year of bible – tricky God…


buzzerOne week further into this meander through the pages of this most intriguing of texts. We’ve continued our journey through the patriarchs in Genesis, seen Jesus’s ministry established and expanded in Matthew, cried out in despair with the Psalmist…and at times been befuddled by Proverbs!

What caught my eye this week?

Well, an unusual thought.

One which may cause consternation amongst those who don’t like to challenge too far their understanding of God.

The thing that seems to happen over and over again throughout the earliest stories of the people of God is this theme of trickery. Abraham tricks Abimelek, Isaac then copies his Dad and does exactly the same (perhaps a different generation who hadn’t experienced the first play!). Jacob, Isaac’s son, cons his brother first out of his birthright and then out of his father’s blessing (ably assisted by his Mum). Jacob runs off and in turn is tricked by Laban, who promises Rachel but delivers Leah. Later on, Jacob’s boys trick some nasty enemies as an act of revenge…phew…are you catching the drift here?

So what? These people are ordinary humans who will do anything to survive or even flourish…even extreme acts at times. What intrigues me, however, is that this is who God anoints as his ‘chosen people’. He chooses tricksters…and perhaps endorses their behaviour by choosing them? Do we see a God here who prizes cunning and sidestepping above frontal conflict?

Interestingly, this idea connects with something we read in Matthew, where Jesus sends out his followers on their first mission trip. In his instructions he includes this: “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). Later in the story we see a mischievous Jesus in the resurrection – either hiding his identity, or allowing his grieving followers to continue in their misunderstanding until the time is right for the ‘big reveal’.

I’m not really sure what this all means…other than perhaps if we view God as some cosmic lawgiver with no sense of humour perhaps we miss out on a vital part of who God is. I don’t think that this ‘tricky’ God is in it to damage humanity, but perhaps realises that this survive at all costs, cunning and sidestepping is a necessary part of the human existence. What if our world values the strong, values those who can use violence to achieve their goals…and what if this trickster God is stimulating a spirit of subversion, of revolution against this culture?

Like I say, I don’t really know. Just pondering on this idea of being “cunning” and yet “innocent”…

Another quick thought…isn’t it interesting that the God of Genesis isn’t really daily involved in the lives of his people? Sure, there are big set pieces…and even face to face encounters from time to time…but in the main, God is this presence in the background that seems to provide the framework for all else to hang on. As the story develops we seem to see God get more involved…and then back off again…and then more involved…and then the cycle repeats. All the way through the story – bursts of activity…and then silence…

We would do well to remember this in our own journey. We may well experience incredible highs – but also times of deply frustrating disconnection. We may punish ourselves, searching deep inside for the flaw within that has forced God away from us. What if this is the way that is meant to be? Perhaps the measure of us will be in how we continued even when the voice wasn’t heard.

Interesting…well…I think so anyhow!


7 thoughts on “year of bible – tricky God…

  1. Interesting reflection Martin and well done for sticking with it. Something that caught my eye in your last full paragraph. Is it God that withdraws from us or us who withdraw from God? If the latter is the case then the earlier propositions make more sense I think. The cycle is us moving away from God, and God is able still to utilise any situation however ‘flawed’ to further our journey and the wider narrative.

    1. Interestingly, that’s not what seems to happen in the stories I’m talking about. I think I agree with you mostly, Tony…but here it’s God dipping in and out of the lives of those patriarchs. I wonder if, in our attempt to understand God, we’ve come up with ideas like the Omnis which don’t quite work in reality. I’m not suggesting God is absent, just that God is not ‘present’ in the ways that church has taught us that he should be.

      1. Ah, I see your thinking. This externalises God which is interesting for me having spent time internalising God as the indwelling spirit, God within etc. The ‘omnis’ are challenging but then why wouldn’t they be given I struggle or indeed can’t visualise infinity. As always I think we are hamstrung by our use of language to describe something as mysterious as a divine being – are we perhaps working along the lines of Psalm 139 but knowing that God only occasionally intentionally intervenes in our lives, sometimes at our request and sometime not. Who can know the divine purpose. I grateful that you are sharing your hermeneutic journey (learnt this word recently so will use in all the wrong places just for fun) and I can hitch a ride.

  2. Hi guys,
    I’m not suggesting God is absent, just that God is not ‘present’ in the ways that church has taught us that he should be.

    Not sure what you really mean by ‘ways church has taught us’ the omni words do not necessarily stimulate physical presence, active use of power, or specific out working of divine knowledge. The mythic Adam and Eve account in Gen 3 talks of god separate from them even in the garden as He walked in the cool of the day. There can be physical geographical separation without absence and this is totally in line with orthodox thinking.

    I was more interested in your thinking about god choosing who he did. There may be an implied thought that there would be better candidates. Clearly one would then have to ask in what way are they better, particularly If you accept all humans have disfunctionl relationships with each other, God and universe. If we use a relational theology rather than a functional one perhaps that helps us reflect on who he chose.

    Enjoying the thoughts from both of you.

    1. I think I’m referring to the ‘if we sing loud enough/pray hard enough then God will show up’ kind of thinking. A safe God that we can beckon when we want…that kind of thing.

      I get your point too – I think that I’m referring again to the idea we might be guilty of communicating that a certain kind of ‘faithful’ person is the one who is likely to be ‘chosen’. People who have dispensed with, or at least are managing well, their ‘disfunction’. I like the idea that God chooses to use the currently disfunctional – does this reflect back on the one making the choice/call?

      Enjoying this one!

      1. Hi, this is certainly better fun than the marking I am meant to be doing.

        If god is willing to work through the dysfunctional then wow I do not have to be perfect before he will meet with me. Reflecting on his own character, God chooses people who are not perfect, perhaps he is more interested in transforming people through their experiences of life rather than a quick zap. Patience comes to mind for me as well. Time seems to be of a different ‘quality’ to Him.

        ‘if we sing loud enough/pray hard enough then God will show up’ kind of thinking. A safe God that we can beckon when we want…that kind of thing.’ How sad for people to be brought up to believe in this tosh. Thinking like this implies we can manipulate God which suggests that god is not a very big God if he can be forced to behave in certain ways. We create a pet god who we can get out fro. Time to time and stroke or carry around and in case of fire break glass etc.

        Back to marking

      2. Happy marking…back into the thick of it post-paternity leave for me next week. Mocks just around the corner.

        I still think there’s something here to be explored about rpthe nature of God – trickster/cunning/playful – ideas that we don’t necessarily always associate with the divine.

        Of course you’re right – dysfunction is a gateway for God to show his ability – ‘in my weakness…’ comes to mind here.

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