I imagine the spiders outside my house think of me in a similar way to how the ancients thought about their gods. Most days I walk right by them without giving them a second glance. Every once in a while, one will catch my eye, and I might stand transfixed for a few minutes while I watch it work.
Just as likely, though, I will be annoyed at the spider and tear down its web to teach it a lesson. If I happen to walk into an unseen web, the spider probably laughs to itself while I do a frantic, angry dance and try to pull the web from my hair. The spider laughs, that is, until I find it and squash it.
“Vengeance is mine!” I shout. “NO MERCY!”
These spiders have no way to predict what I am going to do next. All they can do is live their lives and pray that they never catch me on a bad day. I tend to let the spiders live in peace as long as they stay outside and don’t build any webs across my path. But I certainly don’t care for them. And if they try to come in my house, I declare all-out war.
Such was the relationship between pagan peoples and their pantheons of gods and goddesses. Certainly there was no love lost between the two sides. The gods were frivolous and unpredictable. They were greedy and were usually only interested in humans when it served their purposes. More than likely, humans would serve their purposes best if a city or two were leveled and lots of little humans squooshed.
And so the ancients sacrificed their children and danced dances and prayed that their god was more powerful than the one in the next city over. They prayed for rain and they prayed to be left alone.
Their favorite stories were tales about heroes like Gilgamesh or Odysseus who manage to outsmart the gods. The gods really hated these guys, because these guys were spiders who managed to sneak in the house and make it out alive. But these heroes didn’t come along too often, and they never made friends with the gods. Gods were to be kept at arm’s length, just as they kept us.
Then one day this guy named Abram hears a voice. I don’t know if the voice was audible or if it was just in his head, but the voice made lots of promises and said, “Abram, you’re going to have to trust me.”
If I were Abram, I would’ve said, “Why should I trust you!?” If I were Abram, I would’ve thought about all those capricious pagan gods and said “No thank you. Leave me alone!” And when the voice asked me to sacrifice my son, I would’ve said, “See, that’s my point!”
I’m not sure what made Abram do it. But he did trust Yahweh, and it turned out that Yahweh WAS faithful.
And then, over time, Abraham’s descendants found out that Yahweh wasn’t just faithful, but he was all sorts of other good things too. He wasn’t frivolous. He was actually quite predictable, and he lived by his own rules even when the Israelites caught themselves in their own webs of broken covenant after broken covenant.
He was interested in humans precisely when it did NOT serve his own best interests. That might have been the most amazing thing of all.
He didn’t just invite us into his house. He came down and lived in our webs. He didn’t keep us at arm’s length. He embraced us, and he called us friends.
Jonathan Edwards envisioned an angry God dangling spiders over a fire on the ends of their webs. This God always has sounded more like a sadistic God than an angry God to me.
Jesus was a friend of spiders. A friend can get angry, and Jesus can get angry, to be sure. But a friend can also be trusted, and, after all that Jesus has done for me, I know I can trust him. He is neither impulsive nor unreliable. He is not dangling me on the end of my web over the pits of hell. He holds me close, spider that I am.
It continues to amaze me.
As for the black widow on the back side of my house: I have seen you, and I am coming for you. Prepare to meet your maker.
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God. –Psalm 86:8-10