The word “ambiguous” not only means doubtful or uncertain; it also denotes something that is open to more than one interpretation or that sends mixed signals. The Almighty is nothing if not ambiguous.
Most religions teach that God is incomprehensible, and then proceed to diagram him/her/it to the nth degree. They claim their sacred books clearly reveal his character and message. What they often ignore or discount are the discrepancies therein.
Take the Bible for instance: It portrays a God who is above mere emotions and yet at times is consumed by them; as when he sends a flood to wipe out humanity, or when he wants to destroy the Israelites in his anger but a more cool-headed Moses talks him out of it.
A God who abhors child sacrifice but orders Abraham to offer Isaac as a test of faith. A God who accepts Jacob’s consecration of a stone pillar at Bethel but later orders the destruction of all such sacred shrines. A God who decrees that children are not to be punished for the sins of their fathers but who requires the death of Achan’s sons and daughters because of his theft.
And then there is the ambiguity between the old and new testaments. The Mosaic code of over 600 laws is given in the former and much of it is discarded in the latter. Divinely instituted dietary rules are dismissed by Jesus as short sighted and unnecessary. Jesus also winks at Sabbath laws, yet Sabbath-breaking occasioned the first use of capital punishment after Sinai.
Especially disconcerting to the Jews was the announcement by Paul and others that the physical descendants of Abraham were being set aside in favor of his spiritual children. And Jerusalem, which God had insisted for centuries was the only place he could be properly worshipped, was now irrelevant as the physical temple was being replaced by a spiritual one. (This was convenient as the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.)
Progressive revelation and anthropomorphic language exacerbate the confusion, especially in those schools of interpretations that believe every detail is factual, even the contradictory ones.
The church father, Origin, believed the answer was to treat difficult texts as allegorical. He argued that “the glaring anomalies and inconsistencies in scripture forced us to look beyond the literal sense. God had planned these ‘stumbling blocks and interruptions of the historical sense’ to make us look deeper. These ‘impossibilities and incongruities . . . present a barrier to the reader and lead him to refuse to proceed along the pathway of the ordinary meaning.’ *
And then there are the theological mega-issues like divine sovereignty and human free will? If we are predestined to certain ends (heaven or hell), how can our actions possibly matter? But we are taught they do. So, we can’t alter our path but we are responsible for our steps. Hmmm.
If a loving God is not willing that any should perish, how come most of humanity seems destined for the Lake of Fire? But we are taught God’s justice and holiness require him to damn the unrepentant. So, human stubbornness can trump divine desire in the end. Hmmm.
If the creator of the universe holds all things together by the word of his power, how can evil exist without his tacit permission? But we are taught God is not the author of evil and cannot even be touched by it. So, he sustains creation but isn’t culpable for its moral flaws. Hmmm.
Have you ever gone to one of those 3-D movies and not worn the glasses? You can tell what’s happening but it’s out of phase. The details are blurry because you are viewing something that has more dimensions than you are equipped to see. So it is, I believe, with divine revelation. We see in a glass darkly, which should make us less dogmatic with our opinions and more humble in our attitude toward others.
* The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, page 95.