Knowing God – Cautiously
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
4th Sunday in Lent
Joshua 5:9, 10-12
What are we to make of the God of Israel? On the one hand, the God of the Hebrews extolled and commanded justice and loving care for people, including the poor and foreigners living among his people. On the other, he led his tribes in driving out the inhabitants of Canaan, allowing and even approving the merciless killing of men, women and children to create a homeland for them.
It’s a common observation that while God created humans in his image; humans also created God in theirs. That’s often true, often unavoidable and often tragic.
Faith tells us that the Creator of the universe loves us. Beings who truly love are persons. We are persons. It’s natural to give God a human face. Still we take great risks attributing our qualities to the Creator. Even our best characteristics are polluted with fear and self-interest, not because we’re evil but because we’re finite beings possessing infinite imaginations. When we ascribe human qualities to God, God always comes out looking contradictory.
People frequently ask why a loving God allows war and death. In the Hebrew Scriptures God not only allows war and death, he repeatedly commands war and death – ruthlessly.
For Christians, a lot of assumptions begin to fray at this point. We know Jesus taught: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:44-48). We can’t square this with a God who sanctions the killing of whole armies and the slaughter of widows and children to create a homeland for his favorites.
Were the God of the Hebrews and the God of Jesus two different God’s? Hardly. But we possess incompatible descriptions of the one God.
Describing God carries huge consequences. We do well to go about it humbly and cautiously. Unless we are supernaturally wonderful, imaging God after ourselves is perilous indeed.
There is much wisdom in anchoring what we know of God in the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth and holding everything else with a very loose grip.