. You seem so unlike the LOVE that I know you to be. Help me understand these scriptures, Lord. Help me find you in these stories.



juniper68 said...

Rachel, Such good questions and struggles (have you visited Songbird today? She's talking about questions, too....)
I was in community for a while with a pretty excellent Bible scholar and his take on the Hebrew Scriptures was that is was all about consequences. Of course if you don't give the land sabbath, the land will go fallow, for example. But that's a consequence, no more a punishment than it is punishment when a child burns a hand on a hot stove he's been repeatedly warned about. Just because I'm the one SAYING he's going to get burned, doesn't mean I'm the one doing it to him - it's just a consequence, see what I mean? (This guy, BTW, got lots of his ideas from Ched Myers whose books are pretty readily available).

His take on this helps me a lot of the time in seeing those stories in more liberating way. But still, I struggle like mad with others - the sacrifice of Isaac for example - that doesn't seem to fit at all into the whole "consequence" paradigm very easily.

Ugh - this is getting too long, so I"ll stop now. Thanks for food for thought. And prayers continuing for your knee.

SingingOwl said...

Praying for you knee. And agreeing that reading so much so fast has made me want to talk to an Orthodox Jew. I've thought of that several times. I have Jewish friends, but they don't read Torah. Sigh.

Rachel's Big Dunk said...

I buttonholed a Jewish friend at dinner tonight! We had a great conversation, basically agreeing that there are a lot of questions and perhaps no answers. But it was fun to talk to him about it. He is actually taking a class on modern Judaism, so he is pretty well versed in modern theology. (ie, the rabbinical period... post 2nd Temple, I think.)

Thanks all, for your prayers. I am aware of them and really appreciate it!