God is alien


At the risk of attracting some slightly odd attention I want to carry on from yesterday’s assertion that God isn’t like us at all. In fact, God can be disturbingly alien.

If you really think about some of the passages in the Bible – the exortation to forgive 70 x 7 for example,  which really means, forgive without counting not forgive 490 times and then come down like a tonne of bricks! – something inside you will probably rebel. Or how about the saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? It’s an alien phillosophy, it isn’t a human phillosophy, in fact some people found it so hard to stomach that they killed Jesus for it.

God refuses to do what he’s told by humanity. Hence instead of fasting and being serious and showy about their religion, Jesus and his followers partied and hang out with unsavoury types of people. At the wedding at Cana Jesus delivered something like 240 gallons of the very best wine to people who had already been partying for probably 3 days! God can take a playful approach to what we think should be serious and a serious approach to what we think should be playful. He is quite happy to turn the rhetorics of play on their head.  God is alien.

And perhaps this alien nature is why God continually urges the Jewish nation to take care of the alien in their lands. Those religions that take the root of their faith from the Old Testament are told by God to be care-givers to the alien/foreigner, the ones we can’t understand, the ones who are so different.  Partly because, through them we can move close to an appreciation of those who are different to ourselves. In short, if we can’t accept and love the alien how can we accept and love God?

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2 responses to “God is alien

  1. To get a different perspective, I suggest the online text of a lecture by EP Sanders (by common consent one of the great New Testament historians of our time): The Question of Uniqueness in the Teaching of Jesus. For more detail see his wonderful book Judaism: Practice and Belief, 66BCE-63CE.

    You say that the saying about the camel and the eye of the needle is an “alien philosophy, it’s not a human philosophy”. How is it different from, say, Hindu Sadhus, or the Cynic school of philosophy or, even closer to Jesus temporally and spatially, the Essenes?

  2. That is a very good article, thanks for linking through to it. It’s particularly good for understanding that Jesus placed himself firmly inside a Judaic tradition, and did not indeed come to change one letter of the law and prophets as he said.

    However, my post wasn’t about the uniqueness of Jesus’s sayings but the alienness of God. There is nothing in my post to indicate that other traditions could not convey that alienness too, but my point was that God isn’t a human construct and that sometimes the things Jesus, God’s son, says, or as you rightly point out, re-emphasizes, are counter-intuitive. My focus at the end on the alien in the land is directly taken from Old Testament teachings ( see some selections here ) where God directs his people to fight against that most human of emotions xenophobia.

    The key being that God is not human, and that’s what makes him worth worshipping.

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