One 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!