Negative Images of God in the Teaching of Jesus

Negative Images of God in the Teaching of Jesus September 23, 2007

This post ties in closely to my earlier one on the counter-cultural teachings of Jesus (as well as my more recent one on Jesus’ sense of humor). I am struck by how many images are used for God or God’s kingdom in the Gospels that would have had negative connotations in the original Galilean/Jewish historical and cultural context of that time. I will simply list them (and there may be others I may have missed):

  • leaven
  • mustard (a weed, albeit a useful one)
  • an unjust judge
  • an absentee landlord (gosh, they were hated back then)
  • a landowner who doesn’t pay laborers fairly
  • a master who punishes a servant who protects rather than risks his wealth
  • a sneaky and corrupt steward
  • a person who finds treasure in a field, doesn’t tell the owner, and buys the field to get it
  • a Samaritan

Given their controversial character, it is worth asking whether anyone but Jesus is likely to have introduced these into the tradition. Yet often disciples can seek to outdo their mentors, even in controversial directions, so one cannot necessarily presume authenticity. Such concerns aside, this trajectory of counter-cultural images for God that runs through the Gospel tradition deserves study in its own right. Using such negative images as a way of challenging the identification of God with a culture’s values is very striking. Any suggestions on images that might be used to give a sense of the shocking character of these sayings in a modern context? Are there other similar sayings that I have missed, that deserve to be included here?

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