Yeah, I say with a sigh.
For a text supposedly inspired by the grand deity himself, the Bible sure presents the Almighty as something other than a decent fellow. God comes across as an anal-retentive and vindictive gardener, a schizophrenic rule-giver who sets standards no one can live up to, an artist who loathes his first draft and takes vengeance out on it, and an aloof warlord who commands angels to obliterate cities and armies to conquer and do what conquerors do. And then there’s the whole eternal torment in Hell thing. “A shit” sure seems to sum it up.
Before the blasphemy police arrive and take me to see the grand inquisitor, let me
dig myself in deeper qualify that I don’t really believe that God is comparable to excrement. Having, as I do, something of a postmodern faith, I approach the historical images of God as, well, historical images. Images rooted in the human psyche that arise from quirks in human personalities. Images that fulfill deep desires. We’re a deep-in-dung species, morally-speaking, so it’s no wonder that our images of God rarely rise above the filth. Even the most lofty images of God–the heavenly associations we make between God and love, mercy, and compassion–carry the smell of something human. In a sense, the Bible is a record of attempts to make God out of the sometimes morally ugly images of humanity. That divine inspiration may function through this imaginative process is an exciting and fascinating idea, but no inspiration takes the human out of the productive process.
As we imagine God, so we imagine the journey of faith toward God. This too we approach from within the messiness of human life. Take spiritual warfare, a form of spirituality that emphasizes the spiritual life as a perennial contest between God and the demonic, a battle which, to win, one must erect barriers before temptation and proactively fight against sin. This approach to the spiritual life obviously has its roots in scripture and religious traditions, but I submit for consideration that it initially grows out of the human being’s proclivity toward violence. We’re inclined to imagine the way to holiness as a path through a war zone because, at our core, we’re creatures of violence. War, broadly speaking, is one of our primary modes of being in the world, and so it shapes and colors how we perceive and interpret the world, the “spiritual” world included.
Am I saying that we should abandon the use of military imagery in speaking of the spiritual life? No. I wouldn’t say so. The imagery has its truth. So too, I believe, do the less than savory images of God depicted in the Bible. What’s important is to remember that these images are ours, our doing, done sometimes consciously and sometimes not, but always done by us. No image of God falls from the sky. Not even the revealed ones.