Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Existence of God

It's true that we're prone to read the stories of the plagues as though we ourselves were living in Egypt, and this colors our perception of God. But it's also true that many of us are prone to read the stories of the plagues in an even more detrimental way - as mere observers of history. And this destroys our perception of God. 

We read these stories as far-removed persons, as persons living in an entirely different time and place. We relate neither to Egypt nor to Israel. To us, these become just stories that happened once upon a time, nice little "myths" (not in the sense of being false, but in the sense of simply being stories) about the origins of something - maybe the nation-state of Israel that exists somewhere in the Middle East, a place that most persons would struggle to find on a map. 

But what else are we supposed to make of this story? We don't live there. We've never lived there. We have never been Egyptians, and we have never been Israelites. We have not been captors, and we have not been captives. Many of us live in places where there are not rivers flowing through or crops being grown. Too many of us have never even seen in a single locust, let alone a whole army of them. 

The entire story is foreign to us, or so it seems, and so we read it as such - a foreign story about foreign ideas, a narrative about things that we don't relate with and never can relate with. 

And then, of course, we find ourselves with no relation at all even to this God. 

He's just a character in the story of a long-ago people. He's just a force in a story about good and evil. A moral type of story, if you will. A fable, like Aesop used to write. This becomes just another one of those stories that tells us how we are supposed to live - gracious, if we are Egypt; patiently insistent, if we are Israel.

But it comes to have very little to do with God. Rather, it becomes for us, as historical observers, a story about right and wrong, about a good way to live and a bad way to live. God, then, becomes "karma," for lack of a better word - He's just the character reinforcing goodness and punishing badness. He is the personification of "you reap what you sow" and there is really no judgment, but there is also no love. 

Because a force like that one is impersonal. There's nothing to know about it. It simply exists. There's nothing to love or to worship or to devote oneself to. It would be like giving yourself to the wind, which is simply going to blow whichever way it will. 

The truth is, we read most of our Bible this way. We read it as a people who aren't these people, a people who are neither captives nor a people of God (though we are actually both). We read it as though God is simply some kind of moral force working through the history of the world to encourage good (rather than to will or to create it) and to discourage bad (rather than to destroy it). And then, we wonder how we got here, to a faith that doesn't know who God is or what it means to love Him or to be loved by Him. 

And so, we come back again to the same question we left with yesterday: what if that's not how we read the Bible? What if that's not how we read these stories? What if we read them as though we are, in fact, Israel - both captives and a people of God? 

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