A biography of God
Once upon a time, there was a God. And there were no others; he was alone. He created a world of beings to serve him, and they did. They were perfect, glorious, and predictable. They obeyed every instance of his will; they praised his every deed. But he was not satisfied; he had no stories of his deeds with the angels. He wanted an image.
So this God made a creation as free as He is, even free of Him. One who could love him or reject him. He created an opposite that they might be able to choose something other than him; and he let his creation know that by choosing his opposite they will face death. And he waited to receive his story; his image; from these creatures called men. No sooner had he set this in place when man turned from him and they followed his adversary. God had taught man to walk and then mankind ran from him.
At first, God treated mankind as a newborn child. He hovered over them, instructing and determining punishment for offenses on the fly. When one of the men, named Cain, attacked and killed his own brother, God forced him to wander all his days and placed a curse upon anyone who would attempt to kill Cain. No one did. But soon, man had increased and that one murder had spawned many others. God was angry; his own creation had rebelled against him and was destroying his very artwork, his creatures that he loved. God secretly wished he had never made mankind.
God decided that he would destroy his people and start again. But one man caught his eye; there was one man who did what was right. Perhaps he could start over with him? So God sent a great flood to envelope the land and destroy his creation. He would save this one man though and start over with him. From now on, said God to the good man, anyone who kills must be put to death.
But God had killed, when he sent the flood to destroy his people.
From Power to Whispers
Time passes and the people rebelled again, and this time God did not destroy. He forced them to scatter and form groups. All of mankind had not been able to obey him, perhaps one group would?
He would reveal himself to a group; he would dwell among them. God looked around trying to find a group he could begin again with and settled on a man named Abraham. Mankind had begun to worship strange, vengeful gods who demanded the blood of children. God promises, again, and again, to bless Abraham, but Abraham laughs at God. Gods were cruel and hard.
Intending to show Abraham that he was not like the vengeful, violent gods Abraham had worshiped, and having failed to convince him with promises and pacts, God makes a drastic move. He plays the old familiar tune: "Go sacrifice your child on the mountain." Abraham begins to comply. But then God plays the old tune off beat, by giving the familiar story a different and dramatic ending: at the last moment he stays Abraham's blade, and saves the boy.
Like a great playwright, He demonstrates in dramatic fashion that he is not the violent God that He is assumed to be.
Within a few generations, God's people had become slaves to foreign rule in Egypt. He rescued them from slavery and was strong, powerful, visible and outspoken. By now he had realized many things that had bothered him, more than just murder hurt his creation, hurt his beloved people. God began to see his people no longer as a small child but as a rebellious son. But the more he revealed to his people, the more they rebelled. The more he spoke, the more they were frightened of his voice; when he acted powerfully they resented his intrusion; when he made his intentions obvious they wanted no part of them. So he removed himself from them at their request. He spoke with one man as a man speaks to a friend, and this one man spoke to the people. This man was Moses.
Moses spoke of the rules that God had set forth; and the promise that if they obeyed the rules all would go well with them. God realized that the people would not always do right and included a requirement that when mistakes were made sacrifices must be made to remind the people of what their actions did to God and what, for the most part, God did not do to them. The people obeyed sometimes and other times did not. When they did not, God said he desired to once again start over with Moses, but Moses talked God out of it.
After Moses' death another wise man came along, who, like Moses, was God's friend. He revealed himself to this man, but not the way he revealed himself to Moses. Moses had known a God who spoke out of the fire, but God was no longer in the fire, Moses knew a God whose very speaking caused earthquakes but God was not in the earthquake, Moses knew God in a rushing wind, but God was not in the wind. Things were different now; God was no longer in those things. He was in a gentle whisper.
From King to Father
Things were rough for many years. When the people rebelled God would punish them and would reveal himself to one man at a time, and that man would petition the people. The people demanded that God place one man as the leader to represent them, a king, a ruler, but God constantly warned them that giving anyone that much power would oppress them.
God claimed that he would be their King. Their ruler. Their governor. But the people rejected God's idea and demand that God find them a leader. This leader began by meaning well, but became cruel and hard, filled with hatred.
Things did not go well for some time, as this king oppressed his people. But God ripped the kingdom from the cruel man and gave it to one man who was just and kind. His name was David. David was a good man and loved God with all his heart, mind, and strength. This nation of God's people was blessed greatly and became rich. Everything was well for a time. God declared that the youngest of David's own sons would be reared not by David alone but also by God. Never again, would God speak of a desire to start again. No matter what happened God would be their father and they would be his children. For the first time, god refers to himself as a father.
About that time, David began to fail often: adultery, murder, oppression, slavery. There were rumors that David was becoming like the king before him, cruel and hard. One of David's older son's became jealous of David's power and formed an army to kill his own father so that he could have David's throne. David's army saved his life, by killing David's older son, but instead of congratulating his army, David wept bitterly over his son -- overcome by the loss of the child who had tried to kill him. No matter what his child had done, even if had tried to slay him, a father cannot undo his bond to his child.
You could tell that God and David understood each other.
And God blessed David's second son with wealth, power, and wisdom beyond that of any man before or after him. Great people from far off lands visit the magnificent temple he had built for God -- a temple filled with splendor and covered in gold, and to hear his wisdom of this great and kind man. David's son filled a book with his great wisdom, comparing the actions of the men who were wise with those who were fools. The temple became the symbol of the people's faith, justice, mercy, nationality, and very identity -- their mission to heal the world.
From Riches to Exile
But as David's son aged, he began going insane and filled his life with nothing but the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. His life ended nearly the opposite of the way he started, his wisdom faded and he became like the fool of his tale, and he wrote another book declaring everything meaningless -- even wisdom. After his death, two of David's grandsons claimed the throne at the same time and the kingdom split as a great civil war ensued. Many of the people forgot about God completely; and some began to worship other gods that required their worshipers to sacrifice their children, cut themselves, or to rape women and young girls as acts of worship.
Someone sacrificed a child at a place called Gehenna -- right near the temple. They burned a child on an altar of gold -- but the sacrifice was not for some foreign god. No, they used HIS name, but described a god, who looked like those gods who called for violence, death, and rape.
God was broken. The worst part was that they got His name right, but His identity so wrong. Angrily, he calls out:
"This is not what I desire! I did not ask for this! In fact, I could never have even imagined it."
Only a few remained who remember who God really was. Many prayed to Him to bless their endeavors, endeavors that now included enslaving their poor among their own people and any foreigners among them. The rich took from the poor and starved foreign men who were not opposing them -- all in the name of God. The people twisted their history and their calling to bless the world into something that entitled them to enslave foreigners.
The temple, once a place of peace and kindness, became a symbol of oppression.
After this, God breaks down. He no longer speaks of his people as his child but like a rejected lover. He is emotionally involved with his people; he struggles with whether to reject or forgive. He no longer can see his wayward children simply making wrong choices: choices that will damage themselves, but he sees them as make choices which damage Him. He is the wronged party; he is rejected; he is hurt. And he is highly emotional: his people, once slaves, had become slave owners. Once oppressed and hungry, they were now the oppressors, living well while their neighbors starved. He claims the destruction of the wicked is coming and calls out their sin -- their evil ways of oppressing their poor neighbors. He proclaims every grief they will suffer, when the oppressed rise up against them.
He will strip his people of her expensive clothing and make the nations she was oppressing stare at her shame. He will allow her to be enslaved to remind her of slavery is like; he will send her lovers --riches, wealth, and power -- in to stone her. He will send in nations to rape her; he will devour her Himself. He will not be their God. He says He will no longer side with His people, but with the people they are oppressing, and declares: "I am the God of the oppressed."
He will forget them as He has been forgotten.
Almost immediately, those who had been oppressed rose up and enslaved God's people. They became slaves again, this time to the Babylonians, who captured and carted off the healthiest of the people off to a foreign land and forced the rest into labor camps.
As they are carted off, God says he will end all of this; he will be their God; he proclaims that he has already given his people double the punishment they deserved; he claims he will redeem his people; he will gather his lover to himself; he will make His paths straight. Sometimes he speaks of himself as a wronged but faithful husband, sometimes as a beaten and raped wife, but, all the while as one, who is ready at any moment to forgive. He is angry; he is furious, he is damaged, yes, but he is waiting, longing, begging to be reunited, if his people would only take him back.
Generations pass. The Babylonians, in order to melt the gold from the temple, burned it to the ground. It was gone -- along with most of the books that contained their history -- and the history of their God.
The temple became the symbol of a forgotten God.
In captivity, a young man found a piece of one of his people's books that described the temple. Being a faithful servant of the Babylonian king, he convinced the king of the Babylonians that he must lead his people home to recover their history. On the way, he claimed God had said that he would rebuild the temple and the second temple's glory would be greater than the first.
After a decade of work and the temple was rebuilt, a great noise arose from the crowd. Those who were young cheered, but those who had not been carted off to Babylon and had seen the old temple before it was burnt wept and wailed. You could not tell the sound of the cheers from the weeping.
From Blessings to Apostasy
About the time of the rebuilt temple, the people found their history --and David's son's writings about wisdom.
David's son said many things, but they can be summarized into one question: "Why not obey God since God blesses those who obey him?" It was good logic, but is this what His people had done, when they obeyed? Did His people love Him or did they just wish to have His blessing and avoid His punishment? Do they do what was right because it was right or because it was profitable?
They found other writings about God that had been lost for many years. In one story, God searched for a man who would do what was right even if he was punished for doing so. God's adversary came to Him and asserted that there is no one like that; God says there is and said his name was Job. God removed all blessing from Job, allowed him to be inflicted with a hideous disease, and allowed his children to die. This man's friends said it was his own fault -- that he had done some evil thing, and his wife tells him to curse God and die. The man remains righteous, despite demanding that God explain himself. God speaks to the man and demands that he tell him how to master creation, saying, in effect, "Until you run the natural world do not tell Me how to run the moral world." The man is silenced, but so is God. Neither answers the others question. And God makes no claims that there are other men who would continue to follow him without his blessings.
And God is silent still.
He will say no words for 1300 years. He will be prayed to, spoken of, and dreamt about, but he will say nothing. Perhaps He is at an impasse: if he removes the suffering of the righteous and punishes the wicked many people will rebel and a few will follow, but those that follow will do so because of his blessing or because of him? However if he punishes the righteous, he shames himself. He is silent.
Despite some of the people being able to go home and rebuild the temple, they have not been released from their oppression. Many were still in Babylon when Babylon was defeated by the Assyrians. And many still when the Assyrians were defeated by the Persians. Again many of God's people are carted off and the rest are enslaved in their homeland, but his people do not seek him, do not ask him to miraculously save them. The Persian king issues a decree that his army should exterminate the people of God -- down to every last woman and child. They manage to prevent their genocide, mostly by the brains and boldness of one of their women. At the end of the struggle, the woman's uncle said that perhaps God worked things together in the background.
But that's all he can offer: "Perhaps."
God neither confirms nor denies it; He remains silent.
The story, so similar to the exodus from Egypt, doesn't require God to play a role. Despite escaping the genocide, the people remain enslaved, and they rewrite their ancient history in a book called the Chronicles, with much of God's deeds removed.
From Silent to Abandoned
A thousand years pass and still God is silent. The people's oppressors, again, are conquered by a brutal people called the Romans, and, again, the people of God are passed like spoils of war -- mere property. This time, the people cry out for God to rescue them to forgive them of their sins and release them from their oppression, but God is silent still.
They cry out for God to save them again, and again, and again.
The people of God grew restless under their oppression --and God's silence -- and splintered into factions. Some declared that God indeed had forsaken them and that he was now the God of the Roman people; many of these people began to seek as much political power and wealth as they could muster, working as intermediaries between the people and their oppressors -- levying taxes, crafting abusive laws, giving oppressive loans -- spying on sisters, betraying brothers, turning children over to the authorities, and putting parents to death. These men took over the management of the temple, still using it for religious ceremonies and festivals, but also using it to store a record of each man's debts.
The temple became the symbol of the debts and oppression of the people.
The other three groups were united in their longing for the return of their messiah, a man who would lead their people out of oppression. He would announce the forgiveness of sins, a religious term meaning the release from their brutal punishment at the hands of their oppressors.
One of these groups withdrew further into their strict religion practices, declaring that God had forsaken them because they allowed drunks, prostitutes, and other evils to exist in their midst, and that the messiah would come only when these people were eliminated from society. They enacted strict rules. Some withdrew from society altogether, and created wholly religious versions of everything and became distrustful of anyone not in their sect. A last group embraced terrorism as the answer, choosing to fight the occupation with whatever means necessary.
The strictest religious leaders and the terrorist formed a secret alliance. The religious leaders walked the careful line of supporting these freedom fighters without being overt about it and attracting the attention of the Roman spies. The temple, itself, became the recruiting ground for these revolutionaries, and the religious stories of Egypt and the exile became rallying cries for the populace longing for freedom.
The temple became the rallying ground for those who wanted a holy war.
Man after man announced that he was the long-awaited messiah, the new Moses to lead them out of their oppression, another David to lead the people and be their king. These leaders would announce that God had forgiven them of their sins, that the exile had ended, and that he would now lead His people out of their slavery.
Time after time these men failed, as Rome bloodily crushed their movements, and the oppression continued.
In a single day, 2,500 of a messiah's followers were tortured and killed as the entertainment at the emperor's birthday party. Over 2 million died in a catastrophe worse than the Holocaust. The people of God were known for their mighty forests in their land, but on a single day every tree was cut down to make crosses to crucify hundreds of thousands, with a cross every 30 feet from Jerusalem to Rome. One Roman ruler would accept no glory for having beaten the Jews for there was "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God."
And it seemed like God had.
From Exile to Return
When God had rescued them in Egypt, he came to Moses with mighty signs and power, trumpet blaring, fire and earthquakes, signs and wonders, but God does not do that this time. He comes more like a whisper: God came down and entered human skin and weakness. He decided to suffer with his people, to join them in their fate. He is born to a family who was radically poor, to a mother who loves him but until the end of his life still thinks he is a lunatic, to a father who will die before he is old enough to be a man. He and his family will become refugees, fleeing their home and becoming illegal aliens, hiding out in, of all places, Egypt. The man behind this tragic life is named Jesus.
He rises to the national stage when claims to be the long awaited messiah -- the fulfillment of the promise that at long last, Israel will be forgiven of her sins and the exile will end. He claims that through his message--through his very personhood--his people would be released from foreign oppression and enslavement.
And he shall prove that claim by his miraculous healing. Then he heals an outsider, a Roman warrior's slave -- the enemy. Jesus' earliest followers revolt and try to throw him off a cliff, but He narrowly escapes.
Shortly after, Jesus ascends the mountain where Jews patriarchs often gathered to discuss philosophy and began speaking. He acknowledges that, yes, Israel wants to re-inherit her land, but she must do so His way: it is the meek-- not the militarily triumphant who will be blessed with the earth. Israel thirsts for justice, but she will not achieve it through a form of justice that looks like vengeance; no, it is the humble and gentle who will receive it. Israel wishes for mercy from the wrath of her oppression, but mercy is reserved for the merciful, not the vengeful. Israel wishes to be seen as the sons of God, vindicated as His people in a great battle, yes, but the real sons of God act like Him, like peacemakers.
He declares that national differences are irrelevant in this kingdom of God, and that we all humanity are related. And that if Israel wishes to survive the coming wrath of the Romans, that she must treat people as irreconcilable to them, as Palestinians or Romans, the very way that Israel would treat her own brothers, sisters, and neighbors. She must put down her weapons, for the real enemy is not Rome, but evil: death, oppression, cruelty, and the like.
He proclaimed the forgiveness of sins, the return from exile, the cancellation of the debts of the people, and the start of a new kind of nation, -- one not built upon land but one built upon common humanity that included Jews, Romans, and Palestinians. That God, himself, had stepping into human history and would rule his people, all of them, with justice and compassion. That he himself, had canceled the debts of the people, and purchased their freedom.
Jesus calls his people to embrace instead a different version of their tradition, one which, despite looking like the way of loss, is in fact the way to true victory. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of Rome (and all oppressive kingdoms) had already been defeated by this Kingdom of God, and that all that Israel had to do to join it was to abandon all that was holding her back. She must leave behind family obligations, nationalism, her ancestral claims on her land, and especially her desire for vengeance as these things were sustaining her failed pursuit for vindication. These things, lo, even the temple itself, were encouraging her to build a tower she could not finish and wage a war she could not win. Israel must be like one who would sell everything to gain a field with hidden treasure or a buy a priceless pearl from someone unaware of its value. She must abandon all and choose his new way of being Israel.
The religious leaders must reenter their mother's wombs, start over life from the very beginning, taking everything they thought you knew about life, all their flawed ways of dealing with oppression and evil and start afresh. They must look at everything again, but for the first time, if they wish to overcome.
And conquer the Romans they will, but not with angry zeal that would pay them back blow for blow, rather by turning the other cheek and going the second mile to reconcile with their accusers. She will overcome her enemy by treating him as a friend -- as a fellow Jew. Like God, his people would only put down their arms, forgive each other's sins, their enemies' cruelty, and everyone's debts.
And she is not to attempt to change laws through powerful conventions, but is instead to value servitude and mundane, unnoticed acts of kindness. She must reject the power plays of religious and political power brokers, and to simply live as if God, not Rome, was already ruling the world.
But do not be deceived, he says, this lifestyle will lead to one place. His people are to expect persecution, and to grow by their very blood, like a seed which must die to bear fruit.
His followers expected him to conquer Rome militarily within his lifetime. Instead, he will become homeless, abandoned by his followers, and will be betrayed by his closest friends. He endured claims of illegitimacy, rejection by his family, denial by the very people who followed his words closest. God, in human skin, will endure claims of Godlessness. He will proclaim the advent of a new style of God, a God whose goodness knew no bounds, provided for the slightest things and the humblest people, and was gracious at the same time mighty, a God who loved not those who expected blessing from him but those who expected curses, a God who asks not that we just love him, but that we love each other; but this God will leave him in the lurch.
Days before he is murdered, he throws everyone from the temple and declares: "My house was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a recruiting ground for your holy war!" But he will be killed, not by moral failures -- by sinners, but by an alliance between the very people who claimed to worship him while pushing their agenda for holy war and the imperial machine they were claiming to fight.
And his death left nothing in question. It was obvious to the whole world that for this man, Jesus, to die a death in this manner, that he was not in the right. Would God allow himself to die like a criminal? Who would think of such a thing? This heretical teacher was thus condemned, this false prophet disowned, this seducer of the people unmasked, this blasphemer rejected. The God, who claimed to care, did not rescue him; but turned his face away so that God himself would face a wordless, helpless, miracle-less, and even God-less death, He subjected himself to every humiliation and he died not accepting death in quiet reverent patience, but screaming to a God who remained silent and even refused to watch.
The temple cracked.
But on the third day he rose again. And everything was different. His resurrection proved that God approved of his proclamation, his behavior, his message, his path to peace, and even his fate.
He remembered his words after destroying his people and subjected himself to his own punishment. And on the third day he rose again, so that we would know that we are removed from the curse of death. We could not force him to bear it, so he chose to force himself to bear it. He showed by losing everything, he has won everything for everybody. All are forgiven. All are reconciled -- not by a God who won a great battle, by losing one.
With his parting words, he proclaims that his followers, too, must be willing to die in the gruesome form reserved for slaves and revolutionaries, for it is this new Israel's helpless death that will topple the regime. She must embrace the subversive brilliance of the cross.
His resurrection, he claimed, was like the rays of light breaking at dawn -- a the glimpse of the future now. Until that day, we are to as spread his fame by telling and retelling the story of the hero God and work on bringing his kingdom about by these practices:
We must be kind toward enemies, so that we do not become filled with hated ourselves, not returning evil for evil but doing good to those who would harm us. In this way, we will turn our enemies into friends and disarm them.
- We must practice generosity towards the poor so that we will dethrone and topple the regime of money and lift the poor from their poverty.
- We must repeat a kind of prayer that is a defiant act of resistance against the pursuit of power, a reminder that we are small and needy.
- We must practice a form fasting to revolt against the dominating impulses of physical gratification -- so that the sex drive and other physical appetites will not become our slave drivers, distracting us from our mission.
- And we must practice all of these covertly so they aren't corrupted into an external show 'as the hypocrites do'.
And his return shall be preceded by a great wrath coming from Rome, meant for those who had missed their chance to repent of their holy war. On that day, his people must flee to the hills for the temple will be destroyed. But they should not worry because the temple shall become hidden within the hearts of his people.
And he declares that there will come a day when he will return, with great rejoicing as a new capital city descending upon the earth. And God himself, ruling the world in righteousness, will put to right all that has gone wrong.
He shall exalt the oppressed and downtrodden and bringing low all who were oppressors. He will lift the poor from their poverty, and returning to life those who had been unjustly murdered by oppressive rulers.
He will come back into human history and reclaiming the earth, taking the crumbling mess that we have made of this place and putting it to right.
For now he rules within the temple that resides within everyone, and he calls us to live his message while we wait for his return and dream of the day when death shall become undone.