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.