January 18, 2022

Does God Take Naps?

6 min read


On the seventh day, the ebook of Genesis says, after creating the universe from scratch and at midnight, God rested. This mannequin of self-care is the entire motive that Jews observe the Sabbath and there are diminished buying and selling hours in lots of nations on Sundays. God’s relaxation implies that, like humanity, God must relaxation. However the concept of God having a physique that requires downtime would strike many up to date Christians as absurd if not outrageously heretical. Omnipotence and naps are unlikely bedfellows. However a revolutionary new ebook by a distinguished Bible scholar argues that that is simply one of many myriad ways in which we have to take God’s physique, and the Bible’s description of it, extra critically.

In her outstanding ebook God: An Anatomy, completed College of Exeter Professor of Hebrew Bible Francesca Stavrakopoulou takes us on a gripping but rigorous journey via Biblical and Historical Close to Jap concepts about God. Typically, the gods of Southwestern Asia have been lusty, muscular, passionate, and hungry. They’d limbs, eyes, ears, and genitalia they usually used these physique elements to behave and work together. Yahweh—the God of the Hebrew Bible—is not any totally different. With the precision of a surgeon, she dissects and analyses God’s physique from head to toe and, ahem, in every single place in between. Her arguments should not outlandish. As she meticulously exhibits descriptions of God’s physique are in every single place.

Simply on the subject of the query of sleep there’s a multiplicity of proof for divine burnout and relaxation. Past taking a private day on the finish of the primary week, the Hebrew Bible refers back to the sleeping arm of God. In Isaiah 51 the prophet begs God to get up: “Awake, Awake, Placed on Power O Arm of the Lord.” Within the aftermath of the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem within the sixth century BCE, one psalmist cried “Rouse your self! Why do you sleep, O Yahweh? Awake! Don’t forged us off perpetually!” Whereas God was sleeping his—and thus his folks’s—defenses have been down, and the town had been ransacked. Although trendy Christians don’t take into consideration God sleeping they do use these passages. The verse from Isaiah, for instance, decorates the duvet of Bible journaling notebooks. We find out about this concept we simply don’t give it some thought.

That Yahweh took naps wasn’t that uncommon. As Stavrakopoulou particulars in her ebook, deities in historical Southwest Asia typically retreated to their beds to get away from all of it. In response to an Historical Close to Jap lament, the Sumerian deity Enlil was recognized to do that. After inflicting a famine, he barricaded himself in his Temple and pretended to be asleep. It’s passive aggressive, to make certain, however at the very least he had boundaries. Divine sleep may additionally index different rhythms on the planet: the altering seasons, famine, drought, and different occasions have been all an indication that God was taking day off for himself. Mostly, nevertheless, it was a symptom or explanation for divine neglect. When the god Baal fails to reply to the petitions of his prophets within the Bible, explains Stavrakopoulou, Elijah means that Baal merely fell asleep.

In fact, the concept of the God-who-naps, Stavrakopoulou advised me, has triggered no scarcity of anxieties each historical and trendy. Within the historical world, she stated, the priority was sensible: “a deity who’s off obligation; a deity who’s stopped watching out for his worshippers, who’s stopped listening to them, [has] stopped intervening of their lives.” That’s an issue. For these influenced by Plato and extra summary understandings of transcendent deities, the priority is extra philosophical. The concept of a God “who must relaxation” is suggestive of limits, human frailty, and even incapacity: “we get the impression of a god who’s over-exerted himself, a god who’s exhausted. It emphasizes the enormity and spectacular ‘marvel’ of his inventive work, however nonetheless leaves us with a god who’s not omnipotent however has his limits.” For plenty of folks, a God with limits isn’t a lot of a God.

This makes Christians nervous as a result of the Christian God is meant to be each all-powerful and utterly in contrast to us. That is sure up in spiritual competitors and claims the God of the Bible is one of the best of all deities. Stavrakopoulou exhibits us that Biblical texts attempt to distinguish between the uniquely {powerful} God of Judaism and Christianity and the false human-shaped however profoundly weak deities of different traditions. These international gods, she advised me, “Are ‘disabled’ deities, who’ve eyes however don’t see, palms however don’t really feel, noses however don’t scent, and so forth. In contrast, God’s physique works completely effectively.”

As a historian, Stavrakopoulou is fascinated about studying the Bible as a group of historical texts with out getting caught up in or influenced by newer spiritual commitments. Her purpose, she advised me, is to supply “a portrait of God in his ‘pure habitat’ in historical southwest Asia throughout the first millennium BCE, when he was a god very similar to every other deity within the historical world.” Her ebook is ideal for secular readers who beforehand dismissed the Bible as uninteresting or irrelevant.

This doesn’t imply, nevertheless, that working towards Christians or observant Jews ought to keep away from her ebook. Not solely is it a riveting learn it’s additionally a treasure trove of totally researched materials that may function a reference work for believers, pastors, and lecturers. The truth is, the ‘humanness’ of God is profoundly theologically vital to the heirs of those traditions. In any case, our our bodies are created within the picture of God. Extra vital, Stavrakopoulou says, we are able to’t “fairly do” with out the human-like options of God. “Theologians inform us that we’re in a relationship with God. However it’s tough to have a relationship with the summary. We’re a extremely social species, and it’s via our our bodies that we socialize – it’s how we forge and keep relationships. Finally, God’s physique rendered the divine extra social.” The identical is true at this time. Our spiritual reference to God isn’t simply religious, it’s additionally embodied: Christians ask God to “hear” our prayers, to be “current” with us, and to “carry” us. These could be metaphors however they’re additionally modes of interplay.

Furthermore, recognizing the softer—some would possibly say frailer— points of God’s physique may assist individuals who really feel alienated by conventional portraits of the divine. For many years students fascinated about gender, incapacity, and race have criticized the hyper-masculine, ruggedly muscular, pale God of European Christianity. Stavrakopoulou challenges us to look behind the legacy of Renaissance art work to what the Bible really says. The God who wants relaxation and wheelchair (what else do you name a throne with wheels?) to maneuver round in—as God does in Ezekiel and subsequent Jewish custom—is extra approachable to folks with disabilities.

This God is simply extra relatable. For 2 thousand years Christians have tried to emulate Jesus, the incarnate deity. What would Jesus do and what God desires are one and the identical. However typically, residing as much as divine requirements is tough. For individuals who are overworked and overburdened the God who takes naps could also be simpler to attach with than the God who judges.

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