@jonestony speaking of god’s preferences, why did god prefer abel to cain? my baptist buddies say it was the blood, but i’m not so sure.
— David Wierzbicki (@wierz) December 3, 2012
It’s a great question, and one that I must say is all the more poignant because of the blood shed yesterday. For someone who is drawn to René Girard’s scapegoat theory of the atonement, as I am, then Cain’s murder of Abel is telling: the human cycle of mimetic desire and bloodshed is primitive in its genesis, and it afflicts us still.
But that wasn’t your question, David. Your question has to do with God’s preference of one brother and his offering over the other’s; you asked about the rejection that led to the murder. So yesterday morning, before we’d heard about the Sandy Hook school shooting, I went over to my rabbi’s house for a cup of coffee and a chat. I asked Rabbi Joseph Edelheit your question, and I recorded his answer. I didn’t give him any warning, or even a hint as to what it was about. I simply told him that I had a question for him and turned on the recorder. Here’s what he said:
So there we have it. He’s basically stumped by this episode in the Hebrew scriptures. We went on to talk about it after I turned off the recorder, and he said that when he teaches undergrad about Genesis, they often say what your baptist buddies say. But then Joseph tells his students to read the text — what it actually says — and find where God had told the brothers that one type of offering was preferable to another. It’s not there. These guys were shooting in the dark.
The bigger question, it seems, is does God have preferences? And if God does, how do we suss those out?
The Bible is chock full of God’s preferences, but many of those are locked in a primitive narrative, being told by primitive people the best way that they knew how. It’s hard to think on God’s preferences without being confronted with what happened yesterday. One of my atheist friends posted this on Facebook:
Seriously, if god can’t intervene to prevent a senseless such as what occurred today, what the hell good is he?
And one of my Christian friends posted this:
On the way home today I listened to a Christian talk radio host take 30 min validating the 2nd amendment necessity of private ownership of assault weapons. Then he seamlessly segued into an argument intended to convince listeners that God was ultimately and undoubtedly responsible for the horror in Connecticut today. “What God allows, by default, he sanctions. What God sanctions he wills.” he stated. And somehow these “facts” of God’s omnipotence and omniscience should bring both a sense of confidence to the faithful and “terrorizing fear” to the pagan. To claim unreserved certainty regarding the mind and motives of God on such matters is troubling enough. But these types of claims also adds insult on top of an injury in the lives of those who are suffering unspeakable pain during moments such as these. Let’s keep it simple. Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. How about we all listen more, talk less, and focus on what’s important. Peace in all its forms.
All I can muster today is this: since ancient, tribal times, human beings have wondered about what God prefers, and how connected God is to the choices that we make. Like many readers here, I’m wrestling with whether God is an interventionist or not. A lot of people seem to find evidence of God’s intervention everywhere. I struggle to see any hints of it. Especially today.