James Crenshaw on God as “Oppressive Presence”

My former teacher at Duke, James Crenshaw–one of the world’s  foremost authorities on wisdom literature–has also written prolifically on texts that reveal God to be a problematic character.  One such volume is his A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence. Overtures to Biblical Theology.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.  In this slim volume, Crenshaw examines five texts that highlight an irrational, unpredictable, and fickle God: 1) Gen 22 [Akedah]; 2) Jeremiah’s Confessions; 3) Job; 4) Ecclesiastes; 5) Psalm 73.  I do not intend here to offer a full review of this book but rather to reflect upon, in a series of posts on each chapter, these images.  As always, I wholly welcome and look forward to your thoughts and comments!

“One of the most perplexing features of the Hebrew Bible is the believer’s conviction that God has become a personal enemy, wielding extraordinary power to frustrate the cause of truth and righteousness.  A sense of personal betrayal and outrage accompanies the recognition that God has trifled with deep affections and treated solemn promises with complete indifference.  Nothing within the believer’s inner thoughts or public conduct justifies such divine abandoning of prior relationships.  Rather, a change in God seems to have occurred: Human constancy is met with divine inconstancy, faithfulness with fickleness.  Faced with this new situation, the believer struggles to grasp the meaning of the new face of God adn to recapture the previous relationship of mutual trust.  This religious quest to understand the experience of God-forsakenness gave rise to a significant body of literature in which the agony and ecstasy of faith find poignant expression” (ix).

And, in a bit different, though not entirely dissimilar vein, Crenshaw shares a personal poem he wrote, and includes it prior to the first full chapter.  Here it is:

THE TEAR: Genesis 1

Had God known the course
     of those first words
He would ne’er have spoken–
Ripping night from day,
     land from sea,
        you from me.

Instead, God shattered eternity’s silence,
     and then cried–
‘Til a tear fell
     from Her eyes into mine,
Exploding into a shriek of eternity (xv).

Now do you see where I get it from?!  What do you think?  Reflections?


7 thoughts on “James Crenshaw on God as “Oppressive Presence”

  1. Jason says:

    John: To be sure, they are in abundance! I, once, leaned toward that kind of understanding (notice I said ONCE), but without the hair-trigger responses!

  2. Jason says:

    John: I’d like to think I am more honest about how I approach and understand Scripture, at least in how I allow it to shape my perspective on God, Christ, salvation, etc. Joining the biblioblogosphere has proved to be a very beneficial move, save for the time I sometimes spend perusing! I think once I get into academics again, it will be of greater benefit. It’s odd–I find myself disagreeing with a lot of what I read, but rather anticipate the discussions. I guess that’s part of scholarship (though I make no claims to be a scholar, yet!).

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