A GOD WHO SHARES POWER

 

There is a common perception amongst many practicing Christians that God has

favourites. If some of us lead a life of luxury and good fortune then that should be accepted as God’s will is the usual opinion.   After all, does not the Bible say “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts” (I Sam. 2: 7). Is it not written that Abraham was blessed with riches by God? Do we not read that God allowed Solomon to amass wealth and revel in luxury at the expense of his people who became labourers (I Kings 3: 10)?

If we find it hard to accept a God who has favourites and cannot see him as a just and fair God, we are told to learn humility and listen to God's words: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah. 55: 8).

Understandably many of us find the idea of a God who showers the select few with good fortune, abandoning the vast majority to a life of terrible hardship and suffering, offensive to our own senses of justice and fairness.

We must ask if this is what faith means.  Is the portrayal of God from which such a call to faith emerges true to the Bible? No. It cannot be. In that case what is faith? What kind of a God is it that calls us to faith?

Let us try to trace a biblical portrayal of God. We should also try to understand how and why a false picture of God has established itself in tradition.

 

The God of the Bible abdicates power, shares authority and enables people to grow in responsibility

 

God is the all powerful Creator. Nature’s complexity and splendour forces us to perceive that we reckon with a great God, all-powerful and all-wise. “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom. 1: 19-20).

We know from science that creation happened over millions of years. So God as Creator brings into being and enlists the co-operation of a number of natural processes. In other words God willingly accepts a self-limitation. 

That God intended to hand over responsibility for the care of creation to humankind is seen Gen. 1: 26-27 “Then God said, "Let us make man (humankind) in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man (humankind) in God's own image, in the image of God he created him (humankind);   male and female he created them.”

What are the practical implications of such an understanding?

Let us take as an example the modern issue of planning families. God can no longer be held responsible for the growth in population. That has now become the collective responsibility of humankind. In law courts traffic accidents are described as 'acts of God'. But statistics have shown that when road conditions are improved and safety regulations are put in place, the number of deaths and injuries due to traffic accidents hugely decline. So human responsibility and intervention play a significant role in how our lives are shaped. So too is the case of epidemic diseases. The development of immunisation technology and the provision of safe drinking water and other preventive measures have completely eliminated some of the world’s worst diseases.

All these are instances of human beings, created in God's own image, assuming greater responsibilities. And God must be pleased. We cannot blame God for our failures. The fact that God wants people to assume greater and greater responsibility is beautifully brought out when the Bible likens God to a mother eagle (Deut. 32:10-14). “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” When the young ones have grown, the mother eagle pushes them out of the nest so that they may learn to fly. When, during the first few attempts the young ones cannot quite make it, the mother sweeps down and bears them upon its wings. That process is repeated again, and again till the young ones can take care of themselves.

There is a similar picture of God in Hosea. Read Hosea 11 and 12. At the beginning of Chapter 11 we have this beautiful picture of God breast-feeding God's people, (11: 3 &.4) bending down when they were languishing under the yoke of slavery and enabling them to walk upright in freedom. “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”

But what happens when they become free? They choose paths of injustice. They resort to oppression and the amassing of wealth. Read carefully and note that Jacob's cunning outwitting of his brother does not meet with God's approval. Jacob's long service under Laban all to win Leah and Rachel is seen as God's way of teaching him to be righteous. (Gen.32:1-33:10)Where does all this lead us? First of all we see God willingly sharing power and authority, opting for a self-limitation in order that the whole of humankind can grow in responsibility. While the history of humankind does show that men and women are capable of sharing in God's responsibility, they still need to grow a great deal in emulating God's justice and love. God cannot be blamed for the suffering in the world and the injustices entrenched in social structures. Faith in God does not mean that God will do everything for those who believe. Rather, faith in God means that we shall be taught by God to emulate God's justice and God's love.

Where do the false portrayals of God come from?

All religions have a tendency to make their own gods - gods who will endorse existing social structures, especially unjust social structures. Even the Chosen peoples of God are no exception. This is the anguish of the Deuteronomist and of the prophet Hosea. This was also the anguish of Jesus. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matt. 23:23). Under the pretext of strict adherence to God's Law, the real concerns of the Law, namely justice and mercy were ignored. This is true of Christian tradition even today. In the name of Christ we endorse many things Jesus opposed and even deliberately ignore what he stood for!     False images of God have held sway and faith has been reduced to a way of seeking God's favour for securing material blessings and a way of escaping death and damnation.

Questions for further study and reflection

·                      Search for other mother-images of God. What does this mean to our traditional way of  understanding God only as Father?  Can the  pronoun 'He' be used without hesitation to refer to God?

·                     Is the widely assumed male superiority in accordance with God's purpose in Creation? How do religions in general answer this question?

·                     List what you think are some of the false images of God.

 

 

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