Last week, on Good Friday, the New York Times opinion page published an essay entitled “In This Time of War, I Propose We Give Up God”. (For context I encourage you to read the full article.) Raised an orthodox Jew, the author Shalom Auslander recounts his reactions to the celebration of Passover, the remembrance of how the nation of Israel was freed from Egyptian slavery through a series of miracles and wonders performed by God, the climax of which was the death of the firstborn in every household whose door posts were not covered by the blood of a lamb. Over time, Mr. Auslander has come to the conclusion that God was basically unfair in His treatment of the Egyptians as surely there were many who suffered under the plagues who played no active role in enslaving Hebrews. He now sees God as brutish, petty, and immoral.
God, it seems, paints with a wide brush. He paints with a roller. In Egypt, said our rabbi, he even killed firstborn cattle. He killed cows. If he were mortal, the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims would be dragged to The Hague. And yet we praise him. We emulate him. We implore our children to be like him. Perhaps now, as missiles rain down and the dead are discovered in mass graves, is a good time to stop emulating this hateful God. Perhaps we can stop extolling his brutality. Perhaps now is a good time to teach our children to pass over God — to be as unlike him as possible.Shalom Auslander
Two things stood out to me as I read this piece. First, is the problem of authority. And second, though he was raised in a religious setting and he writes boldly about God, Mr. Auslander does not know who God is because he does not know Jesus.
First, on the issue of authority, many have attempted to undermine God by denying His existence replacing Him with naturalistic science. From that viewpoint one would argue the plagues of Egypt simply did not happen the way the Bible records them. They were either entirely fabricated or they were natural phenomena that became exaggerated over time to serve a religious purpose. But that is not what the author does here. Instead of arguing against God’s existence, he argues against God’s behavior. In doing so, he tips his hand to show the real motivation behind everyone who strives against God, that is they do not like God. As fallen humanity, they do not not prefer His existence. As one honest atheist, Thomas Nagel said, “I hope there is no God.”
I am fascinated by the boldness of this approach. He does not try to explain away the miracles but instead stands in judgment over the miracle worker. Let’s think about that for a minute. If the wonders recounted in Egypt are historical fact then that validates the entire Biblical record meaning there is an all-powerful God who spoke the universe into existence. It also means that God cares about and interacts with His creation. It means that He literally breathed life into humanity and He is the One solely responsible for sustaining us and our world. So the attempt to place ourselves in authority over him through a piece published in the newspaper, as if He is somehow accountable to our understanding of morality, is laughable. God is perfect in His holiness and because of our collective and constant moral failings, not just of war-mongers but of everyone, it is by His grace alone that we draw breath at all. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this” (Romans 9:20)?
So to admit the miraculous but to judge God is brazen, but it is nothing new. Many first-hand witnesses to the mighty works done by Jesus did not bow to Him but sought His destruction. They could not bear to submit their own authority to His.
The essay closes like this:
This year, at the end of the Seder, let’s indeed throw our doors open — to strangers. To people who aren’t our own. To the terrifying “them,” to the evil others, those people who seem so different from us, those we think are our enemies or who think us theirs but who, if they sat down around the table with us, we’d no doubt find despise the pharaohs of this world as much as we do and who dream of the same damned thing as us all:
My second observation, as illustrated by Mr. Auslander’s closing word above, is that he does not know God. We can learn some things about God from the creation or from the signs and wonders recorded in the Old Testament, but that alone is an incomplete picture. According to the Gospel of John, it is through Jesus Christ that God is made known (John 1:18). “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). In other words, if you miss out on Jesus, (who was absent from the essay), you have missed out on God manifesting Himself to humanity. Therefore, you do not know Him.
Ironically Mr. Auslander entreats his readers to throw open their doors to the outsiders, “them”, the others in the world we might marginalize or despise. But that is exactly what Jesus did. He came for all people but it is the outsider, the marginalized, the despised, and the overlooked that are most drawn to Him . . . and he welcomes them with love incomprehensible. Opening doors to the outsider is a very Christ-like behavior and therefore a God-like behavior. And it is only through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can have peace with God and others.
Passover, as important as it is for the nation of Israel, was primarily a foreshadowing of what was to come. It was a picture of the perfect and final sacrifice that would be offered to cover the sin of all people. Those covered with the blood of Jesus will be saved because the wrath of God we deserved has been poured out on Him and it is completely satisfied. It is offered free of charge, a gift to any and all who would accept it!
So what kind of God is this? What kind of God would humble Himself to become one of His created beings? Who would stand silent before an unjust mob seeking to torture and take His life? Why would He willingly subject Himself to the horrors of a Roman crucifixion? Why would He do such things? Is it because, like Mr. Auslander imagines, He is a hateful and vengeful God? Or is it because of a love unfathomable that He seeks to redeem and restore a people who have strayed wide from His arms? But strayed is too kind of a word because in fact he offers to redeem those who are violently hostile to Him. His desire is that not one would be lost. That kind of selfless and humble love is nearly unknown in our world today. It is certainly worth accepting and emulating and deserving of endless praise.
And remember that Passover occurs on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, but that is only half of the story. Sunday morning, Jesus rose with the dawn, victorious over death, with the promise of new life to all who would follow after Him. Passover, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday all come together as a glorious display of God’s justice and love.
We should not “pass over” God, and unlike the author’s suggestion we cannot kill Him. But we can know Him, for He has made Himself known in Jesus. And when we submit our hearts to His truth, His grace overflows, washing us clean, making us new, and joining us together with Him as children of God, enjoying the riches of eternity forever.