God Goes ‘Trick or Treat’

original art by Esti Mayer
original art by Esti Mayer

In many primitive cultures, God is not portrayed as all-knowing, wise or benevolent.  He’s rather a cosmic prankster who delights in provoking, sometimes tormenting his subjects.  He may be insatiably hungry, either for food or sex.  He’ll lead people down a path and then chastise them for taking it.  He (she, it) is not someone you can count on.

What about the God of the Bible?  Is he a straight shooter?  Someone you can rely on?  Look at the tricks he pulled on Abraham.  First, He tells him to leave his comfortable home, and travel to Canaan.  But when Abraham gets there, he has to leave because of a famine.  God promises a son to the elderly Abraham and Sarah.  They’re overjoyed when the promise is fulfilled.  Then, just as everything is going swimmingly, God orders Abraham to murder his son; Abraham agrees immediately.  Turns out, though, that God didn’t want Abraham to slit his son’s throat.  What He wanted was an argument, just like the one Abraham gave when God said He was going to destroy Sodom.

We can go back further.  When God told Noah He was going to annihilate mankind, Noah remained silent.  Later, when Noah cried at the devastation, God rebuked him for not having opened his mouth earlier.

Or let’s go back to the beginning.  The snake tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.  She succumbs, as does her husband.  They’re expelled from the Garden of Eden, forced to fend for themselves.  Mystics teach that had they not eaten the fruit, God would have found some other excuse to kick them out of paradise.  The snake is the trickster, acting on God’s behalf, forcing humanity to move beyond itself: to struggle, to live, to grow.

Indeed, this is even the role of the Buddha in the early tales- using trickery, illusion, or even outright deception to move people ahead on their spiritual path.  He transforms them by bringing them into confrontation with their own misunderstandings and shortcomings.

Adam and Eve had an untroubled life, frolicking in a Garden.  Noah thought that as long as he took care of his family, he was good.  Abraham felt that obedience to the most absurd command was the proper way to be religious.  Each time, God kicked them out of their routines, forcing humans to learn to fend for themselves.  So the next time troubles ring your bell, dressed perhaps in some kind of outlandish disguise, don’t barricade the door.  It’s only God, coming to give you a kick forward.  Give Him a candy, or maybe a prayer.

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