Saturday, June 13, 2015

Does God have a Character Flaw?

From my very earliest memory in Sunday school I learned that the Bible teaches that "God is Love."  For example, in First John 4:8, 16 the writer describes the essence of God's character as love.  Imagine my surprise one morning recently when in Baptist Bible study we stumbled across another facet of God's character: God also hates, and even bears a grudge.  The prophet Malachi "quotes" God as saying: "I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated; I have laid waste his hill country and left his inheritance to jackals of the desert" (Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13).  And apparently God continues to bear a grudge against them, for Malachi adds: they are a "people with whom the Lord is angry forever" (Malachi 1:4).
            Why would God hate Esau and treat his inheritance so cruelly?  Recall that Esau had sold his right of primogeniture (rights of the first born, Deut 21:15-17) to his brother Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34); Esau's poor judgment in selling his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) for a little bread and a bowl of lentils may have been the cause of God's hatred of Esau and might explain why his descendants (the Edomites, Genesis 36:9, 43) were later conquered by the Israelites (2 Chronicles 25:11-25; 2 Samuel 8:12-14).  At any rate the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites (Genesis 32:28), were ascendant over the Edomites because it was what God wanted (2 Chronicles 25:20) because God favored Jacob's descendants (Genesis 32:28), and bore a grudge against Esau's descendants.
            I can understand God being irritated at Esau for his poor judgment, but it seems an insufficient reason to hate him and bear a grudge against his descendants.  Hate seems to have been another character trait of God as understood in the Jewish Bible, for Esau is not all that God hates.  Job thought God hated him as well (Job 16:9), and even the Israelites at one point thought God hated them (Deuteronomy 1:27).  And John did portray God claiming to hate the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6), as God also did the Ephraimites (Hosea 9:15).
            God also hates human character flaws: robbery (Isaiah 61:8), evil in the heart, and false oaths (Zechariah 8:17).  A list of other human character flaws that God hates appears in Proverbs 6:16-19 (haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run to evil, bearing false witness, and the one who sows discord), including certain Judean feasts and celebrations (Isaiah 1:14; Amos 5:21), along with evildoers (Psalm 5:5), and idol worship (Psalm 31:6; Jeremiah 44:4).
            In the Baptist tradition I have always been told that "God loves the sinner but hates the sin."  But that really does not appear to be the case in the Bible.  God also seems to hate those who do the "sin" (i. e., whatever God may happen to disapprove of).  It is true that the Deuteronomist claimed that God hated every abominable thing (again, what God disapproves of, Deuteronomy 12:31), but it also seems to be the case that God hates those that perpetuate abominations, as those, for example, in Proverbs 6:16-19.
            Unless a person holds the view that the Bible is literally the words of God or words inspired by God in some way, one might recognize that describing God as "hating" is a quite primitive anthropomorphic description of God—that is, the attribution of human characteristics to God.  In other words the biblical writers were describing God in their own image as if God were only a bigger and more powerful human being—something the Greeks and Romans suggested by the physical size of their statuary representations of the Gods, and their descriptions of the reprehensible behavior of the Olympians.  The Biblical writers simply transferred human characteristics to God—including gender.  However, God as spirit (John 4:24) does not have gender (i.e., God is neither he nor she), and God therefore does not experience human emotions—either those we consider positive or negative.  God, if God there be, is not of the human tribe, but rather wholly other.
And if God does not hate, neither does God love.
In truth, each of us invents God in a way that satisfies us.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Anonymous said...

The NT letter to the Romans seems to tackle the character flaws of God at the meta-history level.

9:13-20: "As it is written, 'I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau'...Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not on human will and exertion, but on God who shows mercy...he has mercy on whomever he chooses and hardens the heart of whomever he chooses. You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? BUT WHO, INDEED, ARE YOU , A HUMAN BEING, TO ARGUE WITH GOD. Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (NRSV)

11:25-34: "...a hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, '...he will banish ungodliness from Jacob...", regards election they are beloved for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable...For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he might be merciful to all. O the depts. of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (NRSV)

Seems to me that at least three things are going on here: (1) good and evil are interdependent, can't know one without the other. (2) God is beyond human questioning. (3) specifics are trumped by an overall plan.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Charles Hedrick said...

G'Morning Gene,
Thanks for the quotation from Romans. it appears that Paul's God is a capricious character when it comes to dispensing mercy around: God picks as a recipient of divine mercy whoever suits the divine fancy. It apparently has nothing to do with need or justice. One cannot, however, accuse Paul's God of injustice in this particular matter, since divine mercy is "his" to give as "he" wishes, although one can observe in passing that justice has never been his strong suit. We really don't need to read that in the Bible, however. Check out the weather reports around the world, and if one assumes that God is in control, check out the clearly undeserved physical suffering of countless millions around the world.
Paul thinks that human beings should not argue with God--apparently he did not read his Job closely enough: Job disagrees! Human beings can and should argue with God. It is about our only retort to a divine figure who (as most people believe) holds all the cards.