Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Genesis 18, It ain't easy being God

Quite often, when we read something about God in the Bible, we find the presentation to be difficult to reconcile with our view of God in our own minds. One such reading is the account of God's visit to Abraham in Genesis 18.

In the account, Yahweh personally visits Abraham. The visit happens in the event of three men who came upon Abraham's camp. God can either be understood as appearing in the form of three men or he is one of the three. A straight read of the text gives a very strong case for Yahweh being one of the tree men. Verse 22 pretty much makes this arrangement clear:
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh. (Genesis 18:22, WEB)
An alternative reading is:
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while the LORD remained standing before Abraham (NRSV footnote)
Indeed, this alternative reading is supported by the New Living Translation and it makes pretty good sense in light of Gideon's experience in Judges 6:11-24 which seems to tread the "Angel of Yahweh" and "Yahweh" as two different persons. Read that text and try to figure out what is going on. Who is whom?

In Genesis 18, Abraham discusses with Yahweh about the outcome of the divine investigation of Sodom. Yahweh agrees to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there are fifty righteous. Through several suggestions by Abraham, Yahweh eventually reduces the required number to ten righteous.

If Yahweh already knew how the investigation would conclude, this whole conversation in Genesis 18:23-32 has no integrity at all. For the conversation to actually have integrity, it cannot be that either party knew how the investigation would conclude. If Yahweh really is, as the text reports, weighing his options, then we must consider something possibly surprising about his experience. God often has to make tricky decisions. He has to decide between several difficult courses of action, neither of which is very good.

This description of God is entirely consistent with the way the whole Bible presents God but it clashes with the usual traditional view of God.

While God hears our prayers—even silent prayers—he does not go around reading people's minds. He knows people's thoughts by testing and by investigating (cf. Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3). That means God is not so much a judge of thoughts as he is a fruit inspector. In order to be certain we will act righteously when we are tested, we must grow righteousness in our hearts.

It is interesting that Yahweh's visit to Sodom was motivated by crying. God hears crying and we should add our voices when we hear about it. For a dedicated treatment of God's response to crying, see this article.

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