The Darkness of God

The Darkness of God

There is a kind of grisly story in Genesis 15, where God walks between the dismembered halves of animals bearing a smoking firepot and a torch, while the thick darkness envelopes Abraham His servant.

Abraham is silent throughout this episode. The last action he takes in this story is driving away the scavengers that descend upon the freshly slain carcasses. Then it is that the deep and terrifying darkness descends upon him. Like birds of prey, the darkness seeks to consume us.

Even the darkness of God.

The story does not end there however. God himself bears a smoking firepot and a torch as he strolls between the bloody flesh left as a result of the command he gives to his good and faithful servant.

So it is that the covenant comes to pass; and we stand in this tradition.

I’ve never known what to do with this story. The promise of God is preceded by bloodshed, then a ‘terrifying darkness’, then a message that trials and tribulations will surely follow (“Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offsprings shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years…”), and finally the smoking firepot and the torch bearing the promise through the night.

I haven’t done much work with this yet, but I wonder if the smoking firepot and the torch symbolize the method by which God would have preferred that Abrahams descendants take the land he was promising.

I’m stepping out on a limb here because I haven’t done the research yet to prove me right or wrong…but a smoking firepot, in my mind, could be the means of creating a fire…as in a pot filled with embers, or live coals. It makes sense in my mind that in ancient times, this was a hospitable act; sharing the means of making fire; taking some embers; the means of creating warmth, protection, security, cooking…fire has been a central part of survival for the human race since the beginning of time.

And here, right before God promises this land, he bears a ‘smoking firepot’ through the darkness and the bloodshed that his command creates. The torch he bears plays a similar purpose. With embers in one hand and flame in the other, all manner of darkness is vanquished before our God (all except the deep and terrifying darkness that comes from Him).

Could we understand this story in this manner? How might history have gone differently, had Abraham’s descendants entered the land in a similar way…bearing the tools of light and warmth and hospitality; humbly taking embers and flame into the darkest night; bearing these gifts even unto their enemies?

How might our future look differently if, instead of bearing fear and loathing, we carried instead embers and light into the forsaken, windswept tundra stretched before us?

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One Response to The Darkness of God

  1. Jason says:

    It’s interesting that YHWH–that we’re told–didn’t ask Abram to cut the animals in half. That covenant ritual seems to have meant something to Abram, and God meets him in it. For me the story highlights God’s radical commitment to self-revelation and relationship, often with unexpected turns that challenge to our assumptions about who God is, as we see in the Mt. Moriah sacrifice.

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