Something crossed my mind yesterday, for reasons I can neither explain nor fully understand. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of the Old Testament Yahweh, and have certainly levied many criticisms of Him and His supposed omniscience, but all of my words are seemingly cast aside by the counter argument of “progressive revelation.”
Progressive revelation is, for all intents and purposes, boiled down to the idea that God gave us His Holy Word (capitalizing those three words in a row feels wrong, somehow) in pieces for various reasons; we weren’t able to understand it, or the time wasn’t right, so He waited. I think this is nicely encapsulated by the disparity between the commandments of Moses stating that divorce can be granted via proper papers (Deuteronomy 24) as opposed to Jesus specifically saying “Hey guys, I know Moses said you could get a divorce, and I know my Dad more or less said that was cool, but you know what? Not cool.” (Slightly paraphrased from Matthew 19:1-9.) That seems an odd thing for an omniscient deity with strict rules and laws to do, for Jesus explicitly said “They could get a divorce because their hearts were hard.” Does God seem like the kind of deity to allow for something along the lines of “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Their marriages aren’t working out well, so I’ll let them have divorces. But only temporarily.” No, God is generally pretty clear in His explicit (and timeless) rules. At least, insofar as I am able to understand Him/them.
You know what, though? That is small potatoes. That is a blip on the radar so small that it passes by unnoticed by the gaze of ten thousand watching eyes in comparison to the nearly blinding idea that I had never considered until yesterday. It is so obvious, why had it not occurred to me? It is so obvious, yet why is it that I get only sparse Google results when considering it on a larger scale? It is so large as to cover the entire screen of our metaphorical radar, and perhaps that is why so few notice it.
Why did an omniscient, timeless God have a Chosen People at all? In the Old Testament, the Jews are the chosen and beloved, they are commanded on more than one occasion to kill all the men, women, and children (except the female virgin children for… reasons… [Numbers 31:17-18]), kill the animals and crops, to make the land as though no one had ever lived there before the Jews. When they were slaves under Pharaoh (historicity aside), He performed amazing shows of force, and freed them, His people, from the lash and chains of slavery. Historically, there were other slaves at the time; God did not save them, only the Jews (this is an important distinction). God set aside land for His chosen people, though it is odd that an omniscient God chose such contested land (there are places the Jews could call home that would result in far fewer deaths, then and now). As far as the Prophets, the narrative in the Old Testament seems to indicate that the Messiah would come to save the “lost lambs of the tribe of Israel,” a phrase translated to mean “The Jews.” In other words, as far as the Old Testament prophets were concerned, the Messiah was coming to save them, not the world. This makes sense, in the grand scheme of things; God has shown a remarkable level of callousness to all people and races who were not Jewish; personally I find it odd that He, in His omniscience, would often show Himself to and have direct conversations with people of His own chosen race… Then punish other races for not worshiping Him. This seems a heavy handed approach, as other peoples would have had no reason to worship Him or know he existed, as He had not frequently spoken to (and presumably dislocated the hip of [go read Genesis 32. If that wasn’t written under the effects of hallucinogens, I don’t know of any way it could possibly have been inspired]) their leaders. Hey, speaking of Genesis 32, Jacob (whose hip has been dislocated by God) seems … Well, it is an odd chapter, for Jacob is wrestling with a man who comes out of NOWHERE (verse 23? No man. Verse 24: Jacob was wrestling with a guy. Verse 25: wrestling guy decides he can’t win, dislocates Jacob’s hip. Verse 27: RANDOM GUY WAS CLEARLY GOD!). That summary bears some explanation: in verse 25, the man (who later turns out to be God) decides he can’t win. Omniscient, all-powerful God cannot beat Jacob in a wrestling match on even footing, so He uses magic to dislocate Jacob’s hip. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?!
Got side tracked there. Anyway, yeah, God only talks to Jews, Jews are His chosen, and He will smite anyone who gets in the way of His chosen (sometimes). I mean, he actually makes His chosen do the smiting at His command, AFTER He commands that “thou shalt not kill.”
Then… Jesus! Chosen people? WHO CARES ABOUT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE! I am here to save everyone! Gentile and Jew, as many a popular hymn reiterate! Now, I know you might be bitter because my Dad commanded that your forefathers be killed and your virgin children taken as slaves, but HE CHANGED HIS MIND! Rejoice, all people! Rejoice!
My question, and the whole point of the post, is this: Why did God have a chosen people at all if He planned to eventually reveal Himself as the savior of all people? Why did He smite so many people, if He eventually planned to save their descendents? Were their forefathers just born at the wrong time? Was God just cranky that day (read: that several hundred years)? Why would a timeless God smite so many, only to save them later? Those are the actions of someone who can’t decide what they want, not the actions of someone who has a timeless, eternal plan. Like God is making it up as He goes along. Oh, I know the Bible says “Jesus was there from the foundations of the world,” (the Gospel of John, though to me the evidence of that is dubious, and the wording unclear at best), but that seems more like someone who trips into a somersault, bounces up, and says “I meant to do that!” This whole situation reeks of that same level of excuse to me; I chose a people, it didn’t work out, so then I chose ALL PEOPLE! Then, like the aforementioned person who tripped, we are informed “And that was how I meant to do it all along.”
I won’t lie, if someone broke into my house, and killed my dogs and raped my wife, and took my children, and then told me “You are alive because I have chosen you!” I would not be like “Truly, you are an awesome person, great in mercy, and Just in decision!” I’d be like “Oh what the f*** dude, the cops are on their way, and I hope you share a cell with the biggest, most rape-happy prisoner in the supermax.”
And yet here we are, and it was when I was very young that I learned the jubilant tune of “Our God is an Awesome God,” and it is only now that I consider just how odd it is that He commanded the killing of so many, then proclaimed eternal, unconditional love for all. You say the word “unconditional”, but I do not think it means what you think it means.