The Hebrew Scripture is tough. It’s long and old. It requires studying it year in and year out, so much more than just reading it like a devotional or a novel. Translating the stories to our own lives is daunting to say the least. And I think it’s easy for Christians to oversimplify the whole Bible into law and Gospel– the Hebrew Scripture is law and the Christian Scripture is Gospel. The Hebrew Scripture God is wrathful and angry and the Christian Scripture God is loving and approachable. So let’s skim the tough stuff and get to the good news. This dichotomy is not helpful or true. It limits God. It limits us.
If we do commit, if we do read the Hebrew Scripture year in and year out, we find a wealth of beauty in its stories. We find human characters and moments to relate to. And maybe most importantly, we learn about the complex nature of our God.
In his fantastic reflection of the God of Noah and Abraham, Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels points out an important difference in the two human characters. In both stories, God is angry and wants to cause destruction:
Noah is obedient, he walks with God, but he makes no attempt to intervene; he simply saves himself from destruction. Abraham, on the other hand, acts to transform the situation. Though humble, Abraham is not content to merely be led. He confronts God, challenges the decree and insists on involvement. Indeed, Abraham is active and involved from the beginning, converting the citizens of Haran to the one God. While Noah provides rescue and disaster relief, Abraham is involved in the long hard work of reconstruction and transformation. And we identify ourselves, of course, as the descendants of Abraham, not of Noah. It is Abraham who is our model and aspiration.
We see a difference in maturity between Noah and Abraham, but also between the God of Noah and the God of Abraham. The God of Abraham includes Abraham in the decision-making. Unlike with the flood, God has seemingly learned that God needs to involve humanity in the process. The Abraham story shows us that God needs us. God uses us. God wants our engagement and realizes “perhaps the limits of divine omniscience.”
What is so exciting to me about the progression shown from Noah to Abraham is that our relationship with God is dynamic. It moves and grows. As difficult as it is to believe, God needs our intervention, our courage, our articulated longing. God needs us to fight for humanity. We are in process with God. God is willing to grow and change if we are.
And this brings me back to God being limited by our over-simplification of God’s nature in the Hebrew Scripture. We see God’s anger, yes, but we also see God’s intimacy. God gets angry because God loves creation. God’s willingness to compromise omnipotence for relationship is stunning. The stories remind us of God’s fierce love and commitment to us. In order to engage and intercede, we have to believe that we matter to God. These ancient stories bring us back to that truth.