Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. For more on Alberts visit janellealberts.wordpress.com.
I’m late to jump on the Hamilton bandwagon.
Even Lin-Manuel Miranda has cut his ponytail and moved on. I’m only now obsessively memorizing the musical’s every word - several of which have surprised me by, oddly, confronting my perception of the Old Testament God.
Hamilton Faith Hit #1: Its depiction of King George, whom I want no one ever to compare to the Old Testament God, because, well… I did.
In the musical, King George croons to his rebelling revolutionaries that, “You’ll be back. Soon you’ll see. You’ll remember you belong to me.”
After that, King George takes it up a notch with, “’Cause when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family…to remind you of my love.”
I hate to admit how many folks think this pretty much sums up the vengeful pre-Jesus God that is depicted in Hebrew Scripture, known as the Old Testament.
So some say. So some think.
I would have to say a sheepish, “Kinda,” except that recently, with a crew of clever pals, I dug into the Hebrew Scriptures anew, where what to my wondering eyes should appear but a different God than I thought lived in those chapters.
What fills the many pages before baby Jesus was found lying in a manger?
Turns out, forgiveness. Affection. A God who wanted humans to receive His love, hear His voice.
Christians get the impression that everything that came before Jesus was heavy on law, light on personal affection and without individual interaction with God.
In Hamilton, Miranda created a caricature of King George, grounded in sound evidence that he had copiously read.
Many of us create a caricature of the Old Testament God, by reading – what’s the opposite of copiously? Actually, what’s the opposite of read?
The Hebrew Scripture God behaved in ways that are hard to read, wherein we tend to just…not. However, if we’re trying to paint the Old Testament God with a King George brush, that will be a problem too, since we’ll stumble over statements like God telling Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:34)
Yes. It happens over and over with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who said, “I have more than enough burnt offerings…” (Isaiah 1:11&13) and longed for a relationship with a human race that He loves very, very much.
Put like that, it sounds simple.
Alas, it isn’t.
Nothing real ever is. We are complex beings. What we desire vs. what actually nourishes us is often at odds, and the God whose image we bear can likewise appear a mass of contradictions. It’s hard to resolutely keep hope in a contradictory cause alive.
However, Hamilton managed to.
Hamilton Faith Hit #2: Hamilton’s high view of independence.
A trendy church phrase these days is to have a “high view of Scripture.” What I’m noticing is that that will have to come with a high tolerance for the tension between what is and what we wish would be.
Miranda’s Hamilton grasped this “high view” concept, at least applied to democracy, when he asked Aaron Burr to defend the baby brand new American Constitution.
Burr: “The Constitution’s a mess.”
Hamilton: “So it needs Amendments.”
Burr: “It’s full of contradictions.”
Hamilton: “So is independence.”
Is it ever. However, Miranda’s Hamilton carried a high enough view of independence to slog though the emotionalism of what one wishes about a thing to stay and stand and see what is true about a thing.
What is true about the Hebrew Scripture God is His reaction to people breaking up with Him. He holds them accountable and simultaneously longs to reconcile with them through – and this is the kicker –His own expense.
Let’s face it, the Scriptures are one ego blow after another to God. When God created humans with free will and in His image, what He wished for must have looked different than what is.
What is, is a God who repeatedly puts Himself in a position in which He is vulnerable to people rejecting Him.
What is, is a several millennia-long storyline in which lots and lots and lots of people…did. Still do.
Wherein, Miranda’s King George and Scripture’s King of Kings part ways. Because God keeps coming for the human race anyway, persisting such that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), devising ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him (2 Sam 14:14).
It’s up to believers to get to know the Old Testament God just a little bit better than we have been doing in recent days. Misunderstanding the early pages of Scripture undermines keeping it real in later pages of Scripture.
Miranda mastered this when serving up to us a brilliantly simple understanding of Alexander Hamilton without flattening a three dimensional, complex man into a one-dimensional, oversimplified one. Miranda kept it real.
We can do the same for the God of Hebrew Scriptures by cleanly bearing witness to a complex, three-dimensional God.
After all, what kind of God can bear up under that kind of honest evaluation?
One that’s real.
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Janelle Alberts writes pithy pieces that usually feature a bit of Scripture you've never heard, but wish you had. Knowing things like even Noah got tipsy & embarrassed his kids can help a girl rally to the end of the day. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. Find out more about Alberts here.
For 33 years, Mr. Fred McFeely Rogers sweetly sang about being a good neighbor.
He encouraged kids that a good neighbor meant being true to their special little selves and also that they should be nice.
A lovely sentiment.
However, in real life, neighborly “nice” isn’t always reciprocated, and also being ourselves by living out a me, myself and I, can have the bad ripple effect of crushing you, yourself and yours, in the process.
Take Steve Jobs for example. His self-drive is the reason we can order takeout, check the news and listen to music a la the same personal, charmingly sleek, handheld device.
Inarguably good for the neighborhood. But. Some feelings were hurt along the way.
One of the team members who spent gruelingly long hours helping Jobs build the first Macintosh computer said, “I lost my wife in that process. I lost my children.” Of Jobs, he said, “His was a life well and fully lived, even if it was a bit expensive for those of us who were close…”
Good for the neighborhood? Depends on the neighbor.
Therein lies the rub. Mister Rogers and Steve Jobs cared about personal individuality contributing to the good of the neighborhood – one through decency and one through drive – two seemingly opposing sentiments that force us to choose.
Except, say Christians, for God.
Christians tell the world that God can marry neighborly decency and drive both, because it was God who planted the drive in your created self and also God who calls for decency to the neighbors whom He loves as much as He loves yourself.
Find that hard to reconcile? You’re in good company. So did David.
David was an Old Testament superstar whose drive saved lives and whose decency built lifelong friendships.
But, feelings were hurt along the way.
David started out with an ironclad sense of neighborliness. How do we know? Goliath. Enormous and shouting daily from a hilltop that he was coming for the Israelites, Goliath was decidedly not good for the neighborhood.
David, while professing the Lord would handle everything, picked up a stone. In fact, he picked up five. In fact, he first had to refuse the king’s offer for a bronze helmet and armor and whatnot. David handled Goliath his own way.
He embodied Mister Rogers’ decency and Steve Jobs’ drive and both of their mantras of “I gotta be me!”
David also knew God would have to do the heavy lifting. Every step that David took against Goliath was influenced by his trust in something outside of him.
Which is a little more Steve Jobs than you might think. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward…,” Jobs said. “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Today’s generation faces lots of options on who and how to trust what’s best for the neighborhood. David’s life reflects a simple message: choose carefully.
Because David is a great character study in choosing God until he really, really, really…didn’t want to. In which case, David chose his own gut instead, to the tune of adultery, betrayal, murder.
Philosophers have passed down an idea that nothing is absolute, but in a neighborhood there is at least one: hurt. We know when something absolutely hurts. And we know when it is because of somebody else’s gut choice that feeds the self, but not the neighborhood.
Which circles us back to where we began.
Our “gotta be me!” better be a “me” that runs its moral plumb line, well, along an actual plumb line. And here the record scratches. Because what neighborhood is going to all together agree on what that plumb line should be?
There is a little-known saying that reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
It is referring to love.
It would have to be. It couldn’t be talking about most excellent self-decency or excellent self-drive or excellent self anything. As Mister Rogers’ decency and Steve Jobs’ drive and King David’s waffling between the two exhibits, being a contribute-to-the-neighborhood kind of excellent self is a moving target.
Sometimes our drive knocks down our decency. Other times, we use decency as an excuse to abandon our drive.
Sometimes we just pick the wrong five smooth stones.
It’s hard to be good for the neighborhood. It is contingent on our expression of self being buttressed against something solid.
How do the Scriptures say that you can uniquely love your neighbor as yourself in a most excellent way?
We can’t. Unless, while we imperfectly navigate the expression of the very drive and decency that keep a neighborhood going, we can somehow pay the expense for inevitable hurt feelings along the way. Somebody’s got to absorb that cost.
We don’t have that power.
However, Scriptures claim that we and the whole neighborhood are loved by a God who does.
How can we know if that’s true? Even for Bible elites like David, the answer was little more than, “You’re about to find out.” He knows you might doubt, might deny, might have been hurt and do not plan to try it His about-to-find-out way again.
But, this Easter season, He wishes you would.
Our culture’s over-attention on the self is a problem. We get it. We parents fight the “Me, me, me,” mantra chanted by our cherubs all the time and everywhere.
We combat it by chanting, “It’s not about you, it’s about God.”
However, that can get tricky when the Author of the Bible keeps diverting our attention back to God's favorite topic: us. People. His beloved creation. You and me. And certainly our kids.
Case in point is a least likely spot of dry-reading genealogies (Chronicles), where what to our wondering eyes should appear but David going off on one “selfie” that God would like our kiddos to take to heart.
SELFIE #1: You are loved.
A lot. Like, more than you think and probably more than you can wrap your head around.
In fact, before our kids can declare I-love-God in a deeper experience than churchy jingle ways, they’ll need to catch on to the inordinate, overwhelming insistence from this God that first comes love not for God, but for them.
That’s what happened to David.
David loved God and wanted to build a temple for God. Then God gave David a “don’t build for me, I’ll build for you,” kind of response.
David was amazed. “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O Lord God.” (1 Chron 17:16-17).
The most exalted of men? Sound like David’s getting the big head here?
Not by God’s standards.
This is a distinction we have to teach our shorties. David could not diminish himself with, “I’m insignificant,” nor could David aggrandize himself with, “I’m a baller.”
It’s not an easy balance to strike. The Author of the Bible didn’t think so either, given the whole thing is outlined a few dozen pages prior in 2 Samuel. Just in case the audience at home is slow on the uptake, the Author runs through it twice.
Parents have to find a way to convey this to our kiddos: what are you to the Lord?
A lot. You are a lot. You are loved, and as you grow in confidence of that love, you can both let go and hang on and grow grow grow in every way that matters most.
God doesn’t need our kiddos’ praise or good behavior or validation or even faith – though all of that is good, very good. God needs our kiddos first and foremost to receive His love, and then everything is borne from that.
Which brings us to the reason for the season that is upon us right now.
SELFIE #2: You are worth dying for.
What started with a covenant with Abraham, when God promised to cut Himself into pieces to cover for promises broken, and then climaxed with Jesus doing just that, and then peaked even more dramatically with a resurrection that we will one day see on earth as it is in heaven…well, it was for you.
You are worth dying for.
“But I’m whiny, I’m failing, I’ve lied, I’ve stolen, I love the wrong things, I hate the wrong things, I do the wrong things, I don’t understand it all at all!”
He knows. Still, you are worth dying for.
Parents must spend months and years and late summer night chats and early morning tears and after school snacks and conversations over and over that get kiddos to see this when they see themselves.
If that sounds like a monumental assignment for parents, it is. If that rattles your nerves, join the club. Every parent since the beginning of time has had to resist panic and tackle this in the same way: one step at a time.
David knew all about rattled nerves, from his (many, many) regrettably undisciplined times, like when he was a neglectful father (1 Kings:6) or an overly big-headed leader (1 Chronicles 21:1). Our kiddos’ faith walks will likewise look bad, sad and make us mad, but we must equip them to soldier onward looking at the mirror, mirror on the wall and knowing who is worthy of the greatest love of all?
In God’s eyes, you are.
It has always been a complicated balance to reinforce kiddos’ self worth without growing up self-absorbed kids. We can start with: you are loved and you are worth dying for.
That, and also Snapchat streaks are stupid. Just saying.
Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. Find out more about Alberts here.