Monday, January 28, 2013


I'm reading Cain: A Novel by José Saramago. It was a Christmas gift from a former teacher of English literature. I've managed, with my schedule, to get through four chapters and I already like it. So far, I find it very sensible.

I have always looked askance at the theological explanations of why God chose Abel's sacrifice of animal flesh and rejected Cain's sacrifice of the fruits of the earth. The assumption is he was miserly in his offering. There is no such evidence in the scripture:

"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." (Genesis 4:2b-5)

My own theology is reflected in the novel Cain. There is a marvelous verbal exchange between God and Cain in the novel, in which God says he was testing Cain and Cain failed the test, and Cain says that God knew Cain would kill his brother and did nothing to stop it and what kind of a god does that in order to test someone else this god is no better than all the other gods around so God shares in the responsibility for the murder of Abel. And God agrees.

The failure of God to accept Cain's sacrifice is shameful. It reflects the capriciousness of the gods of the peoples who lived around where the Hebrew people lived and wandered. I won't have it. It is the capricious God who "tests" Abraham by requiring him to sacrifice his son Isaac. That God stops the sacrifice doesn't make the testing okay. So, too, with Job, who God allows the satan to strip of his children, his flocks, his health and everything but his scolding wife, in order that the satan might prove to God that no one loves God without having gotten something in return for that love. God's answer to Job's demand that God give an account of God's actions is even more outrageous than the original insult - Who are you to question me? Did you make the universe? - That is no answer at all. A god like this, that does not apologize for using humans as toys, is no god at all.

There is, in fact, no good reason to worship the god we have inherited from the Jews, who we call God with an upper case g. And yet I do. I do indeed pray for the needs of others. I also rage at God when I believe God to have failed to care for God's creations. I hope for miracles, and at the same time I ask for one, I do not believe it will happen, because I know God has better things to do, and worse things to fix, than mine. Christians who refer to themselves as Bible-believing, as if I do not believe because of the Bible, say it is my failure to believe I will get that for which I ask that sinks my prayer from the start.

So why is it that so often, even though I don't get what I ask, I do get some sign that God is present, even if it's only that a redtailed hawk has perched on top of the cross on the tip of the steeple? And why is it that, even though I have just said in my prayer that being present with us in our suffering is not enough we need results NOW and you God are a feckless THUG this is people's lives you're playing around with DO SOMETHING NOW!!! , why is it that still I get that sign of presence and it is, after all, enough?

I do believe that God accepts ultimate responsibility for everything. Because God has given us the choice between good and not so good and even evil, and chooses much of the time not to intervene, God bears ultimate responsibility. And once, only once that I know of, though maybe more than that, when I had been praying for a good result from a commission sitting in judgment on my future, and I was accepting that even though the Holy Spirit might do no more than whisper in their ears but might even shout in their ears in my favor and I would have to accept that they still had the free will to deny me, one night I said to the Spirit, ENOUGH!!! Shout and shout and shout in their ears and damn their free will, take it away from them, just this once!

And heresy of heresies, the tide turned.

We each think we know God, from fundamentalists of every religion to spiritual-but-not-religious types to atheists, we each think we know God. We know nothing.

As a Christian I know only this: a child was born. He was named Jesus. He did and said wonderful and amazing things and people followed him. He loved and cared for the loveless and the outcast; so far as I can tell, this is true. I believe he also loved his detractors, enemies and opponents but they wouldn't let him. His love for them did not make him any less angry at their hardness of heart and deafness of ear and blindness of spirit. He believed God meant all people to be set free, not just those who kept the laws. He died for that belief. And God did nothing to stop it and God took no vengeance for it. But the curve of history tends toward justice. (Sorry - I do not remember who said that, and I may have it wrong a bit, but not the intent of it.) And God's idea of justice is perverse, if we are to believe the scriptures on this, and I do.

God's justice is the resurrection. We kill a child of God. And instead of striking us all dead, which we deserve, God raises the child from the dead, and promises everyone the very same kind of justice.

Now what do you make of that?


Gwen said...

Lois. . . I'm going to have to think about all this again, meditate, puzzle and look for an answer.
Thanks for providing food for thought.
You know, when I was younger I thought I would have all the answers by now.
I only have more questions.
What do you make of that?!

Lois Keen said...

I'm with you, Gwen. I know all my answers are only provisional. They lead to more questions! I think it may be a good thing. Unsettling, but good. I have just suddenly remembered what a wise priest once said to me, that fruit ripens, and then it is picked. If it stays on the tree after it ripens, it rots. I think those of us who still have questions are in less danger of staying on the tree after we have ripened. And, yes, that leads to another question!

Barbara said...

Authors and theologians have filled volumes and here you have it in one concise essay. Lois, this is a brilliant look at what the future could be. Plus, now I have all this to digest and to keep in my heart for future reference.

Lois Keen said...

I apologize for forgetting to check messages until today, Barbara. Thank you for your comment.