Does God regard any nation as a uniquely favoured people?


Many people know of the story of David and Goliath. At the time when this story was being passed on from generation to generation, it was commonly believed that different peoples or nations had each been chosen by a particular god to be the special people it would favour and protect.

There were thinkers who lived several centuries after David and who belonged to the same nation as him. One of their achievements was to conclude that it made more sense to think that there was only one god and not a multitude of gods. This one god they held was the Creator of all that exists.

These thinkers were mistaken in believing that this one god regarded their nation as his special people - as a nation that he would continue to protect and guide as his favoured nation.
Does it make sense to argue that, if there is just one God, then such a God would have favourites? Does it not make better sense to believe that God has no favourites?

If you had been able to ask the leaders of a range of peoples and nations in the Middle East (or indeed in other parts of the world) about how they came to believe in their "tribal god", they might have answered that centuries earlier their god had revealed himself to a leader or several leaders and had told them that he had chosen their nation as a people whom he would guide, protect and fight alongside in battle against their enemies.

In fact, such stories of how a god chose a nation to be its specially favoured nation were almost certainly made up by members of that nation and they worked out the ethical code that went with belief in such a god.

As a result of believing that the one God of all the world favoured them, David's descendents developed a series of hopes and expectations relating to what they believed God might do to assist them - restoring their fortunes and defeating their enemies and conquerors. Their nation was small and much weaker than many other nations which over numerous centuries had been their conquerors.

One expectation was that God would intervene in world history. He would re-build their shattered nation and drive away whatever powerful empires ruled over them. It was also expected that he would send a Saviour or Messiah to be the agent of this deliverance. Such a figure might be human or maybe he might be partly human and partly divine.

As a Jew, Jesus was brought up accepting many of these long held beliefs and hopes. During his lifetime there were quite a number of groups of Jews who believed that God's intervention in human history was imminent. His intervention could be expected sooner rather than later. Both John the Baptist (the predecessor of Jesus) and Jesus spoke of a coming kingdom of God. They are what is termed eschatological prophets (where eschatological refers to a belief that at the end of time God will intervene in world affairs to restore the fortunes of the Jews, his favoured people).

We need to remind ourselves that all of these beliefs, hopes and expectations were based on the mistaken premise that the Jews were the specially and uniquely favoured people of God.

After Jesus's death, he became identified in his followers' minds with the saviour or Messiah that many Jews had long believed would some day come as their deliverer. In this way, Jesus's followers came to see him as both human and in some sense divine as well, as a special Son of God.

The beliefs and expectations, upon which both Jewish and Christian beliefs were based, would not have arisen if those thinkers, who moved from believing there were many gods to holding that there was only one, had not made the mistake of saying that the one Creator God chose their nation as his favoured people whom he would protect and assist.

With the deepest respect for others and their beliefs, to my mind, Jesus, and John the Baptist also, were mistaken and misguided 'end-time' prophets; Jesus was neither a mediator nor a saviour, neither super-human nor divine. There is a sense in which the time has come to leave Jesus to his place in history and to move on; while at the same time I want to say that there is a need to re-discover his place in the totality of the Christian community as we understand it now. I believe that a new spirit of freedom will be sensed. People, nurtured in the Christian tradition, will no longer constantly be looking back over their shoulders to some allegedly complete and full revelation of divine love and human perfection, because they will not find such old beliefs credible any more.

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