Ranking God as a character

Giuseppe Bottani, Hagar and the Angel

Q. I’m using your Genesis guide in my ladies’ Bible class at church. The women say the study guide is the best one that they have ever used. They like Genesis so much that they want to do Exodus next. Thank you for all your work in writing these guides!  We do have a question, though. The women want to know why God is included among the characters who are rated from best to worst in the Hagar story (question 3 on page 65 of the study guide to Genesis).

Thanks so much for this encouraging report!  I hope you all continue to enjoy studying Genesis together this way.  Unfortunately a guide to Exodus isn’t ready yet, but one may be published later in the series.  In the meantime, you can see all the other guides that are available here.

To answer your question, the idea behind the ranking exercise was to give everyone the freedom and opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the Hagar story.  We’re often taught in church, either directly or indirectly, that we can’t ask any questions about the way God does things.  We get the message that we shouldn’t even feel uncomfortable about some things—that if we do, we must be bad Christians.  But when we read the Hagar story, we may legitimately wonder why God sent her back to a mistress who was mistreating her, and we may feel badly for her.

I wanted to give people the freedom to express those questions and feelings.  There are answers to them, but we’ll never find these answers if we don’t allow the questions.  Some of the women in your group might feel that Hagar is actually the best or most sympathetic character in the story; they might have some questions about what God tells her to do; and they might feel that Abraham and Sarah could and should have done a lot of things differently.  My goal was to give people the freedom to express thoughts like that—the kind we may not always feel are allowed in church—and so establish an atmosphere of acceptance and trust where people can find the answers to those questions together.

 

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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