Thursday, March 12

What kind of God is that?

"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths." (II Kings 2:23-24)

The poster on AFA's site on Facebook said that it is things like this moment in the biblical text that caused him to realize that "because the God that's described in the Bible is cruel, arbitrary, humorless, vengeful, and impossible" is not a God "worthy of worship, or of any consideration whatsoever" after a 'misspent' youth in a fundamentalist church that he was 'born into.'

I decided to post my response to it here on my blog. I'll post an invite to read it, but thought it should be written here where I am solely responsible for its contents.

Of course, without digging further (as the poster claims to have done more than most believers) we wouldn't discover those things that would bring this circumstance into possibly a more 'understandable' light.

The word used for 'children' here means idolatrous or infidel young men. We'll look into why these men were 'idolatrous' or 'infidel' in a moment. Also, the retort of the 'children' of 'baldhead'(‏קֵרֵחַ‎) was a epithet of contempt in the East, viciously applied even to people with a full bushel of hair, which was mostly meant to imply the person was 'unclean like a leper', if we look at the requirement that a priest examine the bald spots on people's heads (Leviticus 13:40-44) and see if they were suffering from leprosy.

So, these young men were being very vicious in their slander of a prophet of God.

And, the 'go up' is a reference to this prophet's Master and is a case of modern-day religious persecution……

But, let's not stop there. Going back further, into Genesis, we discover more on our 'deeper' discovery of what 'extenuating circumstances' could lay behind the outcome of this incident.

Bethel was established by Jacob (who was renamed Israel and the patriarch of the Twelve Tribes) and means "House of God". Jacob named it Bethel because this is where God spoke to him after he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. A deeper search into the history of Jacob is for another discussion, surely which a person who seeks understanding of the character of God would endeavor to undertake.

Now, there was an altar built, El-Bethel, which means "God of the House of God," so labeled by Jacob for the "God, who answered me when I was troubled and who has been with me wherever I've gone." So Bethel has a historical spiritual significance that doesn't get portrayed in the account our poster cites as one of many examples of a God who is bitter to swallow and mean-spirited.

Now, the books of Kings (1&2) chronicle the 'royalty' of Israel's early history, another example of God's chosen people not believing that they should be different from the other nations of the world and demanding from Samuel that they be given a "real King to rule over them" rather than the 'judge' format of government that was established from the time of Moses. Even in the context of human experience, the history isn't that great with the majority of the kings being wicked and evil in the sight of God.

But it is Jeroboam that we want to pull from the histories of the Israel kings. Jeroboam was the son of Nebat and an Ephrathite named Zeruah and an officer in Solomon's kingdom appointed to oversee the forced labor of the tribe of Joseph in Jerusalem, who was chosen by God to punish Solomon for turning to the pagan worship of Astarte (the goddess of the Sidonians), Chemosh (the god of Moab), and Milcom (the god of Ammon) and not following God's ways in doing what was right and established through the Mosaic law as King David, his father, had done. Again, the story of Solomon deserves more than a curtsy glance, but that isn't part of this discussion.

God chose the prophet Ahijah to tell Jeroboam that he would take 10 tribes from Solomon's legacy, for God was going to divide the kingdom but spare Solomon total defeat due to the faith of his father, David. As with each decree, commandment or law of God, God gives an opportunity for doing the right thing to those He has given them to.

Solomon's son, Rehoboam and Jeroboam are no different; Rehoboam is offered a chance to abandon the pagan worship of his father by the people of Israel.

Jeroboam was told at the time of the division prophecy that "If you will do all I command you, follow My ways, and do what I consider right by obeying My laws and commands as My servant David did, then I will be with you. I will build a permanent dynasty for you as I did for David. And I will give you Israel."

God gives many chances for us to return to what is right. Much like a human father and mother are oft to do.

Rehoboam, rejecting the wise counsel of elders who had serve his father in the past and instead accepting the foolish and inexperienced counsel of his peers, proclaims that he will be far worse than his father was. Israel rebels and proclaims Jeroboam King, and Rehoboam is left with Jerusalem, as prophesied by Ahijah.

Jeroboam, who rebuilds Shechem in Ephraim, is afraid if the Israelites return to Jerusalem to worship God, he will be rejected and killed in favor of Rehoboam. So he seeks to protect his newfound status as King by giving the Israelites two pagan calves to worship, much like they did in the wilderness when Moses was receiving the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, and proclaiming "You have worshipped in Jerusalem long enough. Here are the gods who brought you out of Egypt." A festival, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month is established for these 'gods' with priests established from non-Levite tribes.

Worshipping these gods became a national sin, with the Israelites rejecting God's favor and commandments to follow these new gods. It is in Bethel where Jeroboam goes to burn an offering to the pagan calf-gods on the appointed day of his invented festival. (1 Kings 11 & 12 GW)

So, we have a people in a state of national sin and corruption and from these people comes a large crowd of idolatrous and infidel young men. They are very proud of, and fond of, this calf of Jeroboam's and hate those who reprove them of their pagan worship. So, a very angry and hate-filled gathering comes against God's invested prophet Elisah, who has purified the water so that the deaths and crop failures from the corrupted water supply would cease. He proclaims God's word, and yet this crowd comes against him.

They mock God through His prophet and Elisah speaks a Spirit-inspired curse. Only 42 of the gathered are killed, in an undeniable fashion through God's punishment, for the course they had undertaken and the deliberate mocking of God's blessing and the prophet who delivered it.

So, far from "simply [making] fun of a "prophet's" baldness", this exposes a "supposedly just and merciful deity" that holds not only His chosen people, but Himself to "the highest standards of all." And, the 'differentiation between the Old and New Testaments" doesn't exist. God was, in the context of this moment in the story, far more merciful than He had the justification to be.

"Perhaps some of you who take that book literally can tell me what I ought to be thinking..." the poster comments......

I would venture that you should dig deeper for understanding.

Far from the "grisly death as [an] appropriate punishment from poking fun at a chrome-domed holy man, it shows an absolute authority and mercy even in the Old Testament. The Creator shows very high patience between the sin and the punishment, giving ample time for repentance and restoration.

The poster claims that the bible "is cruel, arbitrary, humorless, vengeful and impossible." I would stipulate that the argument that he gives against those who believe in the authority and literal interpretation of the Biblical text is far more 'cruel, arbitrary, humorless, vengeful and impossible' than he wants to admit.

This event, and the poster's comments behind it, shows the completeness that goes far beyond any human capability of achieving, in any societial context or culture, of the authority and fullness of God and highlights the difference between the 'wages of sin' and the 'evil nature of a wicked humanity'as opposed to the righteousness and moral authority of a loving and just God.

But I'm not here to refute this poster's argument, I think the biblical story itself brings an understanding to linear human thinking of a possible justification of such a brutal punishment. God shows us higher standard and tells us to follow the example shown....Of course, there are those who would still say that even in the light of the full story, there was no reason for delivering such punishment.

I, obviously, would have to disagree.

When a sixteen year old decides to engage in sexual relations, and becomes pregnant…what is the 'just' punishment? Beyond the aspect of 'you play, you pay?'

For the mother-to-be or the child that grows inside her? Who loses, and who has the 'higher' standard for the right to live?

What about a wife who decides to engage in an extra-martial affair…..what is the just punishment? She made a choice, and lives with the consequences, but why do the husband and the children suffer as well? Were is the justification in punishing the children?

Far better is a religion that tells it's faithful to kill those who don't convert or kill those who have the misfortune to belong to a family that practices such 'religious' decrees and decides it is their right to believe what they want, not what they are told?

Far better then the allowance of that unfaithful wife to be beheaded under the dictates of that religion? What if that 'unfaithfulness' is the fact the husband doesn't think she makes a good wife?

There is no such dictate under the Christian faith, even the fundamentalist denomination to which the poster claims to have had wasted his youth by being 'born' into.

If we apply human standards and moral authority to the Biblical text, we find ourselves afraid of this God who seems far more evil than He has a right by our standards to be. And not in the least desirous to know Him. We subject the truth to our view, our thoughts and our character to explain a God we cannot explain in our sinful nature.

We reject such a deity because we have the human condition of wickedness, evil and atrocities against each other as our standards, where truth is subjective to the culture, the national image or the desire of the individual.

But when we take in the fullness of God and His eternal character, all of it, releasing the boundaries of human condition to an un-human deity, we discover that God, far from being just cruel, humorless, vengeful and impossible is a complete packet of love, mercy, grace and compassion as well as being faithful to deliver (as well as capable) upon the decisions of His people. For good or bad, our choices are but God brings both good and bad into an eventual 'good' outcome to which only He can know.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty and only a human condition that is placed on a non-linear God.

The absoluteness and proven authority of God, to be just, fair and loving to a created people who don't deserve it is far more worthy of respect and investigation than what has been given. Even if I know I will never truly understand, in this place, the God who allows humanity to destroy itself through its own invention. As a human father, I wouldn't do so.

And, in return for His salvation, bought and purchased for a people (all of humanity) who don't show worthiness for its commission because of His love…all that is asked is that we believe in Jesus Christ and His Truth.

Where is the justification in that, I would ask? Far less than the righteous justification God has in this context.

There's only love.

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