Tag Archives: Moses

Yahweh Claus

At this festive time of year, when many of us are celebrating dual Christmases – you know, the one that honors the birth of Christ alongside the one that generates fourth quarter revenue for Citicorp – I think it’s important to make a distinction between the deities governing each.  Because, frankly, I think many of us are thoroughly confused by the difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. 

The currency of our childhood relationship with Santa is good behavior, the assumption being that the more good behavior we produce, the better off we’ll be when Christmas morning rolls around.  The currency of our adult relationship with Santa is a good deal simpler – the currency is, well, currency. 

For many of us, the currency of our adult relationships with God is alarmingly similar to that of our childhood relationships with Santa Claus – I’ll be good, just please make things work out for me.  And when they do, I’ll show you how good I am by thanking you profusely.  And then I’ll pick something else for you to work on for me.

There’s nothing wrong with laying our cares before God and sharing earnest appreciation for our blessings.  But if those are our ONLY topics of conversation with God, we’re in for a very boring relationship.  It turns into this kind of dinner with the ‘rents:

“Dear Mom, will you please pass the salt?”

“Here you go.”

“Bless you and thank you, Mom.”

Munch, munch, munch.

“Dear Dad, will you please pass the peas?”

“Here you go.”

“Bless you and thank you, Dad.”

Munch, munch. 

“Dear Mom, please can we have fried chicken tomorrow night?”

“Only if you have faith.”

“Dear Mom, I believe.  Help me in mine unbelief.  Will you please pass the potatoes?”

And so on. 

I’d love to be able to blame this transaction-orientated attitude toward God on our consumer-driven culture, but the fact is, this is how people of the Judeo-Christian variety have always related to God, way before the invention of Santa Claus.  And over and over again, we’re reminded that this is NOT what God ever had in mind.

Joshua understood the stakes involved in a love relationship with a God so enamored of human beings that God pretty much lost his mind whenever the Israelites cheated on him.  Let me introduce Joshua: he took over leading the Israelites after Moses retired.*  At the end of Joshua’s life, after the Israelites had mopped the proverbial floor with everyone in Canaan, Joshua had a little “come-to-Yahweh” talk with them.  It’s too long to reproduce here, but the gist is as follows:

Joshua:  We’ve been dating God for generations.  Now, it’s time to decide whether or not to get married.  No big deal if you don’t want to (other than making yourselves a bunch of idol-worshipping infidels who’ll get slaughtered in the Book of Judges), but you have to decide now.  Me and my peeps are going to, but you do whatever you want.

Israelites:  We’ll follow God!  God gave us everything we wanted!  God’s totally bitchin’!  We LOVE this guy!

Joshua:  Are you serious?  We’re talking MARRIAGE, here.  You’re not up for that kind of commitment.  And if you try to break up with God, you’re really going to hurt God’s feelings and then you’ll be sorrrrryyyy.

Israelites:  NOT!  We’ll follow God.

Joshua:  Fine, from your lips to…well…God’s ears.

And the rest of the Bible chronicles, in lurid detail, how rocky that marriage has been.

I think Joshua’s point was this:  Getting everything we want from God is not the same thing as being in relationship with God.  And to be in relationship with God, I’m reminded of an old adage of my mother’s, “To have a friend, you have to BE a friend.”  This isn’t really rocket science.  To be a friend, we:

  • Let the other person do some of the talking.  That means we shut up and listen.  Sometimes friends talk very quietly.  Sometimes, they don’t talk at all – they’re just happy we’re there paying attention. 
  • Care about what our friend cares about and if we’re really serious about the friendship, we care with more than lip service.  For example, we know that Jesus cared deeply for the poor.  So what’s our new Xbox got to do with what HE wants this Christmas? 

This is way different from Santa’s expectations of me.  Santa Claus and I are not “in relationship” just because he brought me a set of stainless steel cookware last year.  Heck, Santa doesn’t even care if I can pay for the presents I buy.  Santa will gladly extend credit, which boils my responsibility down to paying my minimum balance for the next forty years.  And I’ve never given one second’s worth of thought to what Santa might want in return; the arrangement doesn’t require that.  Santa exists to reward or punish our behavior – he sees us when we’re sleeping and knows when we’re awake, he knows if we’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake…so we’ll get presents. 

When we think of God as a cosmic Claus, we hamstring our relational capacity because we only experience God transactionally – when we want something or, more rarely, when we get or give something. 

God just wants us.

* Not insignificantly, Joshua was portrayed in The Ten Commandments by a bronzed and glossy John Derek:

 

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


Bickering with the burning bush

The Bible is chock full of rousing tales of patriarchs, sovereigns, and prophets “answering the call” with grace, obedience, and good humor.  At least, that’s what the writers would have you believe.  Frankly, I’m skeptical and I don’t think it’s just because Jonah’s been my professional spiritual role model for the last 25 years.

Let’s take Moses.  Definitely one of the Big Ten heavy hitters in “the call” department.  (Don’t ask me who the other nine are…I just made that up.)  Sunday schoolers and Scripture wonks know the story, as do The Ten Commandments fans who watch the movie every Easter with a religiosity worthy of any saint.  Moses stumbles across the burning bush, decides it warrants a closer look, and finds himself face-to-face with the Almighty and a commission for which Moses turns out to be uniquely qualified — tooling around for years in the desert with a bunch of sheep.

Moses has understandable reservations, which I suspect were downplayed in the official account*.  For your consideration, here is an excerpt from a recently recovered fragment**:

Thus, the Lord said, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”

And Moses said, “HAHAHAHA!  Good one, Lord!” 

The Lord didn’t reply. 

Moses said, “What…seriously?”

And the birds chirped and the bush burned and the Lord still didn’t reply.

And Moses said, “Holy CRAP!  You’re not kidding.  What the heck do you want to send ME in there for?”

And the Lord said, “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”

And Moses said, “Yeah, that’ll go over GREAT with Pharaoh.  Not that I’m refusing or anything, but I was just thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop a name or two while I’m in there.  So, exactly who should I say I’m working for?”

And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.  Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

Moses said, “Well, that clarifies it” 

“I will stretch out mine hand,” God continued,” and smite Egypt with all the wonders which I will do there.”

“Oh,” Moses said.  “Well, a good smiting’s always an effective marketing technique.”

“And not only that,” the Lord said, “but thou wilt despoil the Egyptians.” 

At this point, Moses decided to shift gears.  He said, “You know, ninety percent of all people surveyed say they dread public speaking more than death and I’M ONE OF THEM!”

“Lo,” said the Lord, “I shall turn thy staff into a snake and thy hand into a mushy white mess.  If they will not believe these two signs, pour water from the Nile onto the ground and it will turn to blood.”

“But, but, but…I can never think of anything to say in public!”

“Who hath made man’s mouth?” God yelled.  “Who maketh him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  The Lord thy God, that’s who!”

Moses wailed, “Nooooo!!!  Make somebody else do it!!!”

“FINE!” the Lord said, abandoning the Queen’s English for some punchy vernacular.  “Your freakin’ brother can do the talking and you can be the special effects guy.  Now get your whiny ass to Egypt.”

The point of all of this is that God always has a snappy comeback. 

Moses spends a fair amount of his time in Egypt trying to persuade God of some sort of serious lapse in judgment where hiring him was concerned.  In Exodus 6:12 and 6:30, he returns to his public-speaking argument.  “I stutter when I get nervous.  Nobody’s going to listen to me!”  To which God says, “GEEEEEEZ!  I’ve made you a rock star around here and your brother’s doing all the talking anyway!” 

In Exodus 5:22, Moses wails, “Why did you send me here???”  In return, he gets a brilliant pep talk:

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.'” (Exodus 6:6-8)

The pep talk doesn’t really make a lasting impression on Moses.  In Exodus 17:4, he wails, “What am I supposed to do with these people?  They’re going to STONE me!”  To which God replies, “Oh, CRIMINY!  Go up to Horeb.  I’ll freakin’ meet you there.  Strike the rock and water will come out of it.  Will THAT satisfy you???  You’ll be so busy shaking hands and getting pats on the back, you’ll probably totally forget who you even work for.”***

So, if Moses’ experience is typical, a true calling is something you’ll keep coming back to over and over and over and try your best to weasel out of.  But, no matter how many ways you can think of to say no, God always comes back with something along the lines of, “Thank you for sharing your concerns.  Yes, yes, I’ll take them under advisement.  Now get to work.” 

That God.  S/he’s a very persuasive individual.

* See Exodus 3:7-4:14 for the conventional account

** The fragment was found in a hermetically sealed jar, originally intended to hold congealed olive oil, buried under what appears to be an Iron Age bookseller’s veranda which lintel is inscribed with the letters “FWCo.”

*** Ooh.  Good foreshadowing, Lord.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011


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