Way back when, in the days of patriarchs when cities were a novel idea, gods were said to roam throughout a city – their city – providing resources and protection in exchange for devotion, loyalty, and sacrifice. Move past the city walls, however, and your chances of being heard by your city’s god quickly decreased. Like a wireless speaker or walkie-talkie, everything’s dandy until you move out of range. The signal weakens and distortion creeps in until there’s no reception – just white noise.
So you pick a spot (thereby picking a god), set up camp and stay put.
And if you had to leave and venture out to another city, you hoped to (your) god you wouldn’t run into (their) god lest you face the wrath of (some) god.
I imagine that this notion of a place-restricted god – a localized deity – shaped what those early listeners heard in the words of the first chapters of Genesis.
The story begins with a god carefully crafting a beautiful garden in which to dwell. A plush and pleasing home for any deity, made particularly good after the garden is populated with creatures formed from the very dirt they were created to care for. In the cool of the day, as the story goes, the god would walk alongside the creatures (no doubt, the reader thinks, in order to remind them of the rules they were to follow and the chores they were to accomplish and how lucky they were to live in such a garden under the care of such a god).
Despite these daily reminder-walks, the creatures rebel. They cross the creator of this garden by disobeying a specific and clear directive. Surely, the reader thinks, surely after such an act, these creatures – these mud slaves – will cease to be in relationship with this god. Surely they’d be lucky to even survive such an act of defiance.
As would be expected, their disobedience does upset the garden-god and they are kicked out of the paradise-place.
The reader chuckles.
Serves them right.
That’s what you get when you piss off your god.
With no god to protect you now, you’d be better off dead.
But we keep reading, and we are surprised.
Yes, the dust creatures are kicked out of the garden. But the god they crossed offers them gifts of grace – animal skins fashioned into clothing. Warmth and protection from the elements, a covering for their shame. The God of the Garden chooses not to abandon this ongoing creation-development project that launched with so much promise.
The God of the Garden leaves that paradise-place, pursuing the creatures – the family fashioned from the earth by wholly muddy hands – into the rugged wilderness.
You’ve disrupted the design, but I will design a fresh start for you.
You’ve stepped off the garden path but I will prepare a new path.
You’ve walked your own way, but I will walk that way with you.
This is not what gods are supposed to do.
This is not a short-range god of limited coverage and localized concern.
This is not a quick-tempered god shallowly appeased.
This is a god who is altogether different.