Dear Inspiration Seekers,
In chapters 10 and 11, Paul outlines God’s relation to the Hebrews, through God’s directions to Moses and instructions in the law. Paul also recites Israel’s failing to follow the laws, and potential to continue to be stubborn and obstinant. Paul appears to be saying that the Israelites have used their free will to act outside the letter and intent of the law. As I suggested, if God is the only creative force, God has created the potential for both good and evil actions. Free will is the means which allows us to pursue either direction. Now, this begs an interesting question: can God act in an evil manner?
Our definitions of God’s qualities place us in an awkward dilemma here. We say that God is all-powerful, thus God should be capable of acting in any manner. Yet, we say that God is all-good, thus God could not act in an evil manner, which would make God not all-powerful. Well, I may be pointing out more about the inadequancies of our language and our imaginations to express what we cannot comprehend, so let me pursue Paul’s line of reasoning about God’s relationship to the Hebrews, and thereby to all of humanity, including Gentiles.
The gods of Greece and Rome were deifications of human qualities. They were as righteous and wretched as any person, just in an amplified manner. They killed, seduced, raped, and probably would have written some really sappy pop-music, if the genre existed at the time. In comparison, the Hebrew god had much better qualities. However, God had attempted to connect with humans in several different manners in different eras. According to Paul, Christ’s gospel is the latest, and final attempt by God to establish a relationship with people. Did God make a number of mistakes in these prior attempts? If God misjudged how best to relate to humanity, does that suggest that God did not meet the threshold of “good” action?
God’s initial attempt to have a relationship was creation. God provided Eden for the first humans. God set out only one provision for obedience, which of course they eventually disregarded. God then exiled Adam and Eve from Eden, allowing them to pursue laissez faire politics and death. Within a few generations, civilization had become such a mess that God called on Noah to round up all sorts of living things, have a yard sale, and destroy the whole lot of them. Noah did his job, but got snockered as soon as he found some wine, suggesting that nearly complete destruction was not sufficient. Creation/destruction did not work too well.
God turned to establishing covenants with the early patriarchs and leaders of the Hebrews: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, through Joshua. Basically, this was kind of a promise in expectation with a promise in return. The problems with promises was either than the person failed to follow them over time, or subsequent generations did not follow through on their half of the deal. Vows are more easily broken then kept by at least one side of the party. So much for commitment.
God then set up a series of judges and kings of Israel. Some we regard with esteem for being good leaders. Most we could not recite the names of, somewhat like most of our presidents (Maynard Filmore?). This leadership often focused on protecting the borders and destroying enemies (illegal aliens?). Fostering a mindset of being threatened does not build much of a relationship, somewhat like the politics of fear (our “war on terror”?).
God provided instructions for building a temple, arch of the covenant, etc. This provided extra power to the religious leaders, who used it for their corrupt purposes. The people were more inclined to worship the objects than the God that these were supposed to represent. Don’t we put crosses up all over the place, fish symbols on our cars, and Bible verse references on our license plates, etc? Not much of a relationship comes from distractions by the symbols of that relationship.
God dispersed the nation of Israel and provided them with a series of prophets and reformers who attempted to warn and direct the Jews back to the covenant. But, who listens to prophets… except tabloid newspapers who are predicting that all will end in 2012 when the Mayan calenders runs out. Most people cannot figure out what prophets are saying anyway, or go off on some tangent, thereby missing the point (who, me?). Cryptic messages do not build much of a relationship.
How different are these responses to those that we might use to try to establish, build, and sustain our own relationships? Do we not try to create a paradise for our families? Do we not make vows in marriage? Do we not try to use judgment in rearing children and dealing with our neighbors? Do we not collect the symbols of our households (photo albums, etc.)? Do we not try to warn the younger generations of risky behaviors, and guide them back to the family traditions? How often do our attempts succeed and fail?
The issue here is free will. We, or God, may try this or that strategy, but the other person is not a electron with known physical properties which we can manipulate. The other person may also be trying a different, and incompatible, strategies to either connect or disconnect from us. Two free-willing people more often result in conflict than harmony, until one begins to step out of his or her position to try to comprehend how the other is acting or responding, and to then adjust his or her approach to uphold his or her values but fit better with the other person’s style.
Thus, God reviewed the dismal outcomes of the various attempts to have a relationship with the people of Israel. God changed the strategy to become a person, with the paradoxical knowledge that every attempt that Christ would make to connect with people would fall short of the goal. No matter what free will God attempts, people’s free will may go a different direction without awareness and desire to connect also.
So, back to the question about whether God can act in an evil manner. Certainly, we might say that God’s desire to have a relationship leans toward the good side of things. His attempts to connect are generally acceptable strategies (well, maybe not the destroying stuff, for those who get destroyed). Thus, God’s intent appears to be good. However, his outcomes have been ineffective. Do failed outcomes constitute less than good? I think that we are back into the world of grey areas, neither obviously good or evil, but somewhere along a continuum between the two ends. We are back to free will. Thus, I would suggest that God could chose evil, but choses not to pursue this instead. The failed outcomes are a result of the exponential equation of free will, resulting not in one outcome, but the a multiplying variety of outcomes.
May the Empathy be with you, until next time, Inspiration Seekers.