A Voice Within the Catholic Hierarchy Finally Speaks Out

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 5 December 2007 0 Comments
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Where was the Christian God before he appeared to Moses and
declared that the Israelis were his chosen people? Why didn't
the great civilizations of the world, prior to this appearance,
know about this God?


I'm tempted to follow the old adage attributed to
Augustine of Hippo, who, when asked what was God doing before he
created the world, responded, "God was creating hell for people
who ask questions like that." I shall, however, avoid that

The Christian God, as you describe this deity, did not
appear to Moses. That would be the God of the Jews. The idea
that any people are God's specially chosen is a tribal idea that
is shared by all tribal entities. We tend to associate that idea
with the Jews because Christians have incorporated the Jewish God
into the Christian story by proclaiming that we have encountered
this God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses in a new way in the
person of Jesus of Nazareth.

However, it is not God who is ever changing. It
is the human perception of God. Of course, God was present among
the ancient people of the world. God was called by different
names, endowed with different qualities and understood in
different ways. Some of these aspects of God are seen as immoral
by people living today, such as child sacrifice, the purging of
anyone who thought outside the box and the divine blessing of

The human God consciousness is always growing. This is
true even in the Judeo-Christian faith story. There is an
enormous difference between the God of Moses, who was perceived
as sending plagues on Israel's enemies, the Egyptians, the last
of which was the murder of the firstborn son in every Egyptian
household; the God of Joshua, who was perceived as stopping the
sun in the sky to facilitate the slaughter of the Ammonites by
Joshua's army; or the God of Samuel, who ordered King Saul to
commit genocide on the Amalekites; when that God is compared to
the God of Jesus, who said, "Love your enemies."

Please remember that while the experience of God
may be a universal experience, the explanation of the God
experience is always a human creation shaped by the perceptions
of people living in history. Every God explanation, every sacred
text and every creedal formula is always time bound and time
warped. That is why literalizing religious formulas is so
destructive. It is literalized formulas that cause us to believe
our limited view of God is the same as God. Out of that view
come questions like yours that reveal the absurdity of so many
popular religious claims and therefore I thank you for your

John Shelby Spong




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