Dancing with God

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing. (Psalm 30:11)

"I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance,” Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote. This may seem a surprising sentiment coming from the blood-and-guts philosopher who was tormented by migraines and eventually went insane. Wasn’t Nietzsche the one who famously said God was dead? Here he is speaking through his fictional prophet Zarathustra, contrasting God with the devil, whom he finds to be serious, thorough, profound, solemn. “He was the spirit of gravity,” Zarathustra observes, “through him all things fall.” He adds, “Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!"

Curiously enough, Zarathustra’s description of the devil bears more than a passing resemblance to the God of the Old Testament. If you know anything about Nietzsche, you have to suspect this is not unintentional. Still, he has a point. Whatever else might be said about the Lord God Almighty, he is no dancing fool. Even the God of the New Testament -- the kinder, gentler version embodied in Jesus Christ – is never seen tripping the light fantastic. He does not start the Sermon on the Mount with a joke. He weeps but does not laugh. He livens up a wedding by turning water into wine, but there is not even a hint of toe tapping.

If it’s a dancing god you want, you must look elsewhere. Lord Krishna, eighth avatar of the supreme Hindu god Vishnu, is frequently depicted in a dancing pose. He is a lover, a prankster; he plays the flute, enticing young milkmaids. He is seen dancing with them in the forest. He dances on the head of the serpent demon Kaliya, forcing him into submission. There is a light-heartedness about him that is notably absent from the God of the Abrahamic religions. But is this because the God of Abraham is possessed by a spirit of gravity – or is it merely how sanctimonious devotees choose to portray him?

An episode in the Old Testament describes how King David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for the first time. There is much rejoicing, and the biblical narrative notes that David, himself a musician, is seen “leaping and dancing before the Lord.” Among the onlookers is his wife Michal, the daughter of royalty, who is scandalized by his conduct and later rebukes him. She does not think it appropriate to the gravity of the occasion for a monarch to behave like a dancing fool. But David will have none of it and tells her, “I will make merry before the Lord!” The Lord is silent on this subject, but his actions speak for him. The story ends with the passing comment that Michal remained childless until her death, a sure sign of God’s displeasure toward her. It’s true that the Lord is never seen kicking up his heels. But if we are indeed made in his image, then the question must be asked: Who is it that taught us to dance?

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
2 Samuel 6:12-23

Home | Readings
© Copyright 2004-2020 by Eric Rennie
All Rights Reserved