Posted by: Andrew G | April 7, 2010

God: A Biography – Jack Miles Part 2


I gleaned pages and pages of quotes out of this book by Jack Miles. I hope this small sampling either entices you to glimpse at the book or encourages you to keep exploring the depths.

[note – these are likely best read kind of Proverb-style.]

A man can give away his fortune, but not his history or his character.

Religion – may be seen as literature that has succeeded beyond any writer’s wildest dreams.

He is a household word; he is, welcome or not, a virtual member of the Western Family.

God is no saint, strange to say.

Unless the viewer’s imagination is carried offstage into the life for which there is no direct evidence onstage, the play dies with the protagonist. A character understood to have no life offstage can have no life onstage.

We have this ongoing assessment of people we live and work with… and we do it with God as well.

In art, typically nothing is left to chance. In the real world, chance accounts for a great deal.

The Hebrew language of the Bible has no word for ‘story’. [note- personal opinion here, but this may account for people today having a really poor understanding of the role of story]

God doesn’t seem to want servants, worshipers, lovers. He wants an image.

Narrative is fond of deception stories.

Everything for the Lord God hangs on obedience to his deceptive command.

He is like a director whose actors never seem to get it right and who is, as a result, often angry but who doesn’t, himself, always know beforehand what getting it right will be. When the actors get it wrong, he too gets it wrong until, finally, they get it more or less right, and he calms down enough to admit it.

God is the kind of living question mark a wholly prospective character. No history, genealogy, past, backstory… Past is what makes human characters coherent and interesting.

Circumcision, from the start, has had everything to do with foiling the divine murderer.

Morality has been… the price of peace and the basis of civilization.

If God’s goal is to make mankind in his image then morality, ultimate for God, must be ultimate for mankind.

The profound originality of the divine-human pact in which both parties complain endlessly about each other has too rarely been acknowledged as such. [note – God the creator of irritation?]

The Bible never speaks of the brain.

But the unique power of this classical Hebrew narrative is that it deliberately does just that which tends to make us impatient. Taking the Tanakh {hebrew Bible] on its own terms, everything in it really happened (history), its outcome is of enormous personal consequence for each and every reader or hearer (religion), and, page by page and sometimes line by line, it has the unmistakable confidence and artistic panache of a living literature (fiction). There is no reversing the evolution of the modern mind. We shall never know this unity again. No historian, no preacher, no novelist can ever re-create it – can ever again, that is, be all three at once. But by an effort of the imagination, we can experience in this central text of our literary heritage the unity as it then was. [note – although this is lengthy, I think this quote is is so important. Miles explains out the modern situation so well but without getting too offensive or too harsh]

There is an enormous difference between the God of our fathers and God our Father. To this point in the narrative and, effectively, for a good while after it as well, God is the God of our fathers and not God our Father. The Lord God – without a spouse – has created the world, but he has not fathered it forth. He spoke it into existence, and that mode of creation has rightly been seen as a deliberate repudiation of the sexual modalities otherwise so common in world mythology. One may say, of course, that, metaphorically or figuratively speaking, he fathered it. But to say this is to point up another, perhaps equally momentous charge—namely, the change from literal to figurative language.

When none of the ‘right’ ways of saying a thing is adequate, we choose a ‘wrong’ way so as to have access to some deeper rightness that we desire.

God… has no social life and no private life, no life among other gods, and no self-exploratory intellectual life. He is simply not that kind of being. His only way of knowing himself seems to be through mankind as an image of himself. What can his next move with mankind be, his centuries-long effort with the Abrahamic covenant having ended in apparent failure?

The Lord finds a way… by making a change in himself.  [note – biggest lesson ever? Hey, if God can change, then we can certainly try]

God, the cosmic orphan, only one of his kind, in some respects borrows all his knowledge and all his observations through the experiences of his image, his self-created image.

In Isaiah [God] knows Israel is assailed by doubt. Up until now His concern has been with the foreskin, with land, only recently behavior, not with the imagination or with worry.

It is no exaggeration to say that, to judge from the entire text of the Bible, from Genesis 1 to Isaiah 39 the Lord does not know what love is. As well, God takes no to little pleasure in anything or anybody.

God is in the condition of a man who has beaten his wife and thrown her out of their house. She had turned herself into little more than a common whore, humiliating herself as well as him, consorting with the most repugnant of their neighbors. He was endlessly patient with her, sending one intermediary after another to remonstrate with her and warn, but to no avail: She was sunk in her vice. And so, at length, he threw her out: Let the neighbors do what they want with her; he is finished with her.

Or so he thinks. An action that ought not to have brought any surprises in its train, given that it had been foreseen, repeatedly predicted, and understood by both of them from the beginning as the inevitable consequence of this kind of behavior, does bring a means to love her. He discovers that he had never truly loved her before. He takes her back; and whether or not she has changed when he does so, he has unmistakably changed. There is an utterly new tone in his voice. [note- wow…]

God is as disappointed in his people as they are in him.

[On the book of Job] It is necessary to think somewhat less about Job and his plight and somewhat more about God and what we might call His embarrassment.

Job refuses to accept mere physical power as the criterion of moral integrity… Job changes the subject by bringing God’s righteousness into question. As a result, God must now find a new understanding of Himself.

If God occasionally becomes a demon mankind must disobey him. If God is capable of testing mankind by masquerading as a demon, then paradoxically mankind can only please God and pass the test by defying God.

Nothing that literature contrives, after all, is so artificial as it’s endings. Real lives never end with artistic finality.

Solomon is an example of what Jews should not do.

Job is the supreme image of God’s desire to know God, for he accepts his suffering, but he does not accept it silently; he is not resigned to having no explanation for it. [note – Job never really gets a full explanation…]

Western civilization is descended equally from Athens and Jerusalem, and we routinely speak of both kinds of tragedy.

His is the restless breathing we still hear in our sleep.

Recommendations and Final Thoughts

Jack Miles can really dissect an ancient text. There are enough good ideas in this book to go around for believers, non-believers and curious explorers. His style might put a few people off, but it will draw in others all the more. I’d compare him a bit to the Alec Guinness version of Obi-wan Kenobi — a smooth and calm, inoffensive mastery over the situation. He is leading his audience, the young Luke, along a specific path but at the same time comes off as utterly benign.

Jack Miles certainly doesn’t settle any arguments. But he does offer a good perspective and a good direction in order to make some sense of the Western story of God.

You have taken your first step into a larger world.



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