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Was That Old Testament God Just Trying to Keep Us in the Game?

Monopoly game board. Old testament God.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

People like to grumble about the out-datedness of the Bible in general, and of the very male, very judgmental Old Testament God in particular. But that fiery, ancient God of Hebrew Scripture has at least one redeeming quality, one he shares with my son Peter.

When Peter was four or five years old, he spent an afternoon with a little friend who was developmentally disabled. Peter was ready to play that afternoon. That is to say, Peter was ready to play – with somebody.

I watched my son try strategy after strategy to engage the other little boy. Patiently, he set aside one superhero figure after another, one truck, one train, one pile of blocks until at last he had found something that held the other boy’s attention and allowed the two of them to interact genuinely as friends.

Peter Newhall engaged in a fierce tug of of war game. Like the Old Testament God. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Peter at age 8. He didn’t give up easily, like the Old Testament God. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A few years after that, Peter discovered Monopoly. He was good at the game and, if he was playing with me, Park Place and St. James Place soon fell under his purview, and my stack of bills quickly dwindled to a few tens and a couple fifties.

At this point, I’d be ready to quit and get back to the kitchen, but Peter wanted to keep on going. He wanted to play – with somebody.

To keep me in the game, my son would stake me to atrociously large loans. His generosity was beyond reason – but it kept the game alive until dinner time or bedtime finally intervened.

Redeeming That Old Testament God

The God of Genesis is a lot like Peter. Crusty and angry and judgmental though he was much of the time, he had one endearing quality: he wanted to interact with humans — with somebody.

In Genesis 9, for example, when human beings mess up, the Old Testament God sends a massive flood and gives creation a fresh start. He quickly recognizes, however, that these creatures of his are bound to mess up again. It won’t be long before humanity is reduced once more to the moral equivalent of a few tens and a couple fifties.

To keep creation in the game, God ties one hand behind his back: he promises never to use the flood punishment again.

That old God, like little Peter, didn’t give up easily.

More about Peter at “When Your Six-Year-Old Wants to Talk Money.”  More about God at “John Shelby Spong: Christianity (Some of It) Is Bunk”  More about my new book at WrestlingWithGodBook.com.

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