Book Write-Up: The Character of God, by Jonathan G. East

Jonathan G. East. The Character of God: In His Own Words. WestBow, 2018. See here to buy the book.

In Exodus 34:6-7, God declares God’s attributes to Moses: “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (KJV).

In The Character of God, Jonathan East goes through each of these attributes of God, in an attempt to discern God’s character.

Some thoughts about the book:

A. An asset to the book is that it is heavy on Scripture. East looks throughout the Bible to illustrate the meaning of God’s attributes, and the importance of God’s people imitating them.

B. The book is slender. It is only 22 pages on my mobi. After my first reading, I thought it was thin on content. I went through it a second time, though, and appreciated it more, due to its Scriptural content. East could have made his points more effectively, perhaps in a more sustained or prolonged way. Stories could have enhanced it.

C. The book does not get that much into difficult theological issues, but it did make a couple of intriguing points. First, East said that forgiveness means removing sin, but the sin has to go somewhere after it is removed. For East, the sin is placed on Jesus Christ. That raises a good question: where does the Hebrew Bible think that the sin goes after it is removed? In Leviticus 16, it is placed on the Azazel goat, who is taken to the wilderness, away from the Israelite camp. Isaiah 53:12 affirms that the Suffering Servant bears people’s sins. In Micah 7:19, Israel’s sins are taken to the bottom of the sea. The authors of the Hebrew Bible may not have consistently held that sin had to be placed on somebody for Israel to be forgiven—-sometimes they did think that, but sometimes that is not explicit. But, in these cases, they still thought that the sin had to go somewhere: it did not simply vanish. And yet, Isaiah 44:22 does depict Israel’s sin vanishing, as God likens it to a mist and promises to blot it out!

D. East attempts to reconcile biblical statements that each individual will be punished for his or her own sins, not the sins of parents, with statements about God visiting sin onto the third and fourth generations. East falls back on the conventional explanation that God does not punish the third and fourth generations for ancestral sins, yet they still suffer the consequences of ancestral sins. East appeals to biblical examples of this. And yet, the biblical passage itself suggests that God himself visits the sins on the third and fourth generation. The closest East gets to explaining this is to say that God permits the third and fourth generations to suffer the consequences of ancestral sins.

E. I cannot say that I learned anything earth-shakingly new from this book, but it inspired thoughts and questions, as I share in (C.). It amplifies my appreciation of God’s mercy and goodness, demonstrating that such a conception of God is indeed biblical. It is also well-written, in terms of prose.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.

 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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