Then the Lord’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors. 1 Samuel 5:6 (NLT)
Reading stories like these in the early chapters of Samuel, it is difficult to wrap our 21st century hearts and brains around a story that comes from a culture that predates us by 3,000 years. God seems to be a very different God than the one we hear about from Jesus’ lips or read about in the letters of Jesus’ first followers. On the surface of things, it seems to be a different God.
In my thirty-some year sojourn through God’s Message, I have wrestled with many of these questions. I don’t claim to be a theologian, nor do I claim to have all the answers. I have, however, had personal “Aha!” moments along the way. For example, I don’t believe God has changed, but I believe that civilization has changed. The way God communicates with His creation, our relationship with God and our perceptions of God have changed with the passing of time.
When our daughters were very young, I communicated with them in very terse black and white terms. I told them I loved them and we had many cherished moments of story times, and play times and cuddling together. Nevertheless, young children are unable to communicate at an adult level. Their brains are just forming. They are constantly testing the boundaries of rules and relationships while not being able to communicate at an advanced level. So, I dictated rules. I spoke stern warnings. My daughters experienced my love, but they also experienced my wrath. In their eyes, daddy was a loving father who cuddled on the couch, but also could be a scary dictator who punished them severely.
As young children grow and mature, our relationships with them change as a parent. We have more in depth and age appropriate conversations. They begin to see us and relate to us differently. Punishment for breaking our rules changes. This process continues into adolescence where children individuate and begin to press against the boundaries in an effort to become their own persons. In adulthood, children often look back and appreciate their parents in ways that would be impossible for them to have done as young children. If you ask our daughters to describe their father today it would sound like a very different parent than their two year old selves’ description of daddy after he punished them for trying to touch a red hot stove top (again).
I believe that there is a life-cycle to history (or, His-story) and the relationship between God and his children. From the birth of humanity in Genesis one, until the death and resurrection at the end of Revelation we live out a cosmic life span. In the toddler stages of ancient civilization God related to man in terse black and white terms of rules and corporal punishment. The relationship, the communication style, and our understanding was framed by humanity’s age and maturity. As human civilization grew and matured, God’s communication and how we relate to Him changed. It will continue to change. We know more, we communicate differently, and we relate as civilization in ways that are unprecedented in history.
Perhaps more learned men and women disagree with me. It’s okay if they do. I’ve gotten to an age when I accept and embrace my issues and limitations. People often disagree with me, and it’s perfectly okay because I often learn new things in the disagreement. Still, my thoughts on the life-cycle of our relationship with God helps me frame stories and chapters like todays. I don’t claim to fully understand, but it makes more sense in the context.
Today I’m appreciative of God as a loving parent who was present and taught humanity from the black and white rules of civilization’s infancy until the more mature age in which my part of the story is being played out.