Passion and Atonement -- The Harmony of Dissonance

[Note: The contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 52, can be found here.]

[This entry constitutes Chapter 53.]

I could follow Abram through his story--history or legend or both as we have it. But I would rather show, if I can, the intrinsic harmony underlying this odd and disturbing story--a harmony I could expect the general principles of, if I know enough of God beforehand to have some clue how He will work.

So, I will go back instead to our nameless chosen ancestor of the knowledge of God, as if I did not already know to suspect his name.

He may not get along very quickly with his knowledge--or more precisely with his learning. But it would be important to teach him that God works slowly, sometimes through channels seeming at first to be unprofitable. The lesson might be almost anything, so long as it is linked to the filling of a promise, in a fashion that this man, and people like him throughout the world in later history, could easily appreciate.

Such as a wife who remains barren through the couple's old age, for instance; barren in the face of a promise from God.

The man needs to be taught that God will work with people's choices, even if those choices happen to be something God would have preferred that they not choose. If, for instance, God promises a blessing to this man, and to the world, through his offspring; and if the man has offspring by a woman whom God did not select for that purpose; then God would still keep His promise, and protect the child, despite whatever harm might be later wrought by the consequences of this choice.

And, the man needs to be taught that God doesn't just sit there up in the sky overseeing everything: instead, He works personally with His servants.

Working 'personally' in the heart would be a difficult concept to get across at first; and after all, there is nothing stopping God from putting in a physical appearance to make the point rather more plainly.

So, let the man know that God appreciates this Nature, and appreciates communing personally with people.

Sharing a good hearty meal, together, would go far along this line.

Let the man know that God has a sense of proportion and humor; that He can appreciate a joke; that He can laugh, and can help to laugh.

Let the man know that God is willing to be worked with, even will tolerate some honest dissension, especially if the dissension has what seems to the man a good end in view--even if by such toleration God seems to lower Himself too far in the eyes of those who would never lower themselves like this if they (the sinners) were God!

But also let the man know that God knows more than the man does; and sometimes will do things which the man is not going to understand--even to the point of seeming to go back on His own promises of fidelity.

The man is a real person, being a child of God--just as we all are persons who are children of God.

So, what if God did something that looked hideous and evil?

If we already know something about Him, how far are we willing to trust the goodness we think we know, in the face of our own fear and anguish?

The man may or may not pass such a test. In God's awful humility, He is willing to besmirch His own apparent character; as we can see every day around us, in the most powerful argument of the sceptic: the suffering of the innocent.

God might as well make this point, too, as clearly as possible from the first.

He will go further than to show this by proxy, as we see around us today.

He will do it by direct command.

But God will also make the point, that it is not God's will after all that the innocent should suffer--even though He may set up such a situation.

Later, God may let His character be smeared some more, by the descendants of this man. Yet He will work with them, however stubborn they are to Him, however cruel they insist on being to others.

A culture will be born, fathered specially by God to show what it means for God to be a father to us all.

Not the best culture in the world--although they may think of themselves that way in their pride, and although they will carry the thread of the knowledge of God, tenuously in their unkempt hands.

Not the worst culture in the world--for they still must be competent enough to survive to some extent!

But they may be near the bottom of the barrel.

They haven't been chosen for their own merits; they may even have been pulled out of total obscurity and powerlessness, once they became numerous enough to warrant being called a 'people' instead of merely a 'tribe'.

Nor will they be chosen for their own strength--they may seem like grasshoppers next to the mighty men around them.

Not chosen for their own wisdom. Certainly not chosen for their own goodness.

They will be a rough, tough bunch.

A hell's angels of a people: willing to exploit whatever power may come their way, for their own advantages.

And God cannot simply poof them into being saints overnight, if He is committed to treating even these wretches as people.

Even though He will have to sacrifice His own character, to some extent, upon the altar of their survival, while trying to get them to learn Who and What He is--which I could easily expect, as this will be part of the point for God to choose them at all, for all our sakes--He will work with their choices, and with their limitations.

He will temper them where He can. Where another culture would rape the women and children whom they wiped out, God will edge them toward more mercy--a shadow of mercy, by our standards perhaps (standards which may well have been grown out of such a history as I am proposing), but something these people will be marginally willing to work at.

And so God will assassinate His own reputation, for love of these wretches.

...these wretches who could be you and me, just as easily.

And He will feel, and will always feel into eternity, every thrust of every sword, whether He directly commands the deaths, or whether this people merely attribute what they want to His commands--either way, God suffers with the innocents, too; and even, though His chosen people will probably be long in understanding this, with those who were not at all innocent: just like the dissonant people whom God has chosen Himself.

It is a terrible world these people inhabit.

It still is a terrible world today, across our planet.

There is plenty of blame to go around; and more than enough.

But God suffers, too.

And He will pay the bill, for what He has loved even the wretches of the world so much as to allow.

But no one, in the beginning, will know this yet.

These people must be taught more; taught to be better than they are; taught that God really does not want this oppression of power going on.

However similar they are to the people around them; whatever their shortcomings, which will certainly be many; they will have the thread of the knowledge of God, glowing, growing where it can.

"Whatever power and authority I give you," God will tell them, sooner and later, with ever increasing clarity and insistence, "is not to be used for your own self-aggrandizement. It is to help the poor, the powerless, the alien sojourning in your land, the disenfranchised, the sick. You are to show them love and justice, and you are to be a light to the lands around you. You are to be the salt of the earth. You have been the sort of people whom I want you to learn to help; so learn from your own past, and help these people, even when they are your enemies. This is Who I truly am--I am the God Who loves the least of people."

Whoo-hoo! We're chosen by God, the God, Most High above the Highest, to be the light of the world! Yeah! Thhpppt on all you other people! Our God is the best, most kick-ass God; you-all better bow down to us! And you can start by, um, setting up some temple prostitution sites around here... ack, no, kill them, kill them all!... Damned pagans, trying to ruin us! How dare you!? We're the best! In fact, you should be sending us your queens and, y'know... hey can we have a king?


We wanna king! Like those other guys have! How can we be the coolest most awesome nation in the world, without a king?

"By showing kindness, and mercy, and by standing for what is good..."

Yeah, yeah, we can do that better with a king!

"If you have a king, I warn you, there will be trouble."

We'll take it! We're tough, we can handle it! Especially with You on our side, yeah!

"Learn the hard way, then. Here: I will give you just the sort of king you want; and I will take the responsibility for doing so."

Aw yeah, we're bad now! Let's go kick someone's butt! Damned pagans over there, good place to start with... um... actually, they're pretty tough... waitaminute, aren't we supposed to be great? C'mon God, you promised!

"...And meanwhile, I'll be busy over here picking out the sort of king I would have preferred you to have, if you’re going to have one. Oh, you need help against the pagans? Here, try this fellow."

Wow, this guy worked out pretty good, for some little hick yanked up out of nowhere...

"Just like you-all, by the way."

Yeah, yeah, whatever--hey we like this guy! With this guy, we can't lose!

"Yes, you can still lose. Because 'this guy' is only a man, just like you; no matter how much he loves Me, He still is a sinner..."

Hey, God--can we have a Temple, like those other guys?

...and so it goes.

These people will still be people, shepherds and potters and farmers and bakers and prophets and priests and kings; they will be an example to the world--but not quite the sort of example we might expect, nor quite the sort of example they're likely to expect.

They are sinners, called by God to be something better, to represent something better.

But when God calls sinners to represent Him, you may be completely assured that He Himself will not be coming out of it smelling entirely like a rose, even a rose of Sharon.

At best, He will smell like a sheep.

Maybe, on occasion, like sheepdung.

Sooner or later (and if we all know whom I am talking about, it was sooner and sooner and sooner...), as sinners whom He loves, they will break His heart--as well as do their best to break the heart of everyone else within reach, including the hearts of their own people.

They will stand for all of us--whether we like it or not.

And we will owe them a life-debt we can never repay.

For despite all their stumblings, and adulteries, and murders, and lies, and idolatries, and treacheries...

...they, in God's terrible humility, will have carried the light of the world.

And it will be within their tradition, within their historical context, within the troubles they will have dug themselves into in their pride, despite all the lessons they were given--whenever they have reached the time they not only are ready, some of them, to listen in the misery of their punishment to the most important lesson of all; but also whenever the historical contexts around them are just right, in a time when the greatest and best things humanity can make are imploding under their own strength, crushing themselves and crushing this people--when all the chosen people of God are ready, whether they know it or not, to hear the best news of all...

...then God will humble Himself still further, to teach this message, this lesson, this news, to them.

And then--it will be time for God Himself to pay the price for this world and the people in it He has made.

(People like God’s chosen people, like you and me: the sinners.)

[Next: the Son of God]


Jason Pratt said…
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