Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Liberal God and the Amalekites

I've been doing a bit more thinking about the whole question of passages like 1 Samuel 15, and what seems to be going on here is a fundamental clash of worldviews – a clash between two gods (or two sets of ideas about God).

On one hand, there is what I'll call the Liberal God. This is God as conceptualised by most of society today. He/she is in many ways similar to the Deist idea of God – she/he doesn't actually do much in terms of acting in objective ways in space-time history. But the idea actually relies more on the ideas of the early liberal theologians – this is still a god who cares about us and whom we can experiences of (though I've argued elsewhere that that probably requires a god who can and does act in an objective way in space-time history – though I guess that might not hold if it's also the god of Process Theology who isn't really a god at all). The Liberal God embodies the Spirit of the Age rather than the Holy Spirit – there isn't much conception of transcendent holiness, but rather a loving tolerance that covers everyone who doesn't deliberately cause harm or offence to others, regardless of their race, colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, fetishes, etc. The Liberal God's first commandment is to be true to yourself and to love yourself with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The Liberal God would never command a genocide, and would certainly let good people (like most of us) into heaven.

On the other hand, there is the God of the Bible – i.e. God as the Bible depicts him. He is actually quite discomforting, and doesn't really seem to fit in comfortably to any human culture – he is far more accepting and loving than most human cultures have been, but at the same time he is holy and cannot stand sin. And he has a strange loyalty at times to some groups of people.

A fair few people think that actually these two “God”s are the same. So the Bible is seen as the story of the human encounter with the Liberal God, who gradually draws them from their original understanding of him as petty and rather like them, into the truer understanding of him/her as loving, generous, liberal and rather like Desmond Tutu. For these people, passages such as 1 Samuel 15 are relics of an earlier understanding of God.

[It's probably worth pointing out at this stage that actually that idea doesn't work. Revelation was probably one of the last books of the Bible to be written, and is pretty much like their idea of early stuff. And Ruth is pretty early, and is much more like their idea of later stuff. I don't think that way of thinking about how the Bible develops really works – the more conventional evangelical one fits the data much better.]

The question that passages such as 1 Samuel 15 make us face is which of these conceptions of God is the true one. And the way this is generally decided is which conception of God is morally better. And that's what I was trying to think about in my series of posts on 1 Samuel 15.

So which is better? A God who chooses to bless everyone in some vague nebulous way without ever using violence, or a God who chooses to bless the world in a concrete, real and self-sacrificial way through a specific group of people, and then acts to protect them when they are threatened? That's what I've been seeking to address in my posts on the Amalekites...

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