Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pay Dirt: The Human Perception of God

Larry J. Kluth from Mesa, Arizona, writes: Where was the Christian God before he appeared to Moses and declared that the Israelis were his chosen people? Why didn't the great civilizations of the world, prior to this appearance, know about this God?


Dear Larry,

I'm tempted to follow the old adage attributed to Augustine of Hippo, who, when asked what was God doing before he created the world, responded, "God was creating hell for people who ask questions like that." I shall, however, avoid that temptation.

The Christian God, as you describe this deity, did not appear to Moses. That would be the God of the Jews. The idea that any people are God's specially chosen is a tribal idea that is shared by all tribal entities. We tend to associate that idea with the Jews because Christians have incorporated the Jewish God into the Christian story by proclaiming that we have encountered this God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses in a new way in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

However, it is not God who is ever changing. It is the human perception of God. Of course, God was present among the ancient people of the world. God was called by different names, endowed with different qualities and understood in different ways. Some of these aspects of God are seen as immoral by people living today, such as child sacrifice, the purging of anyone who thought outside the box and the divine blessing of violence.

The human God consciousness is always growing. This is true even in the Judeo-Christian faith story. There is an enormous difference between the God of Moses, who was perceived as sending plagues on Israel's enemies, the Egyptians, the last of which was the murder of the firstborn son in every Egyptian household; the God of Joshua, who was perceived as stopping the sun in the sky to facilitate the slaughter of the Ammonites by Joshua's army; or the God of Samuel, who ordered King Saul to commit genocide on the Amalekites; when that God is compared to the God of Jesus, who said, "Love your enemies."

Please remember that while the experience of God may be a universal experience, the explanation of the God experience is always a human creation shaped by the perceptions of people living in history. Every God explanation, every sacred text and every creedal formula is always time bound and time warped. That is why literalizing religious formulas is so destructive. It is literalized formulas that cause us to believe our limited view of God is the same as God. Out of that view come questions like yours that reveal the absurdity of so many popular religious claims and therefore I thank you for your question.

- John Shelby Spong

1 comment:

cipriano said...

What a terrific [as usual] explanation by Spong.
Gotta love the guy!