What Kind of God Do You Believe In (II): God and/or Jesus – Fretheim on “Jesusology”

I have very much enjoyed engaging the comments of those who have remarked on my post from yesterday, “What Kind of God Do You Believe In? An OT Perspective.”  They have led me to think further on this issue.  It goes without saying that a vital component (THE COMPONENT!) of the Christian faith is belief in Jesus as the Christ.  But again I ask, how is one to negotiate this perspective while still honoring the Hebrew Bible?  Moreover, what is the connection between Jesus and God against this backdrop?  Terry Fretheim posits an answer that I think rings quite true and needs to be taken quite seriously:

“The preaching and teaching of the church have commonly been so focused on a certain portrait of Jesus that many of the biblical imags for God have been neglected, and stereotypical images have been allowed to stand unchallenged.  It is almost as if faith in Jesus were thought to take care of the picture of God automatically; thus, one need pay no special heed to it.  But this assumption has commonly created inner tensions for the faithful, perhaps even intolerable tensions; for the picture of Jesus presented often stands at odds with the commonly accepted picture of God.  Attributes such as love, compassion, and mercy, accompanied by acts of healing, forgiving, and redeeming tend to become narrowly associated with Jesus, while the less palatable attributes and actions of holiness, wrath, power, and justice are ascribed only to God.  What tends to fill the mind is God as Giver of the Law and Judge of all the earth.  If God is not the cause of all the ills in the world, God is still seen as the one who is to blame for not really doing anything about them.  It is the goodness of God that is ignored, not the goodness of Jesus . . . . People often seem to have a view which suggests that Jesus is friend and God is enemy.  An understanding of the atonement gets twisted so that Jesus is seen as the one who came to save us from God” (Fretheim, The Suffering of God, 2).

Fretheim is spot on here.  It is this neo-Marcionite tendency that still pervades some scholarship and many’s reading of the Bible, unfortunately. 

Fretheim continues, making an especially poignant point:

“When this influence [of the Christian creeds] is combined with a common tendency to ignore the reading of OT lessons, and an absence of regular preaching on OT texts, people tend to continue with their stereotypical images of God, which become even more deep-seated in the process.  Such perspectuves regarding God and the relationship between God and Jesus, even if exemplified in nothing more than a tendency in language and thought, have probably commonly led to a kind of ‘Jesusology,’ in both naive and more sophisticated forms.  God remains at a distance as someone to be feared, while Jesus lives tenderly in one’s heart.  Or, when combined with an idea that God is really unknowable, one is led to a notion that Jesus is finally all we have, and commonly only in a very human form: Jesus, not Jesus Christ.  A very close correlation bcan be seen between the idea of a God who is ‘wholly other,’ totally removed from the world, and ‘God is dead’ proclamations, whether the last phrase be understood literally or figuratively.  This tendency is reinforced by secularistic trends which have made the activity of God in the world problematic, while Jesus continues to be seen as an actual historical figure; hence one can talk about his spirit living on in the hearts of the faithful with less difficulty” (Fretheim, The Suffering of God, 3).

I have said it before and I will hazard to say it again: preconceived notions about who God is are ultimately unhelpful if they are not supported by the biblical text.  To dismiss a portrait of God simply because it is problematic by our modern sensibilities and mores is not only presumptuous, it also fails to take into account the witness of that which should . . . . indeed, must! . . . . serve as the basis for theology: the biblical text.  Any good, responsibile theology must be grounded in the text. 

And on the matter of God and Jesus: I have made it clear I don’t always think God is a nice guy (see the post below).  But I would like to raise two points here:

1) While God is no doubt an unpredictable and scandalous character in the biblical text, the OT also points to a God that is utterly loving and compassioniate.  Think of the covenant with creation.  With Noah.  With Abraham.  With Israel.  Think of the countless instances in the prophets where YHWH employs the metaphor of a spurned husband in relation to wife Israel.  If there is one thing that becomes patently clear by the end of the OT (whether you read it as the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible!), it is that God feels–despite the near incessant failings of Israel–that this people of the promise should continue.  On that point I will not waver.  God in the OT, as the ultimate paradox I have described him as being, is both wrathful AND loving.  And . . . .

2) I don’t think Jesus was always a nice guy.  In my undergrad I worked with Richard Swanson, one of the pioneers in what has now come to be known as performance criticism.  Put simply, we would embody . . . . physically act out and stage biblical stories as a means of interpretation.  It added a whole other dimension.  Voice inflection and tone, pace, gestures, setting, etc.  Every minute detail became important.  And it is here that I realized Jesus is an equally difficult figure at times.  Is his chastisement to those in the house when the woman comes and wipes his feet with her hair to be read in a stoic, plaintive, or even monotone way?  Hardly!  When we acted this scene out (I was Jesus!), we decided the best way to embody it was to have Jesus move very quickly from a perturbed tone to outright screaming, the elevation in volume matching his rise from the table.  I also highly doubt Jesus uttered his “end of days” prophecies in the later chapters of Matthew in a happy-go-lucky way.  And what about Matt 15:21-29 (Jesus and the Canaanite woman).  He essentially refuses to heal the woman’s sick child, calls her a dog (or as a colleague of mine has put it, the equivalent derogatory title for a female dog) and dismisses her.  I once watched Swanson’s team embody this scene.  In one setting Jesus’ retort to the woman, calling her a dog, is met with a hard slap to his face.  An audience member asked what it would look like if the role were reversed.  So the scene was rewound and this time Jesus slapped the woman.  It was a powerful image.  I don’t mean to imply this is how it went down, assuming historicity of the story, but that these interpretive possibilities and ambiguiuties exist also very much for Jesus.

I simply don’t get the God of wrath/God of love distinction.  Both Jesus and God, I would argue, have their moments of both.

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12 thoughts on “What Kind of God Do You Believe In (II): God and/or Jesus – Fretheim on “Jesusology”

  1. Calvin says:

    John, I think you’re right on here. It has been fascinating to me, since I studied the Pentateuch in undergrad, that Christianity seems to have completely forgotten much of what the Bible says about God. Moses actually has to talk him out of frying Israel at one point. We need to keep that in mind, as well as all the laudatory language in the Psalms, or the imagery of marriage in Hosea. In my mind, it becomes a both/and issue, as opposed to either/or. Of course, this creates a paradox. I’m okay with paradox, but many people are not because it creates a certain amount of tension and discomfort.

    Also, actually reading the Bible would help with this–something that many people who seek to discuss the Bible (Christians, Jews and others) simply don’t do.

  2. Roy "Eli" Garton says:

    John: I would agree with Fretheim on most of the above, but I don’t think he takes it far enough. Rather than “Jesusology” — a relatively neutral term literally indicating a discourse about Jesus –I would posit that “Christolatry” is a more apt turn of phrase. Even if one wishes to argue from a creedal point of view (which I don’t), modern evangelical Christians have all but dethroned God, apotheosizing Jesus to an extent well beyond what even the Johannine community did. What’s worse, in my opinion is the self-centered Jesus-dribble endemic in so many sermons, so-called Christian literature, and even worship choruses/ballads: everything Jesus ever did was about ME and for ME, and now that Jesus lives in MY heart all of heaven is now focused on ME and every aspect of MY life. In short, the real danger of “Christolatry” is how quickly it turns in “I-dolatry.”

    I also agree with you, John, about the portrait of Jesus in the NT. There’s a lot more grit there than many people see, and I would contend that the Johannine community saw this especially. A quick read through Rev 19:11-19 is enough to verify that!

  3. aaronjacobs says:

    Hi John,
    I am a Christian. I haven’t studied at any institution, but I take studying the Word very seriously. I agree with you on many things, but disagree on some also.

    God is completely just. In His justice, there must be a side of Him that isn’t the ‘nice guy’. Jesus showed this when he ‘fashioned’ a whip and drove everyone out of the temple. Why would he make a whip and not use it?

    The New Testament says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, all of the ‘characteristics’ that are seen of God in the Old Testament, also hold true for the New Testament…and this includes Jesus. However, at least in my opinion, the Christian view point is that Jesus mediates for us to the Father for our salvation. He took all sin on Himself so that we could be under God’s grace.

    At the appropriate time, He will return and rule for 1000 years with an ‘iron rod’. That doesn’t scream ‘nice guy’ to me. That sounds like the vengeful, just God in the Old Testament. Right now, we are in the ‘Age of Grace'(not an official term). It is only by grace that we are saved. And, that grace is only available for a time.

    I gather from the top part of your post that you do not believe Jesus to be the Christ. That raises a couple of questions to me, one who has been pretty sheltered to other beliefs and religions in my life.
    1) There were over a hundred (I can’t remember the exact number) prophecies in the Old Testament about the Christ…ALL of which were fulfilled in Jesus. Because of that statistic alone, for people who know the OT very well, how is it that Jesus is not seen as the Christ? And, if not Jesus, then what is being looked for as the person who will be the Christ?

    2)As far as I know, at least in the United States, the animal sacrifices are no longer practiced. How does one who does not believe that Jesus (as the Christ and mediator between man and God), OR doesn’t practice animal sacrifice, regain right standing with God, move out from under His wrath, to one day live with God in Heaven?

    You can probably tell I am not a Bible scholar from my comments and questions. And, I hope you don’t read any sarcasm or arrogance into anything I wrote. I thought your post was intriguing, and it brought up a few questions in me. I am completely sold out as a follower of Jesus, and take that stance based on the experience of Him in my life. Thanks for being so open for comments.

    Aaron

  4. John Anderson says:

    Roy: Wow, how do you really feel? I do take your point, though, about Christolatry. Fretheim was making a distinction between Jesus the Christ and Jesus as an historical figure (which shoudl be included in the second block quote above). But I think your point makes good sense. I am actually quite tolerant of other people’s views on faith so long as they are well-informed. One of my teachers always used to say, and I think this is excactly right: you are entitled to your opinion so long as it is thoughtful. In my mind, a thoughtful view of Jesus needs to take into account that he too is not an unproblematic figure and that the God for whom he served was also scandalous. If Jesus wasn’t a scandalous figure, then why was he killed?

    At bottom, Roy, the distinction between Jesus and God that has been made, and which you describe so poignantly (!!!!) is indeed tragic.

    Aaron: Thank you for your comments; no harm taken. I have deep respect for those who are pursuing and asking questions. You have raised a great many issues, and I cannot hope to touch on them all here. Perhaps you could check out a volume or two about the concept of the messiah in Israel/Judaism and emergent Christianity. I think the Collins’ have a recent volume out, though it might be a bit technical. Perhaps look at Shaye Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah or some of Jon Levenson’s work. There is also an article by Michael Wyschogrod (the title of which escapes me now) but something dealing with how the concept of an embodied messiah was not foreign to Israel. Searching Wyschogrod’s name should help you come up with that.

    Briefly, in reference to some of your questions, here are a few responses:

    1) Some of what you say sounds very creedal to me. That doesn’t make it wrong by any means; it isn’t my place to question your faith (as I say above, so long as it is thoughtful and your own, that is all I ask). What becomes difficult as a biblical scholar, though, is when we start picking the text apart. For instance, one of my profs at Duke, Joel Marcus, used an example from the gospel of Matthew, which is replete with ‘fulfillment of Scripture’ patterns of phrase, and made the case that the NT material had been shaped in accordance with the OT material and not vice-versa. In other words, Jesus’ death was a scandal, and his followers combed through their Scriptures–the Hebrew Bible–to find answers. Again, it doesn’t make this wrong. Just muddies things up a bit. Please realize this is also a terribly simplistic example.

    2) I would question your language in the fourth paragraph. You are right to point out this is not “nice guy” language. Good catch! But I would press you on your claim that we are living in a period of grace. As I look at the world things seem to be not so graceful, unfortunately. I am here mindful of a quesiton posed by one of my Jewish teachers in the past: if the redeemer has come, where is the redemption? It is a question I struggle with still (I struggle with a lot of questions!!). But your claim that “that sounds like the vengeful, just God of the Old Testament” is problematic for reasons I cite above and elsewhere. It bespeaks a sort of unspoken neo-Marcionite tendency that still pervades many readings of the Bible. I would disagree with you on your assigning this to the OT. Rather, I would simply say “this sounds like God (and Jesus) . . . . sometimes.”

    3) In regards to your first numbered question, I would point you to my statement above about fulfillment in Matthew.

    4) In regards to your second numbered question, animal sacrifice went out with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The result of this attack was the survival of two sects of Judaism: Rabbinic Judaism and Jewish-Christians. The first of these, Rabbinic Judaism, knew that to survive they had to adapt and refashion their faith to fit a new context. Thus sacrifice was replaced by synagogue worship, prayerful study, and good deeds. In essence, Judaism was transformed into a portable religion.

    I will close by reaffirming, again, that I see great continuity between the Testaments on a variety of matters, among them Jesus and God’s characterizations. Only when one recognizes this continuity is one reading Scripture properly.

  5. ben says:

    This is a great discussion. Personally, I tend to view Jesus within the typical Christian creed that he is the fullest revelation of God.

    In reading this post I was reminded of a debate I saw with Christopher Hitchens. In the debate he remarked (I’m paraphrasing): “Why do Christians think that Jesus was such a nice guy? It is with gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that we get the idea of a hell, complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth.” While I disagree with what Hitchens was arguing, his point about Jesus is well taken.

  6. Bryan L says:

    Jphn:

    You said,
    “preconceived notions about who God is are ultimately unhelpful if they are not supported by the biblical text. To dismiss a portrait of God simply because it is problematic by our modern sensibilities and mores is not only presumptuous, it also fails to take into account the witness of that which should . . . . indeed, must! . . . . serve as the basis for theology: the biblical text. Any good, responsibile theology must be grounded in the text. ”

    One of the questions that came to mind from reading this post and the last one was why we should accept that every depiction of God in the OT is accurate? Why should we try to make them all fit into our picture of what kind of God he is? It seems if we can questions historical accounts, whether they accurately reflect what happened (if they even happened), then why can’t we question whether theological depictions of God from the OT are accurate? For example, should we believe that God gambles with the satan over people’s lives like he does in the book of Job? Why shouldn’t we question whether some of the more uncomfortable images of God (I’ll admit comfort is relative) in the OT accurately reflect who he is?

    Bryan L

  7. John Anderson says:

    Bryan:

    The problems that emerges with what you suggest are multifarious (and these are just observations and extrapolations from what you say; I am not claiming any of this is what you intended):

    1) What sources should one use then in constructing God? If the biblical text is deemed untrustworthy (and I don’t mean to imply historicity is a must here either), then the NT should be just as open to absolute skepticism and challenge as the OT. I don’t see this happening, nor do I see this as helpful.

    2) You seem also to have things backwards. You say “Why should we try to make them [the OT texts] all fit into our picture of what kind of God he is?” This is the exact opposite of the point I am making. The text is what should form our conception of God, not the other way around.

    3) Historicity is not the issue here. I don’t think it is terribly germane. Elie Wiesel, renowned Holocaust survivor and author, has said ‘some things which never happened are very true.’ I think this applies to the biblical text as well.

    4) This approach can quickly become a game of ‘pick and choose’ or force one to construct his/her own ‘canon within a canon.’ As much as we may not want to admit it, every part of Scripture is as authoritative as any other. Joel is as authoritative and important as the gospel of Matthew. and Obadiah is as vital to struggle with as is Genesis, Romans, or Revelation. This is hard to put into practice, but canons within a canon or pick and choose theology is not only bad theology, it is dishonest.

  8. Bryan L says:

    John:

    1.) the 1st issue you raised with my question sounds like the same ones raised by those who are adherents of inerrancy and think that if we don’t subscribe to inerrancy, if not every part of the scripture is “true”, then we can’t trust any of it (or that we can’t really know what is true and what isn’t). However unless you are an inerrantists, I’m sure you see that this approach doesn’t have to lead to absolute skepticism (not that we can have absolute knowledge of anything in the Bible anyway) or a throwing of the whole Bible out.

    2.) I think you’ve misunderstood me when I said “Why should we try to make them [the OT texts] all fit into our picture of what kind of God he is?” My point is not that we have a picture of God and then we try to fit all the accounts and images of God from the OT into it, but that we have all these pieces that are parts of a big picture of God and we then try to fit them all together to make a picture of God. Why should we give each depiction of God in the OT the same weight (or any weight at all) in forming out picture of God? Why not say some of the pieces don’t belong in the big picture?

    3.) I’m not sure why you raised the issue of historicity.

    4.) Why is every art of scripture as authoritative as the other? What does that even mean (does it mean no text can override another text or reinterpret another text… even give it a fuller meaning)? I think we obviously give certain scriptures hermeneutical priority over others in formulating our theology. Do you really beleive that every scripture and every book in the Bible is just as important as the other? This reminds me of some conservative attempts at doing theology where we have to give every scripture equal weight and we end up coming up with strange depictions of God (like where Satan is God’s enemy but God determines everything that Satan will do, or God wants all to be saved yet only chooses a few).

    Bryan L

  9. John Anderson says:

    Bryan:

    One of two things is happening here: either I am being terribly unclear or we are misunderstanding one another. I’ll vote for a bit of both. The reason? Because many of your retorts use words such as “conservative” and “inerrent” . . . . and those who know me well (Roy???) will say that these are terribly inaccurate labels to describe me. Briefly, on your points:

    1) Simply put, you have not answered my question. I asked what sources you would suggest, absent the biblical text, for constructing a portrait of God. My emphasis on the biblical text is simply because that is what we have, that is what has been deemed authoritative by communities of faith, and that is the raw material for BIBLICAL studies to work with. Without it, I have no career prospects.

    2) I’ll ask the converse: why shouldn’t we give each depiction of God the same weight? And how do you suggest we adjudicate what is and is not important? Again, this ends up leading to a pick and choose theology or a canon within a canon . . . . or worse, a whitewashing of God. For instance, if God in Job is troubling to me, I can dismiss it. That isn’t my God. But it is, whether I want it to be or not.

    3) I raise the issue of historicity in a cursory way in relation to point 1 above, namely to highlight the fact that I do not assume absolute historicity of events narrated in the texts. Did an actual historical figure named Jacob exist, deceive his blind father out of a blessing, steal away and be deceived by his duplicitous father in law, return, wrestle with God and as a result walk with a perpetual limp, etc? Maybe, but doubtful. This point is simply to counteract your assessment that I am a conservative or that I read the biblical text as inerrent. Neither are true.

    4) I am influenced by canonical critics such as Childs who claim that in the canonization process there is a certain leveling or flattening out of the text whereby everything is on equal footing. Again, such a view has the advantage of avoiding a canon within a canon (which plagued Bultmann’s scholarship on NT Theology), though we all still have them. But this need not preclude a view that Obadiah is as important as Matthew. This idea of equality also typifies Jewish Midrashic exegesis, in which one text is used to inform and interpret another. It’s a level playing field. Now, in reality do I think we actually achieve this? Hardly, but it is what I strive after.

    And, to close, your final sentence is most telling. You describe the results of this process I outline as resulting in . . . . . paradoxes. Is that not exactly the type of God I have described? God is a paradox. If you want to choose one or the other side, you are free to do so. But I would argue doing so is not only conservative but also unbiblical.

  10. Bryan L says:

    John:
    I don’t think you are either conservative or an inerrantist. You’ve claimed before that you would probably be considered liberal by those who know you. I figured you were telling the truth when you said that.

    However my point was that your approach to theism and how we formulate our picture of God reminds me of conservative approaches to scripture. I assume you are not an inerrantist that’s why I brought up this point.

    1.) Sorry for not answering your question. I was hoping to get you to see the issue from another perspective in hopes that it would cause you to question the validity of your approach. What are the sources? The Bible, the church, reason, experience, criticism, etc. All those factors are already at play in how we come to view God from the very start. We don’t start with any of them (I don’t think the Bible can be used as a raw material) and they all interact with each other. That means that they can call each other into question and possibly even override each.

    2.) If we see within the Bible this already happening—certain depictions of God being given priority, certain scriptures being given priority (canon within a canon), using scripture to argue with scripture or even overriding earlier scriptures—doesn’t that mean that we can as well? If so maybe we should follow the Bibles’ lead (and possibly the early church as well) in what we choose to elevate. So my question is whether you think this already happens within the Bible itself?

    Regarding the picture of God in Job do you think he gambles with Satan over your life (or anyone’s)? Do you think he allows Satan to use other people as pawns in their bets (‘go ahead and kill Job’s children and see what he will do’)?

    3.) I didn’t believe you assumed the absolute historicity of events narrated in the text. Actually I assumed you didn’t. But here’s the question. If two text conflict with each other concerning a historical narrative and you beleive that there is some historicity in that narrative how do you choose which text is closer to what happened (this question is probably more relevant to the NT). Do you make that choice or do you do something else? Further more if two theological ideas in the Bible (that don’t directly impact our picture of God) conflict with each other do we have to hold onto both of them or can we choose one which we think is more faithful to the larger Christian vision? Here’s what I’m getting at: iI it’s ok in these instances to give one text priority over the other then why not when it comes to how texts depict God?

    4.) I don’t really know what it means to level the playing field and what it would look like in practice (well actually I have an idea but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good way to do theology). I think later texts supersede earlier texts (not all the time), otherwise we would still be worshiping under the law, since we are dependent on a later text to tell us that the law is no longer binding on us when the earlier texts doesn’t give any indication that this will happen (instead it seems to think that the law will continue indefinitely).

    It seems paradox is just an easy way of throwing our hands up and admitting that something is contradictory and there’s nothing we can do about it. Honestly I think it is kind of a conversation stopper. Maybe there is a paradox initially but that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied to let it remain. I think instead we should work to eliminate that paradox and that may eventually have to be accomplished by silencing the voice of some of the texts in the Bible (of course I’m sure we can come up with an ingenuous hermeneutical strategy to do this but ultimately that’s what it will accomplish).

    I figure you don’t want to keep this going on forever so I’ll stop there. I just thought I’d raise a few issues for consideration. The only reason i raise them is because they’re what I’ve been thinking lately. I bought into an Open Theist way of reading the OT (which is partially influenced by Fretheim who I’ve read and enjoyed) and I’m starting to wonder if its big mistake was playing by the same rules (in terms of theological method) as it’s opponents (deterministic Calvinism) when in fact the rules need to be changed. Anyway…

    Thanks for the discussion.

    Bryan L

  11. Michael says:

    John: Good thoughts on Jesus, mein Freund. Performance criticism sounds pretty interesting. We did something similar in my first three Hebrew classes, using the narrative markers in the text to help with the “screenplay.” We actually got graded on drawing up a screen play for Ruth. Pretty cool!

  12. John Anderson says:

    Michael: Thanks. I know there is actually a video out there of another performance we did setting the Enuma Elish and Gen 1 creation stories side by side. I, by some chance (I am not a huge fan or theater, nor an adept actor) got the role of Adam. It was an experience. I’ll have to see if I can get a copy.

    Let me ask you . . . . what is your view on what Fretheim, and I, have said here, in the main post and in the discussion?

    Bryan: Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate being pressed on this . . . . it helps everyone to refine their positions.

    1) In regards to sources, you are right to the extent that none of us can put off our preconceived notions, experiences, etc. when interpreting a text. That’s why I interpret in one way and you another. That’s why my former teacher, a child of Holocaust survivors, was so drawn to Job and the lament Psalms. But personally, as a biblical scholar (which is what I am), the Bible is my primary raw data, coupled in, where necessary, with historical and literary/rhetorical insights. I’m not trying to say the Bible is the only source (as Paul may say, mn genoito!) but rather to say it is the starting place, the base, and the foundation for what biblical scholars do (hence the name) and also should be the foundation for theology, as I’ve said.

    2) An interesting question here. I don’t know how one would figure out what is and is not a primary depiction of God. Statistics? i.e., if God is “loving” 51 percent of the time but only wrathful or deceptive 49% then God must be loving and not deceptive? Even if there is a 1% occurrence of a trait, there is value in highlighting it. This doesn’t seem to be a good, responsible way of doing things. What results is pick and choose. I’m fine with someone having a ‘happy clappy’ God—I just think it’s dishonest to the biblical text, to reason, and to experience. I can’t look at the world—at the 20th century . . . . the Holocaust as the prime example . . . . . without absolutely jettisoning the idea that God is only good or loving all the time.

    On Job . . . . first, I don’t think it is Satan proper in the narrative. The Hebrew is ha-satan (and when translated as ‘the satan’ drives me crazy). It means adversary, somethign akin to a prosecuting attorney. Just to clarify. Second, there does seem to be a game of divine russian roulette going on at times. Why, I don’t know. But it seems to happen. I have had trauma in my family, and whether that was God acting as he does in Job or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that there are senseless acts that happen in this world . . . . the Holocaust, the death of children, AIDS, cancer, starvation, genocide . . . . as senseless as that which happens to Job. That is why Job is a vital part of my portrait of God.

    3) For more diachronic readers of texts this issue may be a problem. For me, as a synchronic reader, it isn’t. My task is to read the text, fractures and all, and discern meaning from it. I believe the meaning is located most heavily in these areas of tension.

    4) You bring up an interesting point here about later texts superseding earlier ones (btw, was the word “supersede” intentional? Supersessionism? Again, what I’m arguing against), yet then you appear to undermine that position with your parenthetical statement “not all the time.” Again, how do we adjudicate what texts are worthy of superseding others? It ultimately becomes a wishy-washy, purely idiosyncratic, pick and choose theology that may be helpful to the person, but isn’t as full and robust as the biblical portrait.

    On the issue of paradox being a cop-out, I disagree entirely. I think it forces one to live with a tension that calls for incessant wrestling with the questions. It also forces one to wrestle with God (very Jewish). That doesn’t sound much like a cop-out to me. Plus, it’s true to all the sources you indicate above.

    In closing–and perhaps this should have been in the original post–one factor at work here that may be leading to our disagreement is something I have left unsaid: the nature of the text and its utterances about God. My view is that the biblical text narrates how it is that ancient Israel experienced and saw God at work in the world. It is a narrative. God is a character in the text, and our task is to glean the characterization and attributes of that character from the text. This is not a matter for me of communicating timeless truths about God’s being (though, as I have said, I do think God is a paradox, based upon reason, experience, and . . . . . the biblical text). Perhaps I am coming at this from an OT theology perspective, and you from a theology perspective. They are two different things . . . . and I don’t do the latter as it is classically defined by the academy.

    Good discussion! Thanks for it.

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