From time to time this year, we have reflected on particular passages in Torah. Torah can be difficult for modern persons to understand and accept because it is very old and comes from a culture that is very different from modern western cultures. The God of the Old Testament is difficult to figure out. God, as presented in Torah, often seems dangerous and even unpredictable to us. This God can be hard to like.
The flood. The near sacrifice of Isaac. Raining down fire. Destroying entire communities. Not to mention the entire book of Job. And then there are all those rules, what to sacrifice and how to sacrifice and when to sacrifice. Complex instructions about who and what are clean or unclean. And over and over again we encounter difficult and very odd stories.
One of the most frustrating things about God in Torah is God’s unpredictability- at least unpredictable from our perspective. Every time it seems we have God figured out, God explodes the box we put God in. So much so that sometimes it seems that even God isn’t sure what sort of God to be. Distant. Near. Loving. Wrathful. Saving. Punishing. Who is this God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses?
For many of us, this God revealed in the Old Testament is not the God we want. Most of us would prefer a different sort of God . We prefer our gods to be kind and gentle with us, giving us good ( by our standards) things. Hovering over us being sure we are not distressed. Keeping us comfortable. Keeping us safe.
The God we want is not the God Torah tells us about.
The God we have explodes out categories. The God we have described in Torah is perhaps not the God we want.
So how should we think about this God we find in Torah? What is going on in Torah?
In many ways Torah is the story of how God and Israel figure out how to be in relationship with each other. How does holy God covenant with a decidedly not holy people? Israel has to figure this out and so does God. As we read through Torah we find God refining and fine tuning the way God interacts with Israel. And, Israel learns too-slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes reluctantly.
In the midst of this difficult process, an amazing thing is revealed. The God we have never, ever leaves us. We could imagine that it would be easier for God to walk away, to begin again with different people or maybe even begin again with an entirely different world.
But no, God never walks away. Torah tells us the story of the God who will not, ever give up on Israel- no matter what. No matter what Israel does- from the golden calf onward- God never gives up on Israel. God does get frustrated. And God gets angry. God pleads. God sends messengers and angels and prophets. God pitches God’s tent right in the middle of the camp. But God never gives up.
This is good news. The God we have will never leave us. Good news indeed.