Does God ever reject mercy?

there is an account in 1 Kings 20 where the king of Aram, Ben Hadad, attacks Israel (Samaria) twice within a year and God promises to deliver them into the hands of Ahab. The second time the Arameans suffered great losses and Ben Hadad and the 32 kings that accompanied him decided to present themselves to king Ahab in sackcloth with ropes around their necks (I assume to mean “we deserve to die”). Ben Hadad’s officials advised him to do this saying that they had heard that the kings of the house of Israel were merciful.

Here’s the shocker that makes us stop and ask questions. King Ahab actually treats Ben Hadad like a brother and drives him around in his chariot while BH promises to return cities and give him commercial opportunities. God delivers and mercy is shown…a great picture right? Wrong! God’s prophet (unnamed) sets up a ruse to get the kings attention (by the way, one of his companions gets killed by a lion for not wounding him with a sword when he asks). He condemns the king and says the words of the Lord, “You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.”

Brian McLaren – A New Kind of Christianity

Brian’s prayer on the beach:

“Lord, we acknowledge that we have made a mess of what Jesus started. We affirm that we are wrong and Jesus is right. We choose not to defend what we have done and what we have become. We understand that many good Christians will not want to participate in our quest, and we welcome thier charitable critique. We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point, and they call for reassessment and, in many cases, repentance. We choose to seek a better path into the future than the one we have been on. We desire to be born again as disciples of Jesus Christ. Now grant us wisdom and guide us in our quest, and create something new and beautiful in and among us for the good of all creation and to your glory, Living God.

pg 30 he states, “Rare moments come to us in our journey when the penny drops, the tumblers click, the pieces fall into place, the lights come on, and our breath is taken away. The old paradigm falls away behind us like a port of departure, and we are won over to the new possibilities, caught up in a new way of seeing, looking toward a new and wide horizon. The Lord has more light and truth to break forth, we believe, and so we raise our sails to the wind of the Spirit. We are embarked on our quest, launched by a prayer.”

I feel like this is the place I am reaching towards in my faith and I pray and am hopeful that this will be the summation of this season of my spiritual journey. So much theological earth has been turned upside down over the last 5 to 7 years that it is a very vulnerable and sometimes lonely place. All I really have in the end are a few pointers that this is God’s doing and a trust with hope that God’s Spirit will guide me through the multitude of voices to find a truer reflection of God for my heart to relate to. An image that inspires a little more awe, a little more love, a little more wonder, a little more joy. That as I discover more of His delight in me with the absence of fear, I might be free to delight a little more in him.

About the basic, 6-line narrative of scripture…the basic plot of the story of scripture that underpins our beliefs, Brian asks good questions:
“Did Abraham hold it, or Moses, or Jeremiah, or Jesus, Paul, or James? Is it ever explicitly taught in Scripture? Was it held in the first three centuries of Christian history? Does it help make sense of the Bible – revealing more than it conceals? Does it contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger, and enemy more wholeheartedly?”

If the answer to the above questions is “no” then our spirit will never live in the spontaneous joy that the gospel should bring. there will be a deep scratch on our glasses, so to speak, that affects our vision even if we are not conscious of it.

About Job’s friends Brian says, “Now here’s where things get interesting: if god says eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and elihu spoke nonsense, yet they were quoting or paraphrasing statements in Deuteronomy, which in turn claims to be quoting God, does that mean Deut is nonsense too? Which god is to be believed? Is it the God speaking in Deuteronomy, who says, “Do good and good will always happen to you; do evil and evil will always happen to you?” Or is it the God that says the simple moral formulas of Deut. are nonsense when echoed by Eliphas, Bildad, zophar, and elihu? I can only conclude that neither Deut. nor Job speaks nonsense, but rather that we speak nonsense when we practice verse snatching from Deut., the middle of Job, or anywhere else. Why? Because revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.”…

…”As we listen and enter into the conversation ourselves, could it be that God’s Word, God’s speaking, God’s self-revealing happens to us, sneaks up, surprises and ambushes us, transforms us, and disarms us-rather than arms us with “truths” to use like weapons to savage other human beings? Could it be that God’s Word intends not to give us easy answers and shortcuts to confidence and authority, but rather to reduce us, again and again, to a posture of wonder, humility, rebuke, and smallness in the face of the unknown?”

about Job he says when God commends Job perhaps he is saying,
” ‘It is not right for fallible, limited creatures to speak of me the way Elihu et al. have. But Job-in his questioning and wrestling with me, in his refusal to give up faith, on the one hand, or to shut up and listen and listen, on the other, in his refusal to acquiesce to unsatisfying answers-has spoken rightly of me, as a true and honest human being should. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what it’s about.’ ”
“Reading the Bible this way is far inferior to the way many of us learned-inferior, that is , if we’re expecting the Bible to be a constitution. But if we’re expecting it to be a community library, the record of a vibrant conversation, and a stimulus to ongoing conversation, it its beautiful, I’d say.

We’ve mentioned the many human voices in the text of Job. One more question needs to be asked. what about God’s vioice, which we encounter in the introduction., striking rather strange bargains with the Satan, and at the end, flinging questions as a machine gun spits out shells? Can we trust God’s voice to be God’s voice? Or is even “God” a character in the story too, not the actual God necessarily, but the imagined God, the author’s best sense of God, the fictional character playing God for the sake of this dramatic work of art? This is a powerful and perhaps terrifying question.”

Brian refers to the idea of progressive revelation about God as further evidence that the Bible is not intended to be used as a type of constitution:
Exodus 6:3 God reveals his divine name that he intentionally withheld from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Hosea 2:16 refers to a coming time when Israel will refer to it’s creator as “husband” and no longer “master”. a change of roles or progression of intimacy.
John 15:12-17 Jesus says the time is passing where his disciples should think of themselves merely as servants. Now they are to see themselves as “friends”.
John 16:12-15 and after he leaves the Spirit will come and reveal new truths that haven’t yet been revealed to them…and guide them.Gal. 3:23-26 Paul describes people of God graduating from childhood where law was a tutor to an age where they walk free in the Spirit.
“The more comfortable I get with this evolving understanding of God across biblical history, the more I find myself able to love and enjoy the Bible-and love and enjoy God as well…If we could experiment with this approach over several months together, we’d begin to notice at least five specific lines of evolution in the biblical writers’ understanding of God.”

1. God’s uniqueness
2. God’s ethics
3. God’s universality
4. God’s agency
5. God’s character

Chapter 11 – From a Violent Tribal God to a Christlike God

Starts with a deeper look at the Noah story of the flood. although something doesn’t quite fit with the image of God revealed through Christ, we have been trained to focus on the rescue of Noah. “What you focus on determines what you miss.” If we consider this mass geocide to be initiated by God then we must also consider that his plan didn’t work…no more than Hitler’s Holocaust or Rwandan genocide. It may be more useful to compare the flood story to an earlier story it seeks to adapt and improve upon. The Utnapishtim story (tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh, discovered mid-1800s, dating back in oral tradition to second millenium BCE). The Gilgamesh flood story pits one merciful deity against all the other more capricious ones. The Bible story shows us one God who is concerned with issues of justice and mercy. With Gilgamesh’s story the gods send a flood because human beings have become too noisy, keeping them from getting a good night’s sleep. Then they become frightened by the flood as it gets out of hand, beyond control. Then they need Utnapishtim to make animal sacrifices when the flood is over because they are hungry – food sources wiped out by their flood. In the Bible story it is man’s inhumanity to man and injustice that evoke catastrophic consequences and God is not frightened nor dependent on sacrificed meat to survive. While the Noah account shows a more mature picture of God, it may be that the Gilgamesh story itself gave a more satisfying explanation of human experience than earlier myths. the myth is there to reveal an important truth about our nature and God’s. It is asking us to learn something and isn’t necessarily concerned about relating fact.

Reading the Bible as an ongoing conversation about the character of God, we then must look not only to the antecedents of the Noah story but also it’s descendants. Consider the Moses story, sent as a baby down the Nile, protected by an “ark” of reeds. Here God chooses to identify himself with a weak and helpless child. Could this be an ironic contrast or commentary on the Noah story to bring maturity to our view of God…that he prefers to be identified with a fragile child than a mighty potentate? hmm. Consider Jesus feeding the 5000 Jews and then after that the 4000 gentiles and healing the Canaanite woman in Mtt 15. Jesus’s leadership, in contrast to Joshua’s, is intent on showing mercy. Joshua had a “no mercy” policy with the gentile nations in this very same area – we presume coming from God as scripture testifies.

One reason for the absolute refusal among the Jewish people to tolerate idols: idols freeze our understanding of God in graven images. But we may too quickly freeze our understanding in printed images on paper, in our books and seminaries, in our hymns of worship and sermons or liturgical prayers. In this way, the constitutional approach to the Bible, it turns out, too easily camouflages a subtle but vigorous and popular form of conceptual idolatry.

this approach helps us see the biblical library as the record of a series of trade-ups, people courageously letting go of their state-of-the-art understanding of God when an even better understanding begins to emerge. We see a trajectory that keeps us from wandering willy nilly over a complex theological landscape with no clear direction. Jesus then reveals the complete picture of God’s character and establishes the capstone of this trajectory. Jesus himself as the Word, not scripture, gets elevated as the full revelation of God (John 1, Col 1:15)

the God Question
“Quaker scholar elton Trueblood said, “the historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like god. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” (sounds inocuous enough until you realize how much we continue to project a law based God on Jesus and modern Christianity)…In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a predetermined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the bible and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those predetermined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever, and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus-the experience of God in Jesus requires a brand-new definition or understanding of God.”

Jesus Outside the Lines

p. 130 Brian parallels the gospel narrative with the three dimensional biblical paradigm of Creation, Liberation, Peace-making kingdom. Even the gospel of John, which evangelicalism uses as the cornerstone of the 6-line narrative position (John 3:16, 5:24, 14:6) is filled with pictures and symbolism that reflect the themes of creation to reconciliation, liberation (freedom to the oppressed), and embarking on a new life in a new kingdom of peace. John’s gospel alludes to Creation with Christ’s resurrection…1st day of the week, a new day, a new beginning. the tomb is a womb giving birth to a new creation. Jesus is mistaken for a gardener and his first appearance is in the garden, a picture again of the rebirth of the original garden. Jesus offers “life of the ages” and “life abundant.” we have translated the Greek zoein aionian as eternal life which has become poorly framed in our minds by the six line narrative. He is not talking about life after death or life in eternal heaven instead of eternal hell. John’s gospel never mentions hell which is highly significant. Jesus is promising life that transcends life in the present age, an age that will soon end in tumult. “born of God”, “born again”, “born from above” means being born into this new creation. Jesus is offering life in the new Genesis, the new creation that is “of the ages”, meaning it’s part of God’s original creation, not simply part of the current regimes, plots, kingdoms, and economies created by humans in the “present evil age” (which Paul references in Gal 1:4).

Just as the book of Genesis ends with Joseph being reconciled with his brothers and forgiving them, with God’s good intent overcoming man’s evil intent, John’s gospel ends the same way with Jesus forgiving and being reconciled with his “brothers” as denoted by his message to Mary, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'”. The choice of words and language is very specific and strategic. It is creating a picture. Jesus is also compared to Moses who came to his own but his own people did not accept him. Both were initially rejected by their own people (brothers).