I got a text the other day from a former apprentice asking about God needing to keep separate from sinful humanity. I won’t try to edit it, here’s the exchange:
Them: I’ve always believed that God needed to be separate from sin. We couldn’t enter His presence because our sin. If that is true, how is it that Jesus, fully God, could enter into this sinful world and hang out with blatant sinners? I get the Atonement. But I’m talking about the time before his death.
Me: Just like old times! In a nutshell, we probably mis-stated the way we said that stuff. The tabernacle/temple had lots of that imagery, but God is hanging out in the world and with humans all through the Old Testament. So He isn’t as sensitive or thin-skinned or hardnosed as some of our lingo has made Him sound. Think of how many times He hangs out visiting people in the Bible! Abram under the oaks of Mamre, fiery furnace with the bros, burning bush, Elijah straight to heaven etc etc. If He were as blindly furious as some theology makes Him sound none of us would stand a chance. He’s a lot kinder than we often act “He knows we are but dust.”
Me: “He knows our need, is no stranger to our weakness”. Don’t you love that?
Them: Indeed I do… So the need for separation in the OT is symbolic.
Me: Well that might take longer to unwind. Richard Rohr would say yes. Read Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?” Have you?
Them: Between the sober bar, the recovery house, and the church I am horrible at getting books in. Should I add it to the top?
Me: Get it on kindle. Read it next. U will thank me big time. Read it in little pieces at night. U will immediately draw from it.
So, while I have no doubt the extreme ‘God-is-a-raging-fire better grab hold of Jesus’ approach has helped many people take their sin seriously (and they should), there are some pretty serious problems aligning the first line of my friend’s text to the Father Who is the Creator of All Things and notices when a sparrow falls to the earth. If my Fatherhood were modeled on God’s, and He could not bear to be in our presence due to sin (and comparing humanity’s moral failure to the God of the Universe was always a dumb trick theologically anyway – OFCOURSE a human couldn’t match God! stupid!,) I would be a pretty poor father to my kids when they screwed up. That kind of fathering has scarred and damaged many people. We do not need to protect God’s purity by saying He can’t stand to be near us since we aren’t perfect. And, explanations of the Atonement which make it sound like Jesus is our cloaking device diminish any meaningful love God has for us in a weird twist of injustice. Read N.T. Wright’s new book on the Atonement ‘The Day the Revolution Began’ (highlighted here: https://toddrisser.com/2017/06/12/a-fantastic-new-book/ ). Jesus’ incarnation indicates God can indeed stand to be around us, messed up though we be. God wants shalom for us, not just a transaction/punishment to even out the scales of justice.
Hello my friend. That is a common folk theology that seems to permeate the Christian landscape that hits my worldview. The topic comes up at Easter more than other time due to Christ’s calling out the beginning of Psalm 22 ““Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Folk theology states that at that moment God could not look at Christ because Christ became sin for us and God could not look at sin. I muse, how God could forsake God. I believe I got that from J. Kenneth Grider or it might be mine (lol). I keep a handout in my carrying folder just for this occasion. It baffles me that even the most devoted Bible readers believe this even thought, though I cannot find any biblical reference. I do note that 2nd Corinthians 5:21is greatly misinterpreted and this is what gets folks off on a tangent without a solid bible hermeneutic. Nevertheless eclectic theology made up of folk theology stains the attributes of Yahweh, loving and holy God.
You noted the bible is full of God interacting with sinful humans and Yahweh does. The Book of Judges I believe is the most powerful of the books that gives an example so such darkness in humans and God uses them to his fulfillment…his glory. I must stop but it feels good to finally have some time to…converse. Love ya more than you know and miss you all. Merry Christmas
Great thoughts Joe. I’m so glad you’ve taken the gifted mind God gave you and utilize it to think deeply on Him and His ways in the world. Looking forward to seeing you sometime!