I want to examine some of those subtle shades and give breath to some of the most troubling questions we have about God. Even if you're not convinced there is a God, you deserve to be heard and I want to know what you think and how you got there. We all have a perspective, we all come at the question of "If God..." from a very specific place. It's my hope to address some of those places, and the idea came to me here.
In Genesis 20:1-7, we read:
Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.
Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless?
"Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."
Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.
"Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."
1) Abraham lied--This man God chose to bless with descendants, through whom He would make His own name great, was deceitful to protect himself. Scripture doesn't paint him as perfect at all.
2) Abimelech "took" Sarah--We don't know what this "taking" means, aside from the fact that the context obviously excludes a sexual manner (he hadn't come near her, vs. 3). Aside from that, we may only assume it looked like an historical taking of the woman as a possession, or perhaps something more gentle/consensual that, given Sarah's marriage with Abraham, might have looked like an awkward, sitcom-esque situation as the couple tried to hide their real relationship. We can make plenty of assumptions, even educated guesses, but we don't truthfully know.
3) God spoke to Abimelech in a dream--The Israelite people didn't exist at this time, but they were coming soon to a desert near you, if you lived in the Ancient Middle East. Abraham was to be THE patriarch, the beginning of the whole thing, so Abimelech wasn't one of them. And yet here, contrary to the assertions of some, we see God interacting with someone outside the plans God has for His people Israel. In seminary we hear a lot about territorial, cultural gods, and that the Israelite God, this fledgling "YHWH" by name, is kinda like that. The idea that God "grew up" and learned how to lead His people as God as He went along is offensive on numerous levels, and not at all in line with scripture. However, the idea that the Israelites did not fully understand the One true God, and so scripture reflects their growing in that area, is both biblical and deeply respectful of our own deficits in knowing God fully. Well, this story of Abimelech is only one of several examples of God working through non-Israelites, a recurring theme basically trashing this kind of etiology for this God referred to as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
4) Abimelech defends his action--The King of Gerar tells God that the nation is blameless, he took Sarah in the integrity of his heart, and is innocent in his actions (hands). Abimelech doesn't question God's authority at all, but appeals to God's reason. Whether this is indicative of the tribal gods theory of the ANE (Ancient Near East) or a recognition by Abimelech of YHWH's supremacy is unknown. God's response is interesting.
5) God's response is silent on two counts--God states that Abimelech was in fact walking in integrity in the situation. He bought Abraham and Sarah's half-truth (they were half-brother-and-sister) and so wasn't aware of any wrong-doing. However, God does not repeat that the nation, or Abimelech's hands, are blameless and innocent, respectively. This is telling. A) Before the God who reveals Himself in the Bible as completely holy and the One and Only Almighty God, no human is blameless or innocent. No man or woman can stand to question the God of all. This God says He's aware that Abimelech didn't know Abraham and Sarah were an item, He kept the king from sinning in God's eyes (i.e. this would exclude any sinful action in the "taking" part), and let him know the consequences should Abimelech choose not to obey. B) As an ancillary point that nevertheless stood out to me, Abimelech already had a wife, and yet he took Sarah also. This goes against God's instruction to us in Genesis 2:18, 22-24. This is only one instance of Abimelech's sin before God that keeps him from being innocent. My thought, coming out of this understanding, is that God has never shown Himself in scripture to flippantly decide to destroy people, but does so as a last resort only (if at all). He is patient and gracious with us and does not instantly give us the just consequence of our sins before Him.
6) God is reasonable but strict--God expects to be obeyed, and will back up His commands with punishment when necessary. We learn later in the chapter that the men of Abimelech's house were fearful of such a command and that God closed the wombs of the women in Abimelech's household, later opening them again once Sarah was restored. God was strict with His consequence but was reasonably lenient when Abimelech obeyed. Yes, God is gracious.
All that being said, I was struck by how easy it is for us to suppose we know the mind of God and understand the unmentioned details of scripture. My perspective toward this passage could be right, or it could be wrong. It is, however, based on where I am with God right now. I'm asking questions and positing answers and trying to understand the mind and heart of God. So that's when I got the idea that we have so many different views of God (or gods, or goddesses, or whatever) but I don't know how often we pause--take our personal selves out of the equation, to whatever extent possible--to ask where those views come from, and to see if we can come to understand things more clearly.
How much of our theology or tradition or experience or hopes or fears taint what we're looking at?
This could apply to anything in our lives (relationships, situations, religious beliefs, etc.), but until the material runs out, I'm going to do a number of (much) shorter posts that deal with some of these subtle shades of God, and I want you to be a part of it. I want to know what you're thinking about and struggling with, and I want to see if God shows up to set the record straight for all of us. I have a feeling even the most devout God-followers will find God answering us all with something very akin to his response to Abimelech: "You're right about this...but not here, you're not. There's more about Me to be discovered!"
POLL FOR EVERYONE :: In four sentences or less, what hindrances to, or doubts concerning, belief in an all-powerful God do you have and why? (If you don't have any, you needn't reply.)
Please, no responding to other people's comments for this one. Just your thoughts. Thanks!