“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
And I wonder if, after he sat down at an ancient typewriter and composed the opening line of his own biography, god was seized with the voice of self doubt and paused to say to himself:
“This is shit. Nobody is going to read this.”
When god became a human we killed him with whips and nails because he wasn’t the sort of god we were looking for. So violent was his execution that it seemed to fulfill the words of the the Prophet Isaiah who speaks of one “disfigured beyond the appearance of any man, marred beyond human likeness.”
In the centuries since his resurrection we’ve rendered him lifeless again and again, not by violent force but by suffocatingly bland theology. Why kill god when you can trap him between the covers of a book instead, where he can be endlessly dissected and labeled using words full of theological importance but devoid of any spark?
God became a human and once again we have rendered him lifeless, “marred beyond human likeness.”
I think the whole point of Jesus was to bring god close, to show that he is not so far away that we can’t reach out and touch him. But we’ve applied big words to god until he becomes so large and in charge and far away that he is no longer anything at all.
When we say that god is omniscient and omnipotent – that’s all-knowing and all-powerful, for you illeritate sinners — I guess we’re trying to say that he’s alive and wonderful and powerful and stuff. But somehow it has the opposite effect on me. Each grandiose descriptor renders god more and more other until god is no longer a lush forest of mystery and beauty waiting to be explored, but a vast expanse of endless ice — eternal in every direction, but void of life, unable to be known, unable to invite us deeper.
And I suppose that there is a place to use big words for god — after all, that’s what you expect from any deity. But from the earliest pages of the story, our god seems to want to be known as something different than the other ones. Where they’re all about wisdom and power and glory, he tempers it with humility, with vulnerability. Our god bows toward the earth. Our god makes sacrifices. Our god takes risks. Our god asks questions.
I think of the story of the first man and woman, who used to walk with god in the cool of dusk. How they wandered away, and when they weren’t in the place he expected to find them, god called out, “Where are you, oh my children?”
Our theologians have padded the sharp edges of that story, taken all the suspense out of it.
Why would an omniscient god ask a question like that? I know the right answers: God knew where Adam was because god knows everything. God was asking so as to force Adam’s confession. God is wise, we are dumb. God is infallible, we are vulnerable. God is perfect, we are shit. This story will replay a hundred more times in the pages that are to follow.
But when we so quickly dismiss god’s question as only rhetorical, we rob it of it’s ache. Perhaps we are projecting our own theological assumptions about what God is — all knowing, all powerful — backwards through time into the beginning of the story, and ignoring what god is trying to say about himself.
If you read the rest of Gensis on its own terms, we see a god who makes mistakes. Who has regrets. Who seems to be learning as he goes.
It makes me wonder then if that voice that echoed through the Garden — “Where are you, oh my children?” — was not at all the rhetorical inquiry of an eternal god who knows everything already, but the worried cry of a young father whose small children are lost in a terrifying new world and he’s sure they couldn’t have gone far but he’s looked in all the usual places and can’t find them and now evening is approaching and it’s getting dark and something terrible might happen and god is afraid.
“In the beginning…”
Back at his typewriter, God ignores the voice of self doubt and plunges into his story. There’s swirling darkness and shimmering creation and then there is us, a reflection of the story-teller. Made in god’s image.
We will make mistakes and have regrets and learn as we go. We will wander off and get lost. We will doubt.
And god will write himself deeper and deeper into the story, calling our names in the unfamiliar dusk, hoping desperately that we are not lost for good.
published September 10, 2018
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