Treasures, ch. 5 .....'Personal God'

1) The problem is posed by a contradiction in such texts as Psalms 25 and 8 (from the Old Testament): God is imagined as both a personal savior, responsive to the individual's confessions and prayers for redemption, and as a cosmic ruler whose plan is inscrutable to man (whom He has unexplainably blessed).

In the first attitude, as Jacobsen puts it (p.150), "the penitent becomes so centrally important in the universe that he can monopolize God's attention...and before the onslaught of unlimited ego, the figure of God appears to shrink." In the second, cosmic conception, "it is even a cause for wonder that God would be mindful of man."

Of course, this is one of the great puzzles of faith. What Jacobsen tries to explain is how this clash of metaphors came about historically.

2) Early 2nd millennium songs and penitential psalms of Mesopotamia show an attitude I would call "get a god" (J. says "acquire a god") as a sign of health and prosperity. This survives, incidentally, as the personal daimon we meet in classical Greece, looking out for his human or destroying him (like the personal genius of Roman religious thought).

3) This personal god--let's call him a 'Luck demon'--is indwelling: When he is in you, you are healthy and vigorous; when he leaves you, you are weak and diseased.

4) This conjoined spirit is especially invoked in regard to fathering--esp. in fathering sons. The spirit is imagined as passing like a physical trait from father to offspring. This is seen in such phrases as "daughter of one's god" = one's sister. J suggests that this is the origin of the OT phrase, God of (our) fathers.

5) This self-serving attitude toward god as a personal guardian and engenderer was inverted by the kind of thinking we see in Job: "The self-importance which demands that the universe adjust to his cast aside, and the full stature of God as ...ruler of the universe is reinstated. The distance between the cosmic and the so great and so decisive that an individual has no rights, not even to justice." (p. 163).