August 31, 2014: Is God Really Violent and Abusive?

Posted on : Aug 28th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

A few weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of attending an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting with a friend who was receiving recognition for his 9-month anniversary of being clean and sober. Twelve-step meetings (AA, NA, SCA, etc.) have various “formats.” This meeting was a sharing meeting, during which anyone who wished to share was invited to do so. Preceding the time of sharing was a reading from the NA “Basic Book.” The reading at the meeting I attended was about the meaning of recovery which NA describes as both “not using” and doing deep inner, spiritual work to find your place of serenity.

This topic inevitably leads to a deep conversation about spirituality. In 12 step meetings finding your “Higher Power – however you define that” – is central to serenity, the inner spiritual center which I often describe as the core where we discover the pure love that is God. Once you find that, you can begin to turn over some of the chaos and “craziness” to your Higher Power and begin to find some serenity in your life.

There were a couple things at this meeting that totally surprised me. The first was that over 50% of the significantly large group in attendance was in their 20’s! The second thing was how quickly the conversation focused on the God of our childhood or the God “we were taught about” vs. the God many had discovered in their journey into sobriety and serenity.

Person after person shared about being raised with or taught about a violent or abusive God. This God they had experienced – and that many were quick to say they had to give up in order to find their Higher Power – was a God of judgment, condemnation, violence and abuse.

After three or four persons spoke, I thought to myself, if these folks weren’t introducing themselves with the preface, “Hi, I’m (first Name) and I’m an Addict,” I would surely have thought I was in a gay and lesbian spirituality group. Same teachings. Same issues.   Same abusive, violent, punishing image of God. One theme was repeated over and over, “No matter who you are or what you do, you’re never good enough; and no matter how much confession, there is never enough absolution. To find my Higher Power I had to give that up to find within me the God who is love.”

As participants were sharing, I kept asking myself, “How did we get from Genesis 1 where we are told we are in created in God’s image and after God’s likeness, and God proclaimed us ‘VERY good!’ to this image of a vengeful, abusive God?”

It dawned on me that the last many of our faith stories from the Book of Genesis have in fact reinforced such an image of God. We moved from the paradise of the Garden of Eden and the goodness of creation to the destruction of the world in the story of Noah and the Ark, to Sodom and Gomorrah (Hail, Fire and Brimstone), and on to child sacrifice this coming Sunday, in the story of the [child] sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham.

Religion, spirituality and God are always in the process of evolving. The biggest and the most radical spiritual evolutionary change in our Judeo-Christian religion happened with Jesus. Looking back on the life of Jesus, we can see that the insight he brought about the nature of God, the way God is present in our lives and in our world was just too radical for most people to accept. Jesus was a profoundly radical Religious Teacher (Rabbi). There is no comparison to him. Even if you put Malcom X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Daly, Larry Kramer and Caesar Chavez together, you still wouldn’t equal the radical, fundamental new reality about God that Jesus gives us.

So why is God still portrayed as vengeful, cruel, abusive, judgmental and abusive? With all due respect to Abraham and Sarah, who in their right mind would worship a God whom they thought required the sacrifice of their own child? And, “Why in the world is this story in the Bible?”   We’ll talk about that on Sunday!



 ~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Genesis 22: 1-18

Then God tested Abraham.

“Abraham!” God called.

“Here I am,” Abraham replied.

“Take your son,” God said, your only child Isaac, whom you love and go to the land or Moriah, (Moriah means “Seeing”). Offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will point out to you.”

Rising early the next morning, Abraham saddled a donkey and took along two workers and his son, Isaac. Abraham chopped wood for the burnt offering, and started on the journey to the place God showed them. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to the workers, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.”

Abraham took wood from the burnt offering and gave it to Isaac to carry. In his own hands he carried the fire and the knife. Then the two of them went on alone.

Isaac said, “Father!”

“Here I am, my child,” Abraham replied.

“Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “My child, God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”

Then the two of them went on together. When they arrived at the place God had pointed out, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill the child.

But the angel of God called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham! “

“Here I am!” Abraham replied.

“Do not raise your hand against the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how deeply you revere God, since you did not refuse me your son, your only child.”

Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. He went and took the ram, and offered it up as burnt offering, instead of his child. Abraham called the place “God Provides,” and so it is said to this day, “on this mountain Our God provides.”

The angel of God called Abraham a second time from heaven and said,

“I swear by myself – it is Your God who speaks –

            Because you have done this,

            Because you have not refused me your son, your only child,

            I will shower blessings on you;

            I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven

            and the grains of sand on the seashore.

Your descendants will possess the gate of their enemies,

            and the nations of the earth will find blessing –

            all this because you obeyed my command.”

Abraham then returned to his attendants, and they set out together for Beersheba, where Abraham made his home.

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