Does God have favourites?

God says to Moses: 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion' (Ex 33: 19; Rom 9: 15).

What does this mean?
Does God have favourites?
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Comments

  • I don't have a much better answer to this than Calvin & Hobbes
    It's either mean or its arbitrary, and either way I've got the heebie-jeebies.

    (for the full raccoon story, see here).

    I don't believe God is mean; therefore, if Calvin & Hobbes are right, he must be arbitrary. Which I think he is - from our perspective. In other words, God's decision-making process is far beyond ours and we can't presume to know everything that goes on. Consider Job. He never finds out what it was all about.

    What it also means, more encouragingly, is that God cannot be pressured: he is sovereign. Which should make him perfectly just, even if we can't always discern that right now.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    God says to Moses: 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion' (Ex 33: 19; Rom 9: 15).

    What does this mean?
    Does God have favourites?

    Yes. First it was about genetics, but now it appears to be about those who show others mercy.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I would like to interpret it as God having a preferential option for the poor. He chooses the Hebrews because, they were the smallest of the peoples. He counter culturally singles out the younger son over the elder son. He picks the unlikely candidates such as the refugee Ruth and the shepherd boy David for unexpected destinies. And Jesus is born in a stable instead of a palace where the wise men expected to find Him.
  • Very good. God evolved from having mercy and compassion on a bunch of Canaanites ('If I'm this bad to you just look at what I do to your enemies!') to slightly more advanced bargaining - 'I'll be nice to you if you're nice. Otherwise you burn.'.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I don't have a much better answer to this than Calvin & Hobbes
    It's either mean or its arbitrary, and either way I've got the heebie-jeebies.

    (for the full raccoon story, see here).

    I don't believe God is mean; therefore, if Calvin & Hobbes are right, he must be arbitrary. Which I think he is - from our perspective. In other words, God's decision-making process is far beyond ours and we can't presume to know everything that goes on. Consider Job. He never finds out what it was all about.

    What it also means, more encouragingly, is that God cannot be pressured: he is sovereign. Which should make him perfectly just, even if we can't always discern that right now.

    Job indeed never finds out that it was really all about God's disreputable bet with Satan; and he never finds out because when his questions get too near the knuckle, God shouts him down. Not the sort of God who merits much adoration, I'd say.
  • Andras wrote: »
    Not the sort of God who merits much adoration, I'd say.
    We'd better go and fashion one that is more compatible to our tastes...

    I think the point of Job is to say that sometimes we can never find out. Accepting that is part and parcel of accepting that we are creatures and not the Creator.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited February 21
    Job asks God what sort of God He is. And God responds with an overwhelming answer that is beyond human comprehension. Creation is a testimony to the very nature of God. But God tells Job's companions that their explanations of his trials (using conventional morality) are completely inadequate and Job has a far better understanding than they do.

    I think Job is a test case for whether a human can understand God.
  • And the ultimate answer is 'no', even for Job.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited February 21
    But Job emerges from his close encounter with God as a more enlightened and compassionate person. He gives his daughters an inheritance along with his sons which was remarkable in the ancient world. He becomes more like God.

    He is named by God as one of the three most righteous of the OT along with Noah and Daniel (Ez 14: 14). Jeremiah adds Moses and Samuel to the list (Jer 15: 1).

    And Job's testimony of faith: 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' features as one of the arias in Handel's Messiah.

    Job learned a lot more about God after his dialogue with Him.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited February 21
    Job is a theological voice of complexity like Ps 73. The reason it is in the Bible is that it provides a theology for faith in dark places - without which we would lose hope in the midst of life's suffering.

    Job declares: 'Though He slay me, yet shall I trust Him; but I will defend my ways to His face' (Job 13: 15). He asserts his belief in God while insisting on his own integrity. No wonder God couldn't resist having a debate with him to see if he could understand even more than that.

    Job and John the Baptist mark the limit of human righteousness - until Jesus.

    Jesus represents the compassionate human face of God to the world. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1: 15). His manifesto of mission in Luke 4: 16-21 announces the time of the Lord's favour foretold in Isaiah 61:1-2 - but it omits His vengeance. His ministry is focused upon bringing back the outcasts to God, those who are most in need of God's grace - and the most willing to receive it.

    A practical demonstration of God's mercy in action. And one that St Francis of Assisi rather liked.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited February 21
    Rublev wrote: »
    But Job emerges from his close encounter with God as a more enlightened and compassionate person. He gives his daughters an inheritance along with his sons which was remarkable in the ancient world. He becomes more like God.

    He is named by God as one of the three most righteous of the OT along with Noah and Daniel (Ez 14: 14). Jeremiah adds Moses and Samuel to the list (Jer 15: 1).

    And Job's testimony of faith: 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' features as one of the arias in Handel's Messiah.

    Job learned a lot more about God after his dialogue with Him.

    All of whom are constructs of course. The more so the older. Job being the oldest.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Don't you mean Noah?
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I know that a lot of sermons - I've preached some myself in the past - tend to dwell on the majestic way that God speaks to Job and the repeated Were you there when I... surely you know trope; and that's fine as far as it goes, and I agree that so far it really does speak to the human condition.

    The trouble is that the writer of the story (and I have no doubt at all that it is pious fiction, or - better put - a working out of a theological problem in story form) has already undermined this by stating explicitly what God's motives really are.

    They aren't shrouded in divine wisdom and mystery at all; they amount to no more than God's challenge to Satan - in effect a bet - which has already resulted in the deaths of a great number of human beings as well as livestock, and the destruction of a substantial amount of property. All that to win a bet or prove a point? And that's divine wisdom? Pull the other one!
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited February 22
    Hmm, better revise the canon as well as remodelling God...
    Andras wrote: »
    The trouble is that the writer of the story (...) has already undermined this by stating explicitly what God's motives really are.

    He has? What do you think he says they are?

  • Rublev wrote: »
    Don't you mean Noah?

    No, Job is the oldest story of the texts.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Job was probably written c 600 BC, but Genesis c1400 BC.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    I thought the beginning and ending of Job were very old.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    The story of Job is set outside Israel 'in the land of Uz' and we do not even know if Job is a Hebrew or a Gentile God - fearer.

    The author may have had a universalist faith agenda like Ruth and Jonah - and contra Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Hmm, better revise the canon as well as remodelling God...
    Andras wrote: »
    The trouble is that the writer of the story (...) has already undermined this by stating explicitly what God's motives really are.

    He has? What do you think he says they are?

    Yes, of course he has.

    It all starts out with God boasting about what an upright fellow Job is, and Satan suggests to God that the reason for that is that he's had an easy time of it so far. He argues that if Job loses everything then he will curse Him, and God tells him to go ahead and see. Job and all those connected with him suffer simply because God wishes to prove a point to Satan.
  • The point being?
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    The point being?

    Proving Job has Stockholm Syndrome?
  • Um, that's not what the text says.
  • Possibly just me, but I picture a stunned Job standing centre stage - looking like one of those cartoons where Wile E. Coyote has been struck by lightning - holding a massive pink birthday cake.

    Ok I guess his life was put back together, but he went through the mill to get it.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Um, that's not what the text says.

    No, it's what it implies to me. God abuses Job, destroys his life, Job continues to think he's on his side. It's what I see there.
  • @KarlLB Sorry to insist, but do you really really think that is what a) the text says b) that's what it's intended to imply? I think you do it an injustice.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    @KarlLB Sorry to insist, but do you really really think that is what a) the text says b) that's what it's intended to imply? I think you do it an injustice.

    I certainly see the story as an injustice, however well everything is restored at the end.
  • agingjbagingjb Shipmate
    I'm never clear how Job's family, killed early on, are restored or replaced at the end.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Eutychus wrote: »
    @KarlLB Sorry to insist, but do you really really think that is what a) the text says b) that's what it's intended to imply? I think you do it an injustice.

    Yes and yes. The thing is however I think the writer is saying that Job's Stockholm Syndrome is a good thing.
  • It seems to me that the story would make more sense if it ended before his restoration.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Yes, it could perfectly well end with the silence of Job.

    The encounter between the human and divine is invariably described as being at the limit of human tolerance.

    This is why the angels in Luke’s nativity introduce themselves to Mary and the shepherds with the words: 'Be not afraid' (Luke 1: 30; 2: 10).

    The angel who brings the news of the birth of Samson tells his parents that his name is beyond their comprehension (Judges 14: 18). They think they are about to die (Judges 14: 22). So does Gideon (Judges 6: 22-23).

    Daniel is left in a state of collapse after each of his encounters (Daniel 7: 28; 8: 27; 10: 8; 10: 16-17). King Belshazzar is left terrified by the writing on the wall (Dan 5: 5-7).

    When Moses first encounters God at the Burning Bush he hides his face because he is afraid to look at God (Ex 3: 6). Later God tells him, 'You cannot see my face for no one can see me and live' (Ex 33: 20).

    The disciples at the Transfiguration are thrown into confusion. St Paul is left blinded on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 3-9). Zechariah is left mute (Luke 1: 20).

    When you come face to face with the Infinite then you are left with nothing to say - like Job.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited February 22
    @KarlLB, @Andras, et al, to me the most important verse in the prologue of Job is this 1:9 (GNB):
    Satan replied, "Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it?"

    What is at stake is whether Job's worship of God is disinterested, for God's own sake, or from the perceived benefits he derives from it. The power of the story is the fact that even when Job lost everything, he couldn't lose his conviction that God remained his Redeemer. His relationship to God was orders of magnitude different from that of his 'comforters'.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Yes, the theology of Job's comforters expresses the conventional OT morality of Psalm 1 v 6 that 'the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.'

    Interestingly, God is said not to be very impressed with it (Job 42: 7-8).

    But Job comes to comprehend the complex wisdom theology of Psalm 73 which deals with the questions of why the innocent suffer and why God allows the wicked to prosper.

    The wisdom writings of the Bible emerge at the time of the court of King Solomon in C10 BC and include Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Proverbs and the Psalms. And this is another possible date for Job.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited February 22
    Eutychus wrote: »
    @KarlLB, @Andras, et al, to me the most important verse in the prologue of Job is this 1:9 (GNB):
    Satan replied, "Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it?"

    What is at stake is whether Job's worship of God is disinterested, for God's own sake, or from the perceived benefits he derives from it. The power of the story is the fact that even when Job lost everything, he couldn't lose his conviction that God remained his Redeemer. His relationship to God was orders of magnitude different from that of his 'comforters'.

    Whereas for me the key verse is the "even though he slay me still I will worship him" or something of that nature, which I find deeply troubling, not to mention Stockholmy.

    The verse you quote comes over to me as "if you're a complete bastard to him will he carry on crawling to you, his abuser?"
  • agingjb wrote: »
    I'm never clear how Job's family, killed early on, are restored or replaced at the end.

    For the Job narrative, the points of the story, the family is 2 dimensional, unimportant. More like a possession than people. Which suggests to me that it's very difficult to use that story to understand if God pays favs.

    Re the @OP question. If the data from your life experience suggests that you're not a a fav would you continue to be faithful? It's a question addressed by my father's generation, him and the 1 other surviving cousin of 14. And by my family also. Because of so much death by violence, and the ongoing tragedy. I think there's another thread available with this: Post-traumatic stress disorder in the bible. I'm thinking it's probably an organizing principle.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    Job was probably written c 600 BC, but Genesis c1400 BC.

    It is my guess that the final, redacted version of Genesis was around 500 BC. That is because parts of it are written in reaction to the Babylonian creation myths. Job,, as we have it now, is about 100 years older, but there are strong suggestions it is based on a much earlier tradition.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    There is a lot of debate about the date of Job because of its use of archaic Hebrew language and its setting at the time of the patriarchs in the early second millienium.

    The Talmud says it was written by Moses. Alternative opinions say it was written with other wisdom texts at the time of Solomon in C10 BC or that it was written after the Babylonian Exile in C6 BC because it also contains late Aramaic.
  • agingjb wrote: »
    I'm never clear how Job's family, killed early on, are restored or replaced at the end.

    For the Job narrative, the points of the story, the family is 2 dimensional, unimportant. More like a possession than people. Which suggests to me that it's very difficult to use that story to understand if God pays favs.

    Re the @OP question. If the data from your life experience suggests that you're not a a fav would you continue to be faithful? It's a question addressed by my father's generation, him and the 1 other surviving cousin of 14. And by my family also. Because of so much death by violence, and the ongoing tragedy. I think there's another thread available with this: Post-traumatic stress disorder in the bible. I'm thinking it's probably an organizing principle.

    I think it is hard to see this as an organising principle but it is hard not to wonder about the mental stability of those who went through particularly traumatic events. I often think of Isaac and how the rest of his life was coloured by his near death at the hands of his father.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Yes, I think that this is why the adult Isaac was not tested with a challenging journey of faith like his father Abraham or his son Jacob. Instead it is his wife Rebecca who undergoes the journey of faith instead.
  • KarlLB wrote: »
    The verse you quote comes over to me as "if you're a complete bastard to him will he carry on crawling to you, his abuser?"

    So why bother with God at all, then, in your view? Some variation of Roko's basilisk?
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    The verse you quote comes over to me as "if you're a complete bastard to him will he carry on crawling to you, his abuser?"

    So why bother with God at all, then, in your view? Some variation of Roko's basilisk?

    Well, if the OT picture of him is accurate, I'm in a cleft stick - an eternity with a God like that or in some kind of Hell.

    So I just hope that the picture is innacurate. What else can I do?
  • I find this so discouraging, as I did in our blessed leader's discourse on Ephesians 2 last night (which I said was about death and sex in that order, that death drives us and that Ephesians 2 deconstructs to there is purpose because there is God as revealed through Jesus). Everybody here seems to take a position that there is something literally true about the Book of Job, therefore about God and thus creating a false dichotomy. Or am I being literal minded about everyone's figurative literal mindedness? If the latter, then you're all actually happily talking about the writers of Job, their thinking. Not God. Unlike my truly adored leader's discourse on Ephesians 2 as if Paul actually knew something absolute about human nature and Christ and every word was truer than quantum mechanics.
  • KarlLB wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    The verse you quote comes over to me as "if you're a complete bastard to him will he carry on crawling to you, his abuser?"

    So why bother with God at all, then, in your view? Some variation of Roko's basilisk?

    Well, if the OT picture of him is accurate, I'm in a cleft stick - an eternity with a God like that or in some kind of Hell.

    So I just hope that the picture is innacurate. What else can I do?

    That's hard to answer without sounding trite.

    If I thought Roko's Basilisk was a real thing - and yes I have fleetingly worried that it might or could become a real thing and thus actually thought about this - I'd be rebelling regardless of the consequences, just to assert my personhood for as long as I could.

    My trust in God is based on my conviction - and I have to admit that at the end of the day that is what it is, nothing more, nothing less - that he is fundamentally good and not abusive. I personally can square my reading of Job with that view.

    I know you have lots of problems with the OT, but I sincerely think it can be reasonably read and understood differently from the way you understand it. Somebody mentioned PTSD. If I were saying what you're saying, and trying to listen to myself, and be rational, I'd ask myself whether such a negative view might not be skewed by past trauma.

    [votive]
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @Martin54

    I think there is something spiritually true about the Book of Job. I don't have a problem with it being the working out of a theological problem in story form as Andras suggested. Ruth, Jonah and Esther may all be moral fables as well. It depends upon your hermeneutic as to whether you interpret such texts literally or figuratively. They can still be read as inspired.

    But why was it written?
    What questions is it asking?
    And why has it been included in the canon?

    What do you think about that?
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited February 23
    Martin54 wrote: »
    am I being literal minded about everyone's figurative literal mindedness?

    Good insight: you might well be.

    An important stage in my journey was coming to the realisation that a lot of people in the circles I move(d) in are in fact a lot less literal-minded than what I understood from the way they express things.

    I don't like this, and it can look like hypocrisy, but I think one has to accept that not everybody has the time, capacity, energy, or inclination to try and eliminate every last speck of cognitive dissonance from their lives as some of us feel driven to, and that those of us who do just need to exercise more grace, less judgmentalism, and relax.

    [I called someone yesterday to offer condolences on their church elder, aged under 50, just dying of a brain tumour, and listen as he explained to me both the funeral arrangements - and the scheduled prayer night for his resurrection. ("Ah, yes, really? Well, we'll be thinking of you all...")]
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited February 23
    Eutychus wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    The verse you quote comes over to me as "if you're a complete bastard to him will he carry on crawling to you, his abuser?"

    So why bother with God at all, then, in your view? Some variation of Roko's basilisk?

    Well, if the OT picture of him is accurate, I'm in a cleft stick - an eternity with a God like that or in some kind of Hell.

    So I just hope that the picture is innacurate. What else can I do?

    That's hard to answer without sounding trite.

    If I thought Roko's Basilisk was a real thing - and yes I have fleetingly worried that it might or could become a real thing and thus actually thought about this - I'd be rebelling regardless of the consequences, just to assert my personhood for as long as I could.

    My trust in God is based on my conviction - and I have to admit that at the end of the day that is what it is, nothing more, nothing less - that he is fundamentally good and not abusive. I personally can square my reading of Job with that view.

    I know you have lots of problems with the OT, but I sincerely think it can be reasonably read and understood differently from the way you understand it. Somebody mentioned PTSD. If I were saying what you're saying, and trying to listen to myself, and be rational, I'd ask myself whether such a negative view might not be skewed by past trauma.

    [votive]

    It doesn't feel that way to me. It just feels like, well, pretty explicitly what's happening. The OT is full of people committing the sort of acts and instituting the sort of laws we associate with Pol Pot or IS at God's behest and with his approval and I can't see any way through it.
  • No redeeming features of God at all in the OT?
  • Rublev wrote: »
    @Martin54

    I think there is something spiritually true about the Book of Job. I don't have a problem with it being the working out of a theological problem in story form as Andras suggested. Ruth, Jonah and Esther may all be moral fables as well. It depends upon your hermeneutic as to whether you interpret such texts literally or figuratively. They can still be read as inspired.

    But why was it written?
    What questions is it asking?
    And why has it been included in the canon?

    What do you think about that?

    They are inspired moral fables, certainly. They were written because the writers were privileged yet compromised, rarely from a position of pre-eminent cultural dominance. The priestly ruling class of a second rate power subservient to and beneficiaries of the philosophical, moral, legal and theological evolution of its neighbours, particularly Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. Occasionally they triumph locally as from the beginning in crushing their fellow Canaanite, Amalekite, Philistine neighbours. I'm intrigued as to why Egypt, Assyria and Babylon were so weak a few hundred years either side of 1000 BCE when they locally flourished. Apparently. Certainly around David and Solomon.

    Canonicity is based on how they contributed to the winning theology of Jewish monotheism. There is a terrifyingly brilliant majesty about the OT. I loved that God. Silver linings of the divine in the dark clouds. Nothing else comes close in any other body of literature and I'm more than willing to be disabused of that view. The Jews nicked all the best bits of course. But the very best seems unique to Judaism and transcendently divine.

    Inspired perfume. Par fume. Through the smoke despite the fire, blood and shit.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    There has been quite a lot of discussion so far about the meaning and purpose of Job. Esther and Daniel seem to have been written to answer the question of how should a believer live at a time of persecution. Ruth and Jonah have a universalist theology which may have been seeking to challenge other voices in the OT that expressed that the Jewish faith was exclusively for the Hebrew people and they should not intermarry with Gentiles (Ezra and Nehemiah). The Bible speaks within itself as well as to us. But we need the variety of perspectives and genres in the canon because everyone comes to faith in their own way.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    There has been quite a lot of discussion so far about the meaning and purpose of Job. Esther and Daniel seem to have been written to answer the question of how should a believer live at a time of persecution. Ruth and Jonah have a universalist theology which may have been seeking to challenge other voices in the OT that expressed that the Jewish faith was exclusively for the Hebrew people and they should not intermarry with Gentiles (Ezra and Nehemiah). The Bible speaks within itself as well as to us. But we need the variety of perspectives and genres in the canon because everyone comes to faith in their own way.

    I can certainly agree with all that. Well said!
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    No redeeming features of God at all in the OT?

    Would it help if there were? Probably Stalin and Attila the Hun did.

    It's a bit like finding your doting grandfather was also a camp commandant at Dachau. Sure, he did oversee the deaths of thousands of "undesirables" but he was lovely at Christmas and always sent you a lovely thoughtful gift on your birthday. And gave horsey rides.
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