According to the Christian proclamation, God as man lived quietly in the world for more than thirty years before he called his first disciple, drawing no attention to himself or to his presence with us. His voice was not heard in the street. We must assume that sunlight was no lovelier those thirty years, or time less inexorable. The Romans, who made synonyms of order and desolation, tramped the roads of his holy Judea. If we take it to be true that he walked in the cool of mornings and the breeze of evenings among Adam’s children, who were at no special pains to hide their transgressions from him or to put a gloss of piety on the good they did, and that he saw them sometimes comfort the lame and welcome the outcast, as people will do, then surely he rejoiced in them, and in the unutterable good he intended for them. Still, every day was like any other day through those thirty years, miraculous and God-haunted as the world was in the beginning, is now, and always will be.
Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. King David, for example, was up to a lot of no good. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.
The grandeur of the Old Testament, and the fact that such great significance is attached to it, distracts readers from a sense of its unique communal inwardness. It is an endless reconciliation achieved at great cost by a people whose relation to God is astonishingly brave and generous. To appropriate it as a damning witness against the Jews and ‘the Jewish God’ is vulgar beyond belief. And not at all uncommon, therefore.
It seems to me fair to say that the loss of Moses was the defeat of Jesus, insofar as it was the hope of Jesus to bless and relieve the poor.
If what is desired is a God who presents no difficulties and makes no demands, the Old Testament must surely be rejected. But to reject it is one thing, to denounce it another, and to misrepresent it in the course of denouncing it is another still. The Old Testament is not for Christians to denounce because we need only put it respectfully aside, as a Methodist might the Book of Mormon, as a Jew might the New Testament. The Old Testament certainly is not our to misrepresent, since in doing so we slander the culture we took it from, an old and very evil habit among us.
Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books
Robinson got really angry at Spong in this section.
The tendency to hold certain practices in ancient Israel up to idealized modern Western norms is pervasive in much that passes for scholarship, though a glance at the treatment of the great class of debtors now being evicted from their homes in America and elsewhere should make it clear that, from the point of view of graciousness or severity, an honest comparison is not always in our favor.
No one can read the books of Moses with any care without understanding that law can be a means of grace.