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God by Monty Python

God is Immoral

God by Monty Python

I find some of the Bible (and some parts of Christian tradition) seriously hard work, seriously harmful to my faith (let’s not even get into the effect some Christians have on me!).

Regulars here know of my enthusiasm for the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary (DEL) – if you want to know what the most-read passages of the Bible are for a specific day, they would be the readings used for the day at the Eucharist, used by those (in various denominations) who have daily Mass and Communion, and by others who want to follow a systematic common reading of the Bible. The DEL reads through the Gospels every year, and a huge portion (we’ll come back to that) of the rest of the Bible across a two year cycle.

From the start of Ordinary Time at Christ’s Baptism (sorry if I upset NZ Anglicans, but I think it is daft to have a couple of weeks of Ordinary Time before Lent and starting randomly from Ordinary 5), we have been reading through the two books (scrolls) of Samuel.

As we got into 2 Samuel, I struggled with King David (sorry, fans of David!). Add to that: the war in Palestine/Israel is a tragic time to have been reading these texts. Not to mention the politicking all around us. David, and those aligned with him, take over Jerusalem, clearly (within the account in 2 Sam) killing inhabitants to do so. This conquering of Jerusalem is patently carefully calculated geographically. Then, David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to this city is a fiery adding of religion to political expediency. The God of 2 Samuel seems unconcerned by the killing or the multiple wives that David has (no equality: there’s no account of a woman with multiple husbands).

It is helpful for me that when we read these sort of stories in community, NZ Anglicanism doesn’t say, “The Word of the Lord” (or, old-style, “This is the Word of the Lord”). Thankfully, we say: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church” (cf Rev 2:7, and six other times in The Book of Revelation). And (put me on trial for heresy!), I’m not convinced that the Spirit is saying to the Church: kill people indiscriminately, and men can have multiple wives but women cannot have multiple husbands…

But, this isn’t even the central point of my post today.

We probably know the story of David having sex with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and (when she is pregnant from this) David trying to trick Uriah into thinking it’s his child, and finally organising that Uriah is killed and adding Bathsheba to his long list of wives. We heard the sex-with-Bathsheba story and the killing-of-Uriah story on Friday Ordinary Week 3 (it’s also going to be Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary [RCL] 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Continuous First Testament reading). Those who follow CofE’s Common Worship Daily Office lectionary (as NZ’s Anglican lectionary booklet does) will pick up the story again on Monday Morning Prayer in the 20th Ordinary Week.

And we hear Nathan’s turning of the events into a powerful parable in the DEL on Saturday Ordinary Week 3 (RCL’s 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Common Worship’s Tuesday Morning Prayer in the 20th Ordinary Week).

But, the rub of this post is coming soon.

Reading 2 Samuel in private devotion (lectio divina), we come across another story (2 Sam 13) after which one would struggle to say, “This is the Word of the Lord.” Amnon, David’s son, became obsessed with Tamar, David’s daughter. Through a ruse, Amnon gets Tamar into his bedroom and then rapes her. After this, he finds her repulsive. David finds out about the rape of his daughter, and does nothing… This is the Word of the Lord…

Now, what fascinates me is that the story of the rape of Tamar is NOT in the DEL. Nor is it in the (CofE Common Worship/NZ Anglican Lectionary booklet) Daily Office readings. It is conveniently skipped. [And this is where the Liturgy and Life Study Bible comes into its own: it is not read in any RC liturgy – not even in the very systematic Office of Readings!]

Recently, I was reading a discussion about needing to read the full Bible, and there were strong claims that those who follow a daily office discipline (as I do) end up regularly reading the full Bible. They (we!) don’t! (Most) Christians read a highly sanitised Bible. NZ Anglicans, if they pray the psalms at all (!), have a Prayer Book that has removed the imprecatory parts of the psalms.

I don’t want to go down the Marcionite (nor anti-semitic or even supersessionist) path and say that the God of the Hebrew Bible (First Testament/Old Testament) is different to the God of the New Testament. But, I do think that there is a development in the image of God, and that the trajectory is something I can affirm as being inspired (OK – put me on that heresy trial!). And even that that trajectory continues beyond the New Testament period.

We need to be honest with ourselves, with one another, and with those who reject our claims (atheists, agnostics, and others): the Bible is not an easy collection of texts. A lot of the texts are R18 violence and sexual content. Many are not easily claimed as “The Word of the Lord.”

Hear what the Spirit is Saying to the Church.

[As well as my inspired-trajectory approach, those who, like me, struggle with parts of the Bible, of Christian history and tradition, and with current fellow Christians – let alone themselves! – might appreciate the article I recently read about doubt by Graham Tomlin.]

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4 thoughts on “God is Immoral”

  1. I was educated in the Catholic system. I am forever grateful to Fr Chris Penders AA who taught us “Christian Doctrine” in the Fourth form at St Pat’s Town. (The Assumptionists were preparing at the time to open Viard College).

    That year it was all Biblocal Studies and Fr Chris taught us how to read the Old Testament. I can still remember one heading, in my exercise book, at the age of 14: “The Various Anthropomorphisms of Yahweh”! This was 1968.

    So I grew up knowing that God did not command the Israelites to slaugter Canaanites; rather that the Hebrew Bible authors wre attributing to God their own human and often sinful motivations and actions. Also that, just because the text mentioned an unsavoury event, even if it attrtibuted God’s favour to it, that did not mean that God was blessing such evil. That what the OT showed us was the developing fatith of a people as they, only very gradually, came to separate the identity and character of “their” God from those of the nations around them, and perhaps from their own uncoverted violent and selfish selves.

    I won the XtD prize that year; my only one in my St Pat’s career. I cannot count the number of times, over the last 40 years in particluar, that I have said “God didn’t” to someone who was trying to square away the apparent behaviour and value-set of the God of the earlier OT with the nature of the God finally revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. I have never read the Hebrew scriptures believing God did everything they say God did. I confess to having difficulty with those who do, yet say the folow Jesus.

    1. Thanks, Phil – you are blessed. Many scholars, of course, see the wonderful (God-given) vision of freedom, justice, compassion, and equality as being swamped/replaced/usurped by other enslavements and inequity. It takes care to find the good news under the texts, and help others to do so. Lenten blessings.

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