When God Grew Up

Michael Tolkin spots this provocative passage from Walter Kirn’s My Mother’s Bible:

Why did God take so long to post the rules, allowing his children to blunder about in darkness between their expulsion from Eden and Moses’ time? It seems so cruel, this interlude of anarchy [creation, Babel, flood, slavery] that left human beings to their own devices and caused them to be cursed, cast out, and slaughtered when their trial-and-error search for answers went awry. Why not reveal the Ten Commandments to Adam, say, so he could teach them to his poor son, Cain? Why for so long did the Lord require his children to read his mind instead of his stone tablets? Maybe it took him a while to know his own mind. Maybe, that is, God’s will didn’t properly exist until human beings revealed it in the negative by confounding it in so many ways. By hovering over them while they lurched through history, God learned as much from his children, it seems possible, as they eventually learned from him. And the chief thing he learned was that he didn’t like it when they acted in ways that reminded him of himself.

Tolkin comments:

The God who surprises and fascinates Kirn is not the great and terrible Oz mocked by atheists; after creating the world, he can only affect it by suggestion, not by changing the rules that God himself put into motion. God’s miracles are limited in duration and scale, and nothing fundamental in creation is ever permanently reversed. God is everywhere at the beginning, and withdraws from conversation as the march across the wilderness comes to an end. Kirn isn’t surprised by the humanity of Adam and Eve or Abraham and Moses; it’s God’s humanity that fascinates him. When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt and free the Hebrews, Kirn notes that Moses wants to tell the Hebrews who sent him, and therefore wants God to tell him his name, but God won’t do it; all he says is for Moses to tell them “I Am That I Am.” “Today it seems profound,” writes Kirn, “this answer, a great grammatical infinity loop… Considered in context, though, as a piece of dialogue, it strikes me as a joke. Before this, God either damned you or cursed you, but now he’s learned to pull your leg.” Kirn sees comedy in God’s game of inscrutability — “Maybe Jehovah’s crazy-making name is part of a longer ‘Who’s on first?’”