Yahweh and Grace by Lisa DeLay
(Authorized, edited excerpt from current project, Yahweh, Snakes, and Women: Unclaimed Redemption and Christian Identity - All Rights Reserved)
Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
In childhood and early adult life, I saw God as somewhat of a schizophrenic. The God of the Old Testament is as big as he is legendary for smiting people, places and things. He has furious wrath, and sends destruction for disobedience. He “burns with anger” and kills certain people on the spot, sometimes for touching the wrong thing, or for looking at the wrong thing at the wrong time. As a child, I would picture his “burning with anger” as smoke rushing out his God ears, like Popeye. But, I knew to keep those type of descriptions to myself. What if that made him mad? Sunday school classes, and tales from my parents reinforced God’s Old Testament irritable personality. With each recounting of carnage, or fire and brimstone, a tetchy Almighty cemented in my mind’s eye.
I noticed someone quite different toward the other end of Scripture. God, in the form of Jesus, in the New Testament came on the scene. Jesus seemed so different from heavy-handed Yahweh . As divinity, Jesus spoke for his Father in heaven. He was knocking on doors, not kicking them down. He did God’s will, and fulfilled God’s plan. But, it seemed almost like Jesus was the nice approachable Son who convinced ill-tempered Dad to cut humans a break. Jesus was all about love, mercy and forgiveness.
I noticed how Jesus led by example through humble servanthood. He didn’t seek earthly power. He didn’t lord over people. Actually, those who lorded over others bothered Jesus the most. He was downright fierce in his comments to those in power, the oppressors. He berated religious types, and yet showed mercy to our versions of low-class mobsters, hookers, and other screw-ups that wanted to learn from him. It wasn’t the best public relations technique; nevertheless, Jesus showed grace in unheard of ways. He went far beyond being polite into the marrow of compassion.
Though sinless, Jesus willingly died to redeem people who hated him, as The Anointed sacrifice of God. To me, the Old and New Testament presentations of God didn’t really seem like the same deity. These two presentations did not seem one in the same. There was an old and new covenant biblical schism I couldn’t reconcile for years. This is a common and ongoing misconception about God I’d love to have a hand in ruining right now. Upon closer examination, we truly find a congruent God of scandalous humility and compassion throughout the whole Bible. Let’s look past all of the wrath and smiting for a moment, and see God from an apposite vantage point.
Laws of God
Though God gives Moses 617 specific Levitical laws, a great deal were to promote health and safety in a time when there was no refrigeration, antibiotics, and Lysol disinfectant. Other nations had hundreds more laws than this, and those laws in contrast, treated women, and the poor as inferior. God’s laws protected the innocent, the poor, the widows, and the less powerful. God is a protector. We can quickly forget this trait, but if we read the scriptures through this lens, we see great depth in this care-taking aspect of him. It is not strange for Jesus to call God the Father “Abba”, which means “Daddy”. To Jesus, this was the essence of God’s nature and character. To the typical, by-the-book, formal, Jewish mind, this familiar term of endearment used for Almighty God would have seemed out of place, incongruous, or even scandalous. “Daddy” was a name of trust and love, Jesus said to God the Father. God is worthy of the name “Daddy”. To me, “Daddy”, if you really say it and mean it, means, “I love you and you love me”. We all have a father, but not all of us have had a “daddy”.
Laws to Save
The Ten Commandments weren’t edicts from a cold and angry fun killer. They were ten statutes for peace with God and neighbors. The nature of God’s character is revealed in these laws. He values integrity, caring for aging parents, and respect for others. Laws seem to also function as a measuring stick to make us realize our imperfection. We all badly need a Savior. Without a point of reference, we soon lose our bearings as to the state of our affairs. And our state is a rather poor one. Because of profoundly experiencing falling short of the law, we are able to see our need for a perfect Redeemer. The law serves as a reminder more than anything else could. Rules save us from our pride.
God required the blood of animals from his people, not because he was legalistic, but because he was gracious. An animal sin offering could not truly wipe out the sins of humans. In this case it was as if God was saying, “I’ll even take this, and things will be okay between us. One day my Son will come and make everything right.” If we see some laws as God’s special favor, and others as safeguards for our protection, we can start to see God’s loving nature a little more accurately.
God in a pup tent
Witness another wonder of God’s character: God literally lived with the Israelites. God went camping with the Hebrews. He roughed it. There is really nothing normal about his decision on that point. Creator God enters time and space, and tents with them.
No self-respecting god lived too close to humans. In those times, gods never rubbed shoulders with people who worshiped them. These gods tormented and bullied their subjects. They subjugated them. The goodness of God is almost embarrassing. Embarrassing by our standards, not his. His love is so big and sturdy. See how he is more humble than false gods?
Don’t we do the same thing? We make our own gods more fearsome, more demanding, and millions of times less humble than the actual living God of the universe. We impose rules and heavy expectations upon others, so everyone can lead more godly lives. So the God we are actually serving is one we’ve conjured. That God would be disappointed. He might befall us with some nasty punishment, or even smite us. The truth is the real one would not. That is the reality we are truly dealing with. The Israelites did this, and we do it even now.
The fact is the pagan gods in Biblical times demanded far more from their followers. False gods demanded human blood; and the lives of babies and children; the raping of little girls, and the killing of virgins. They fancied public sexual intercourse for good crops, the construction of huge temples, the service of temple prostitutes and priests, vast amounts of money, and food, and clothing, and gifts, and inflicted all kinds of oppression on their followers. God, the Creator God of the universe was content to reside in small goat hair tent.
God does not behave like, well, like God. Basically, he doesn’t act like we would. From our perspective this, “not getting your due” is so counterintuitive. Is there a lesson here? Could it be that God is showing us how to live? Could it be that the source of life and love itself is demonstrating something in real life, in a campout, for one example?
Strong like a pansy
Many Christians could hate that I focus on God’s love more than other attributes, because they think it’s sort of selling God short, or taking something away from him. These types of people associate strength, with judgment and punishment. If you say he’s sort of a “pansy” they’ll get very upset, for instance. When I was having supper with Old Testament Biblical scholar, and archeologist David Dorsey, he said that if you look at the Old Testament, especially in its cultural context, and see God’s long-suffering and mercy, you see God is not cruel, but more like some kind of a pansy. This was not a belittling statement about God in any way. It was a statement to reveal the magnitude of grace and benevolence of the one and only Living God. Some people say God is mainly about judgment, but that portrayal is more like that of a false god of Egypt or Canaan.
I wonder who else but a supernatural Being could put up with so much continual disrespect, unfaithfulness, and animosity? Even atheists want a stronger God. Most of the time, atheists remind me of people who are very irritated at God for not existing as they wish him to be. They have given the idea of God not existing a lot of time and angry thoughts. If I spent a bunch of time hating Santa, I wouldn’t be considered as charming in circles of high society. Life is just chockfull of irony.
Maybe humanity in general doesn’t prize how God works with regards to mercy. We prize the tough guy stuff. Be assertive and stand up for yourself, we say. Lots of Christians want a God who will kick butt, and take names. We are far more comfortable with angry or Army Captain God. He wears camouflage and night goggles. No one wants to say, “Oh yeah, my God is more of a pansy, most of the time. It’s right there in the Bible. See the take back the prostitute Israel again, or the begging parts?”
Just so I’m clear. God is holy. God is not weak. All of creation is under his dominion. This actually emphasizes my point. Who are we that He should be so kind to us? Who are we that he thinks about us and cares for us, and even blesses us richly? We fail him at every turn. We think of ourselves first. We hurt people he loves and made. Why should he care so much? Personally, I will never understand the depth of his love for us. Yet, I think we must apprehend that it’s very, very big. We have to live like it is. Who but God is worthy of our praise and loyalty? The only being who has any right to not be humble is the most humble of all. He is the God who stoops. The God who stoops is the God we must love at all costs. The perfect Creator of all that is seen and unseen does not demand perfection. He only asks for faithfulness, and asks very nicely. He asks for only what any self-respecting spouse would wish for and ask of a mate.