Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gen. 21-30

My first blog entry concluded with a statement about how when I declare that I am a Christian I am recognizing that I am a part of centuries of a tradition that testifies to experiencing and understanding God in a particular way.

I am going to balk on this a little bit.

Am I still a Christian? Yes. Do I still claim to take part in this tradition? Well, for the most part yes.

The theme that keeps jumping out of the text and slapping me in the face is the theme of election of God's people. Election in this sense means favoring one group over another, an in-group vs. an out-group, God's people vs. the pagans.

Of course this type of theology makes sense when reading the Bible. Think about it. God reveals Godself to you, God delivers you from the power of other nations, etc. However, it was summed up best in a class discussion once when someone referred to election as a "violent claim." Why is it violent? Because it excludes people. It dehumanizes people. It sets up a clear in-group and a clear out-group. The insiders and outsiders, us and them.

The basic principle of war strategy is to dehumanize the opponent. First, you single out a radical difference in their way of life. Second, you figure out a way to alienate that difference entirely from your group. Third, you establish authority. Finally, you use that authority to completely exploit that radical difference in their life. Notice how we do this with the war in Afghanistan by noticing their difference in religion, alienating it by showing its violent tendencies, establishing that the Christian God is on our side, and then using that logic to back a full-scale assault campaign on the country, killing anyone who dares get in the way of the Christian God.

The disappointing thing is that this violent line of thought is evident throughout the Old Testament. For example, God favors Leah by making Rachel barren (29:31). God flips this around and favors Rachel's son Joseph because Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Gen. 30:22-24). The last section of today's reading was a story about how Jacob tricks Laban and Jacob ends up with a strong flock and Laban ends up with a weak flock (Gen 30:25-43).

The most disgusting incident of this in my opinion is how Abraham's servant confidently remarks that God blessed Abraham by giving him male and female slaves (Gen. 24:35). Other human beings. Abraham is favored and the slaves are not even named in this narrative, so it's okay. Right?

If God created all people, why does God favor some at the expense of others? I think a better question would be "Does God favor some at the expense of others?" I am aiming to keep my blogs short, so working through an answer here is pretty much out of the question. However, I think a lot of times we pick up on this theme of election in our contemporary reading of Scripture and forget that we are called to love outsiders (Lev. 19:33-34). How can we truly love outsiders if our will trumps theirs? Can we truly love outsiders?

In sum, I recognize that I am a part of a tradition that has a tendency to make some pretty violent claims. However, instead of forsaking that part of the tradition (or simply moving away to another tradition), I would like to transform the tradition into something else. Something more. Something loving.

For further reflection: Do you think this theme of election is acceptable? Why or why not? What influences your belief on this the most?

Does it disturb you that God gives Abraham male and female slaves because God favors Abraham (Gen. 24:35)? Do you think God actually gives Abraham male and female slaves or that Abraham's servant simply claims that Abraham has the slaves because God gave them to him?

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, I've never thought of this story that way before. I mean, the concept of the election of God's people has been in my thoughts in the past (though not in quite that many words), but I really enjoy getting further insight, especially from people who know what they're doing (or at least have more of an idea than I do).