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Archive for August, 2013

Did God Really Hate Esau But Love Jacob?

One reads Romans 9:13 about God “…Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” and may think God is a bigot. Our interpretations of the author’s meaning and message are fallible. Let’s not be dogmatic but engaging in our conversations about God. Also, we best “err” on the side of grace, mercy, and love as it concerns God to avoid misleading anyone. Most can agree on moral absolutes and behaviors associated with perfect love because we all share being made in our Creator’s image. God’s love and perfect human love are one and the same.

We need to understand the Apostle Paul’s audience. They stumbled over the idea that a relationship with God was simply by faith in God’s unconditional love than through obeying certain laws which we all fail at anyway. Rules are necessary in relationships but they don’t produce intimacy. The Jews struggled with the idea that God only chose them as an inclusive plan to bless all nations, even the Gentiles (Gen 12:3). Keep this in mind in understanding what Paul seeks to convince his readers of and why certain questions are raised in this passage.

When we read God hated Esau, we must err on the plausible side. God cannot ask us to be impartial (James 2:1) and yet God show favoritism. That is irrational. God no more than human parents can justify hating a child simply because of their birth order. God’s wrath and hate are not the same. God’s wrath is no different than a loving parent showing tough love. God only gets angry or punishes in hopes of positive change and restoration.

Paul didn’t mean what we normally think of in terms of the emotion of hate. God loves not hates. Context reveals what I mean by “I love steak, I hate hamburgers.” I don’t really hate hamburgers. Luke did not mean that one must hate their family and life to love God (14:26). We must sometimes choose God over family, which may appear as if we hate our family. Paul was using a figure of speech. God doesn’t actually hate Esau. God choose Jacob’s lineage, through no merit of his own, for the Messiah to be born into to bring grace to all including Esau. Both can’t receive the birthright. The one not chosen for the birthright makes it seems as if hated.

If God really hated Esau, I would think in verse 15 Paul might say “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have contempt compassion on whom I have contempt compassion.” Besides, if God hated Esau as we normally think of it, God has a strange way of showing it as Paul conveyed moments later God is doing all of this to have mercy on them all (11:32). When we hate we aren’t scheming how to show mercy. Do we really think God hated Esau after Esau broke down in tears and reconciled with Jacob (Gen 33:4)?

Romans is not about God loving some and hating others though they desire a relationship with God. It would be strange that Paul would accuse God of what he reprimands the Jews for. Some Jews acted as if God loved them but hated and excluded the Gentiles. People at that time felt the first born was entitled to the birthright.  God chose Jacob to convey that God’s grace and unconditional love is not something inherited according to law but freely given to all.

Is God Rational Humanly Speaking?

Personal beliefs about what God is really like can either alienate us or draw us closer to God. Certain beliefs make tragic times worse. “Why, me!” can turn into “why God do you not love me.” God is surely open to questioning. Contrary to belief God explained to Job why God was not unjust despite Job’s undeserved suffering. Why follow or seek wisdom from any parent or God whose love is not morally or rationally understandable from our perspective?  

God cannot ask us to believe in anything unworthy of human, rational belief as it would go against His nature. The reason we have internal moral absolutes, which most beings can agree on at a fundamental level, is because we all are made in God’s image. God and human morality are one in the same. Also, humans only have a concept of perfect love because we are made in our Creator’s image. God’s love and perfect human love are one in the same. God’s desire for us and what we desire deep down for ourselves are inseparable.

We know Hell, as a place where God tortures people forever for not believing, is irrational morally. God or human parents would not use punishment for such sadistic purposes with no restoration possibilities. Gehenna, which is translated as Hell in the New Testament, is a proper noun that requires no translation. Gehenna was a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history that served as a burning, worm-infested dump for dead carcasses. Gehenna served as a warning to Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime of the upcoming Roman siege and Nero’s destruction.

We know Selective Election where God elects certain individuals for eternal life, thus foreordaining many millions of humans to eternal damnation without any choice, is irrational. God’s love cannot be different than what we demand of ourselves and contrary to human understandings of rational love. Earthly parents would be accused of immorality if they showed similar favoritism toward their children. There is no quota on God’s grace. Selective election by God is indefensible exegetically and morally. God cannot ask us to be impartial (James 2:1) and yet God show favoritism. God is the perfection of the human parents we have always desired.

God is declared a mystery to explain certain interpretations contrary to ideas of a loving God. God’s ways aren’t mysterious but understandable, or why would God bother to communicate with words written down by chosen authors? Biblical passages used to imply God is a mystery only suggests God’s ways are “higher” or certain details of future prophetic events will not be revealed until the events happen.  Jesus only used parables, with those who chose to not see, to speak the truth in another way for one’s one good. Nathan did the same with King David and his behavior with Bathsheba. Parents know directness doesn’t always work with children.  

When humans seek to justify their behaviors because they are irrational or immoral, we don’t call them a mystery. When two debatable interpretations in Scriptures exist, we must err on the side that portrays God as the most relational and rational to the human mind. Most accept God as a God of love. God’s wrath is simply tough love for one’s good. Since interpretations are fallible, we must “err” on the side of grace, mercy, and love to avoid misleading anyone. Our biblical interpretations must be plausible based on what a loving God should be like.     

We can question if God allowing suffering is rational as we attempt to understand God. God values freedom; God values forgiveness rather than instant justice; God values long term happiness more than short-term happiness. God allowing suffering can serve as a megaphone to distract us from selfishness. We look more to God, who is the epitome of unselfishness, during adversity than prosperity. My prayers are best not answered often. God allowing suffering can also serve as a megaphone as we serve others. We most likely influence others not through miracles in our life but how we handle difficult times with God’s help. Jesus did!

One writer said: “God did not need to create you, but he chose to create you for his own enjoyment. You exist for his benefit, his glory, his purpose, and his delight.” God’s glorification cannot be separated from human benefit, glory, purpose, and mutual delight. Worship, if not mindless slavery, only happens in the context of a relationship. God is not like certain dictators who seek their own glory and gratification and require obedience for its own sake. Different beliefs about God may make a difference in your relationship and in your conversations with others about God if you discovered there was a biblical alternative that was rational humanly speaking.

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