On the Nature of (the Biblical) God
I’m behind in providing the audio/ video tapes and my session summaries of our current webinar, “Help My Unbelief,” based on Fleming Rutledge’s book of that title. Here’s the link to the first of those sessions in which we discussed the introductory chapter, and then three sermons under the rubric, “On the Nature of God.”
I have slightly amended Fleming’s heading for these sermons, adding the words “the Biblical” to her “On the Nature of God.” I’ve done that for this reason — when we talk about God it is helpful to get specific — which or what “God” are we talking about? Often when we say “God” we are speaking of whatever images or associations we carry from childhood or which float about in the culture at large. “The Sacred Blur” as a friend calls it.
So when asking, “Do you believe in God?” we fail to specify. I, for one, don’t believe in a white-bearded, old-man in the sky God. Nor do I believe in an angry God scrutinizing us all for each and every mis-step and demanding the violent death of his Son to appease God. Nor do I believe in the deist’s God who is something like a cosmic watchmaker, setting things going and then fading away.
I do believe/ trust in the God rendered in the stories of biblical Scripture. This God does not fit the stereotypes, the various “sacred blurs.” This God is odd, unexpected, at least in part, because this God seems intent on using or calling quite surprising, unlikely and fallible people — like me! like you! — to God’s purposes and service.
I’ll focus my comments on the first of three sermons in this series titled, “Moses to Monotheism: A Response to Dr. Freud.” Fleming engages, very respectfully I might add, Freud’s argument in The Future of An Illusion. The
“philosophers,” writes Freud, give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves.” That’s the nub of his critique, that religious ideas are “illusions . . . fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” God is a projection of our own human wishes and fantasies.
But the biblical God is anything but a “vague abstraction” or a fulfillment of our sentimental wishes. This is a God who says, “I am not what you would like me to be, I am not a projection of your wishes, I have not been created by anyone; on the contrary, I am the Creator of all that is . . .”
Fleming argues that whether we buy the biblical writers presentation of God, we at least owe them the courtesy of taking their intentions seriously rather than turning them into something they is not. So she writes,
“However, interpreting the Bible on its own terms — unfashionable though that is in high academic circles nowadays [this sermon was preached at Harvard] — requires that we acknowledge the intention of the various Biblical writers even if we do not acquiesce in it. Their intention is to bear witness to the reality, presence, and power of a God who was there before Moses thought of him, a God who said, mysteriously, I Am Who I Am . . .”
This God is not one who must exist because I have a warm feeling as I watch a sunset or because I’d like to think I will be escorted into a tunnel of light at my death. This God is one who intrudes upon my designs, my plans, my judgments to upset the illusions I create for myself.
A final bit from her sermon: “The Bible is a human document, with all the marks of that humanness, but it is at the same time a genuine miracle, because it is the unique testimony to the God who stands over against human imagination and calls all of us into question.” This in contrast to the gods we create for ourselves who are some version of a divine errand boy, dedicated to answering our beck and call.
In a therapeutic age where all is bent to our needs and desires “God” is often just us and our wants writ large. But that is not the God witnessed in Scripture.