I started my observation of Holy Week with a question: what was God able to do in the human form of Jesus that God could do in no other way?
Visit with friends; have dinner; humbly wash the feet of his companions; share his brokenness with them; experience abandonment and betrayal; suffer the indignities and humiliations of arrest, questioning, trial, sentencing; know the fear and actuality of physical suffering and death. And that list represents only the briefest summary.
In the Bible as many of us learn it, God begins as the intimate companion of God's human creatures and gradually becomes an increasingly distant presence. It has long seemed to me that in the creation stories, it is a lonely God, longing for companionship, who creates human beings. God is actually walking through the garden in the cool of the evening, seeking them out, after their disastrous encounter with another earthly presence. As the writings of the Jewish Bible unfold, God gradually removes himself from the intimacy of those early relationships. He talks to the Jewish people through Moses and travels with them as a pillar of fire. He makes the prophets thoroughly miserable. In some of the most personal stories -- those of Ruth, Esther, Joseph -- he appears through the lens of interpretation of the protagonists. And when he speaks directly to Job, it is not to lament their broken relationship, but to ask him, out of the whirlwind, how he dares to question the powerful Creator.
I try to steer clear of the distinction Christians have so often made between the "angry and vengeful" God of what we call the Old Testament and the "loving and forgiving God" of the New. I hear that dichotomy stated frequently by adults in my own church and, when I do, I'm thankful I missed out on all those years of Sunday School indoctrination and got to approach the issue as an adult. The Jews see God's self-revelation in Torah as loving and forgiving, as Christians see God's self-revelation in Christ. And there's plenty of anger and boistrous righteousness in the New Testament for me.
But it is clear that something happened in the intervening centuries between the last compilation of Hebrew scriptures and the first letter of Paul. I asked one of my pastors once if she thought God had actually changed his mind about how to relate to human beings somewhere along the way , and she told me that I had stumbled upon one of the major debates of the contemporary church. Is God all-powerful, all-knowing, and unchangeable? Or is God someone we don't understand and those adjectives, like all others, cannot do God justice?
I don't know much about the theological debate, but I do tend to think that God changed his mind. Or at least had a new idea. As a human being, God would have experiences different from any that he could know as Creator or Spirit. "Walk a mile in someone else's shoes before you judge them," my father used to tell me when I was a little girl. Not such an original idea. Maybe at least 2000 years old.
I started this entry back on Sunday, and then got derailed by the death of Pamela Hilger. Several people wrote about how her death on Easter Sunday had a special meaning for them. I thought about that, but I couldn't write about it. I had already been writing about how the time period after a death is so bizarre and confusing in the context of Mary Magdalene's experience, and about Easter morning in the cemetery here, and I decided to leave it at that. Because bizarre and confused and disoriented and so very sad were just how I felt.
And those feelings would be part of the answer to the question as to what God could experience as a human being and no other way.