Saturday, September 14, 2013

Does God of the Old Testament fear Humans?

Glass skyscraper pointing to the sky

This may seem like an absurd (and blasphemous) question at first sight. God is considered perfection personified with all good and commendable attributes elevated to the nth degree, their highest and most extreme form. God is omnipotent; he can change the course of history, slaughter humans and animals alike, close and open wombs, split seas, burn bushes without leaving a trace, create miracles out of thin air and humans out of sheer dust.

Interestingly, Adam was created in the image of God. So in a sense if he is not a mirror image, then at least Adam is similar in likeness to his Creator; in other words, he is like God. Adam can be seen as the child or student, and God his father and master. Nonetheless, it is made clear from the outset that God is and must be at all times superior to Adam. God commands full and complete obedience from his creation.

Yet it so happens that there are two trees in the Garden of Eden. Whether God put them there on purpose (generally not a good idea since it would imply a self-defeating act) or they were there to begin with, namely that heaven ispo facto comes with those trees in the very midst of the garden, or whether perhaps someone else had planted them there, these are all questions and speculations beyond the scope of this current post.

It seems that neither Adam nor Eve paid too much attention to this; they knew of the existence of the Tree of Good and Evil which God forbade them to eat from at the expense and punishment of death, but they showed no particular interest or inclination towards it. This changes, however, when the Serpent points out the “benefits” of eating from the forbidden fruit, often referred to as apples due to its Latin similarity of its root word malum denoting evil.

I imagine that both Adam and Eve started pondering whether they should have of it or not. They do not want to disobey or displease their God, yet the seed of curiosity is budding within them. The serpent had assured them that they would not die, but rather their eyes will be opened, and they will see and be like God; they will know the distinction between good and evil and become wise.

At that time, they are still shielded and protected by a complete ignorance of evil. But what if they were able to cast aside their naivety and open their eyes to both sides of the spectrum? They would not only gain knowledge and learn to distinguish good from evil, but they would be able to make a choice, to have an operating and functional will.

Although this is often depicted as transgression or disobedience towards God, I see it more as an act of empowerment. It may look like willful or sinful rebellion, yet their actions in my view are not ill-intentioned because how could they know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong at that stage? You cannot blame someone for doing wrong or for being unethical if the concept of and distinction between right and wrong makes no sense to them.

God's reaction is very interesting here. He gets furious. He expels them from paradise, blocks its entry with cherubim guards and a flaming sword and curses the ancestors of humanity with labor (in both senses of the word) as well as death.

But why? Sure, they did wrong, but so does everyone else who is innocent, naive or lacks knowledge about the world or ethics. Adam and Eve are not perfect, and I do not think they fully knew what they were doing nor were they aware of the grave consequences of their action. All they did was to eat some fruit. Big deal.

Yet what if that act had given them unprecedented power? While they may have been in the likeness or appearance of God, they were not equal to him in their powers, imagination or mental faculties. But what if suddenly they had come a step closer towards enlightenment or godhood?

Adam and Eve had acquired knowledge, but what was missing was the everlasting strength and power. Yet incidentally next to the Tree of Good and Evil, there was the Tree of Life. Now if they had also eaten from that tree, they would have been given eternal life to boot. They would have been on par with God Himself! God gives voice to his fears – as he is talking either to himself or to a companion - claiming that man was becoming like them; should Adam and Eve also eat of the Tree of Life, they could live forever.

By acting quickly, expelling them and guarding the gates of heaven with heavily armed angels, it seems that God made sure that day would never come. To make matters worse - for us and not for him of course - he gave them mortality. He let them struggle for survival; they had to sustain themselves by their own means via constant work. Gone were the heavenly days of bliss and idleness and ever since then humans have to work with the sweat of their brows for a piece of bread.

My second example is the Flood. What if God destroyed almost all of humanity not merely because of their purported evil ways but because he had effectively lost control and say over them. Perhaps they were getting too independent or insolent for his taste. It seems that in the revolutionary minds of those people, obedience was the last thing on earth they would have embraced. Yet God sees that if he killed them all, his own work and diligence would become futile, so he saved one of the best of their kind for posterity, good old Noah.

After this clearing of accounts and new tidings, we have another instance, namely the Tower of Babel. This is the most explicit example where humans try to reach (for) God. Yet this stairway to heaven was not welcomed by God. Why not?

God could have dismissed it as an idle and innocuous threat, but instead he took it quite seriously. We do not know the actual intention or motivation of the people in Babel. Did they simply wish to contact God or did they want to besiege and take over his territory?

Either way, the consequence is quite clear. God is telling someone (again whom???) that humans have become too unified and strong, so he brings about confusion by confounding their tongues.

It seems that the unity of nation and language had created a possible threat to the dominance of God. It is mainly through this united front that they conceived and dared to engage in such an ambitious feat, namely to construct a tower so high that it can reach the very top of the firmaments, the zenith of the skies. Just like Adam, they too are banished and spread out around the globe, and instead of harmony, discord is created amongst them.

Now it may be that all of these speculations are misguided and that God would never fear humans because he is at all times and in all aspects and respects superior to all of humanity. Perhaps it is that the God of the Old Testament is merely demanding and strict. He does not tolerate the slightest disobedience from his creatures.

According to the Old Testament, any other hobbies or pastimes, not to mention other gods, are strongly discouraged, and such transgressions are often punished with death or exile. In fact, worshippers are told to wash their hands and feet before praying or else they shall die. These types of pronouncements seem too harsh, if not petty or unjust, in our modern eyes. Maybe it is that the God of the Old Testament is indeed a jealous god as he himself proclaims on certain occasions.

If it were not for Moses's ardent pleading, God wanted to kill them all for their offense, namely for praying to and idolizing the holy calf. God insists on being faceless and ought not be symbolized or represented in discernible ways (this is all pre-Jesus times of course). In the end, God accepts to sign another covenant or treaty with humans forgiving them once again for their sins and trespasses. It is only over a long period of time that God and humans manage to slowly build trust and a hopeful and lasting relationship with each other.

The question still remains whether God is indeed afraid of the capabilities and potential of humans. Yet if God is indeed jealous, then he is more in our likeness than we would care (or dare) to admit. He would be plagued with the same uncertainties and demons, but then that would be a contradiction in terms to the superior and excelling qualities we generally attribute to God. It would take Jesus with his new gospel and the New Testament to come in-between God and humans, and he would redeem the latter and console the former to attain lasting peace between each other.

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