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Which God Do I Hear?

Posted on: November 17, 2019

Category: Theology

Quest Thoughts: Which God Do I Hear?

Certain passages in the Bible can make us shake our heads asking, “What kind of God would….” Second Kings 2:23–24 is one such passage. Here, a group of young boys jeers the prophet Elijah, calling him a baldhead. Elijah turns around and curses the boys in the name of God; then, two female bears appear and tear forty-two of the boys apart. What kind of God would be so utterly petty, malicious, murderous, violent, and immoral? Unfortunately, that is one face of God in the Bible.

We do not often read or like to read about the God of the Bible who is incredibly brutal and vengeful. Sometimes, though, we need to do so to remind ourselves that “God” in the Bible is a complicated figure. There is not one God. There are different sorts of Gods. God in the Bible is plural. If we insist on preserving monotheism (the belief that there is one God alone), then the Bible forces us to conclude that God suffers from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

I know this is a funny way to start a blog, but it is a segue to the question, which God from the Bible is the one I hear? Inasmuch as God can be a homicidal maniac, in the Bible God can also be a socialist—another form of God we tend to ignore. Socialism has a bad name even though it is probably safe to argue that Christianity, in its origin, was an ancient form of socialism. In the first two centuries, Christianity, like God, was complicated. There were many kinds of movements. Scholars loosely call these movements “Christ communities” and “Jesus communities,” depending on where the emphasis fell. The letters of Paul are an example of a “Christ” movement; the Q Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas are examples of a Jesus movement. But what both types of movements have in common is their “socialism.”

Paul is very clear that being in Christ is about being in equality. Being in equality does not mean that there are no differences among us. We are, Paul will say, Jews and Greeks, male and female, slaves and free. These distinctions, though, do not cancel equality. Being in Christ (being one, being equal) is a higher reality than being one gender or another, one class status or another, one ethnic background or another. So, even though ancient people did not have the word “socialism” in their vocabulary, the basic idea of socialism pervaded. Sharing food, caring for the poor, providing refuge for the persecuted, accepting the dignity of women, canceling class distinctions, and understanding that God is known in poverty and suffering all characterized Paul’s idea of the gospel (the “world-transforming news”). Paul’s God in Christ was socialist, that is, about radical equality.

If we turn to the Jesus movements like Q or the Gospel of Thomas, the same themes of poverty and equality are present. Q has the sayings, “how happy are the poor,” “the first shall be last,” and “whoever is greedy will lose everything” (my translation of “whoever clutches and grabs after life will lose it”). The Gospel of Thomas is critical of wealth. It has the admonition, like in Q, to give your money away. While Thomas uses the images of wealth and poverty in paradoxical ways, Thomas holds this key interpretive verse: if you do not abstain from the world, you will not find God” (27). For Thomas, the reality of God is not consistent either with wealth or a wealthy lifestyle. It is consistent with solidarity in poverty. Renouncing the wealth of this world and finding solidarity in poverty is what makes both Q and Thomas “socialist” from a modern point of view.

God has other faces in the Bible, too. The face of the international God who is beyond all religions and all nations is the God in Isaiah and the God Christian theologians most often discussed in the Middle Ages (the God who was united with the philosophy of Aristotle). However, I draw upon two Gods in particular: the vengeful God and the socialist God. These two Gods seem to continue to be at battle in our modern world.

As the Impeachment hearings go on in the United States and the Don Cherry controversy unfolds in Canada, we might ask ourselves which God are we most willing to hear? The vengeful God is, of course, divisive. This God is the spirit that seeks out enemies and threatens even the most vulnerable, like a group of small boys. It is very difficult, when God is primarily vengeful, to avoid the habit of seeking out enemies and belittling, even threatening, others. Marie Yovanovitch, the ex-US Ambassador to the Ukraine, says that she felt threatened by the White House. Well, I feel like saying, of course you did because right now the God of vengeance occupies the White House.

The Don Cherry controversy has been tough in Canada because many young hockey players from years ago, including me, held Cherry as a kind of icon. In his brash way, he taught us to stick up for ourselves, to love the comradery of the game, and to play our hearts out. Canada does not always win at hockey, but Canada plays hockey with a heart no other nation has. It is people like Don Cherry who represent that heart. Yet, even Cherry can forget about asking what God he worships. No one needs to be a theist or an atheist to ask this question. Asking what God I worship is a question that asks what value do I hold highest? If my highest value is anger and belittlement, then my God is the God of vengeance. This God came out of Cherry’s mouth when he singularly isolated new immigrant Canadians from good old white Canadians. This is sincerely what he implied when on national television he blamed “you people,” identified as “they” who “come here,” for not wearing poppies and (presumably) not being sufficiently patriotic in his eyes. The God of vengeance, who likes to make enemies, was roused to life in these comments.

Too bad the socialist God of the Bible does not get a voice now and then, or seems not to. It is the socialist God who observes the poor and who is in solidarity with every “they” out there, who refuses to take the line of vengeance but rather speaks of liberation. There is no “let’s get even” or “let’s label them” in the voice of the socialist God. There is only this: compassion for those who suffer and a strong, persistent, call for equality. I am not saying there is a real or a false God. I am asking, which God, among the choices out there, is the one you hear?

©By David Galston

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