For the week of January 19, 2013 / 8 Shevat 5773
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 10:1-13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28


God Is Complex

Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. (Jeremiah 46:28; ESV)

The way the Bible characterizes God is very different from how many people portray him. One reason for that is that the Bible's version of God is far more complex than some of the simplistic versions people concoct. For many today, God is a cross between Santa Claus and a teddy bear, who exists to shower us with goodies and cuddle us when we are sad. But before I go much further, I need to say that I am very aware that God has also often been portrayed as a distant cold, disciplinarian, who does nothing but wait for people to mess up so that he can vent his aggressive indignation upon them. Nothing could be further from the truth! And I suspect that it is this very negative version of God that has often fueled certain people's preference for a much nicer, overly positive version.

As someone who believes that the Scriptures are God's actual authentic, inspired, authoritative, and sufficient revelation of himself, I prefer to grapple with the more complex, sometimes confusing, sometimes disturbing depictions of God found in the Bible. We don't help anyone and certainly don't honor God by making him into something he isn't. And one of the things he isn't is simple.

God is dependable, but not predictable. He is faithful, but he is utterly impartial. He cannot be manipulated, but he is compassionate. His motive is always love, but his methods can be harsh and painful at times. While as the Scriptures say, "he is slow to get angry," he does get angry; he does discipline. It is these things that often offend people. Yet it is our offense that is more destructive than the fact that God does such things. For the simplistic images of God we concoct are fantasy, not reality. To truly know God, we need to know him as he really is, not as the projection of our personal preferences.

The week's Haftarah (portion from the Hebrew prophets) speaks of God's punishing. On one hand he will destroy the nations that oppressed Israel. On the other hand, Israel, while also having to endure punishment, will not be destroyed. For Israel the punishment is a form of discipline that will be beneficial in the end. For the oppressive nations, the punishment is final judgment.

Does God relate to all people in this way all the time? Of course not. As I mentioned, God is good and his motive is always love. For most people most of the time, the positive elements of God's love and goodness are most evident. It's our insistence as to what love and goodness are always supposed to look like that often misrepresents God. Life is complex and so is the God who created life. Life is full of good times and bad times. A spirituality that credits God with the good times only is not based on Scripture.

The more we allow ourselves to embrace the fullness of God's complex character as revealed in the Scriptures, the more we will truly know him and the better equipped we will be deal with the complexities of our lives.

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