Sunday, July 29, 2007

Look, God, this stinks.

Since I'm at work instead of church (and it's dead here; I could have blown off work long enough to go to church and shown up late, and nobody would have noticed) I'm reading through the lessons of the day. Now I wish even more that I could have made it to church, in the hopes that Father Don would have preached his sermon on the first reading.

Here's the link, for those following along at home. Short-short version: God thinks that Sodom and Gomorrah are horrendous, so he's going to destroy them. Abraham says, 'Look, God, yeah, they're pretty messed up, but they can't all be bad; would you destroy the innocent for the sake of the guilty? Right, how about this. If there are fifty innocent people there, will you spare the city?'

And God says, 'You have a point. Yeah, for fifty I'll spare them.'

And Abraham says, 'Well, look, I hate to be a pain in the ass, but what if they're only five short of fifty? Will you spare them for forty-five?'

And God agrees to spare them.

And Abraham persists, slowly bargaining God down to ten innocent people. I don't hear any impatience in God's words as Abraham keeps on, though I imagine a bit of eyerolling on His part. Or am I putting my spin on God's actions? In any case, I identify with Abraham here, appalled at the thought of killing the innocent along with the guilty, and putting himself on the line to try to keep it from happening. He was firmly convinced he was going to get in trouble for it:

'See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!'

'Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.'

'Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord,'

'Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.'

But he spoke up anyway -- pushing God on something -- because he felt it was the right thing to do.

How much less, then, shall we speak up to temporal authorities, though we fear the consequences, if we feel they're wrong?


This still gets filed under 'things God did or wanted to do in the Old Testament that are kinda heinous'. There's also the bit in 2 Kings 2:23-24, where God sent bears to kill a bunch of children for mocking Elisha's bald head. I dunno; yeah, it's hardly hospitable (the sin for which Sodom and Gomorrah were eventually destroyed, as I recall), but on the other hand, they're kids. They do this. A good spanking would have been a bit more appropriate.

How do I reconcile this with the God that Jesus speaks of, His Father and ours, loving God who sent His son to die, who ... well, take a look at today's Gospel:

'And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?'

How is this the same God? I don't know. It's something I've wondered for as long as I can remember. It's part of the reason I rejected Christianity as a young woman. How could I worship a God who killed children for being, well, children?

Sometimes I wonder what's changed between then and now. I still have a problem with large swathes of the Old Testament, but at the same time I do believe in and worship that God.

I think today's first lesson helps me with the conundrum. God may do some awful things, but if you stand up to Him, He might just change His mind. I just hope that, in a similar situation, I could stand up with Abraham and say, 'Look, God, this thing you're going to do? It's kinda stinky. Just think about doing something else, okay?'


Diane said...

that's one of the things I've always loved about this lesson. Abraham goes at it with God for Sodom and Gomorrah just because he knows one family there!
Sometimes I think our shame is that we don't do things like this... we just don't love enough... we want people to "get theirs".
thanks for this post.

Gabriel said...

This posting on "Wrestling with God" is an interesting reflection on the Abraham story you speak of here.

Not so much that God will change a decision because of our prayers, but that this is a form of prayer between those who are close.

the reverend mommy said...

I'm a fan of process theology -- that God is developing and learning along with humankind. And also, the people who wrote all this stuff down -- did they really write it ALL down? Did they have an agenda when they did it? It certainly is not the God I know.

Kate said...

Diane, it's so hard to do with right thing, the scary thing, to stand up and say 'look, this sucks'...I know I don't do it enough, but readings like this at least help me remember it's possible.

Gabriel, thanks for the link! I'll look at it when I have a brain, which might be soon, or not; I have it saved, anyway.

Reverend Mommy, I like the idea of 'Process Theology'. Apparently the same idea gives Tim mental hives, and we had a good long 'argument' on the whole thing. I kinda want to put you and him in a room and watch the sparks fly, co I bet you're better at making the point than I am, and anyway it'd be fun to watch...

We do all agree, though, on the 'who wrote it down and what were they trying to say anyway' part. It's a conundrum, isn't it...?

Gabriel said...

Hi Kate-

The link changed so here's the new one:

Kate said...

Thanks Gabriel -- finally got around to reading it just now. I like it! Oddly enough, it minds me of the relationship I was starting to build with my father when he died -- going from me-as-child, him-as-parent to more of an equal relationship. Not that it could ever be truly equal, any more than we can be equal with God, but closer to a level standing.