Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reading Through Genesis with Goldingay #2

I realize that I am way behind in posting my thoughts as I read through John Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, volume 1, Israel’s Gospel. My plan was to make a post for each of the 11 chapters as I finished them, but that has not worked out so far. I have been posting the quotes as I read (3 times per week) on my Facebook page which you can read there. This post will cover chapters three and four which mainly focus on the theology of Genesis 3-11 (Chapter 3 – God Started Over), and Genesis 12-50 (Chapter 4 – God Promised).

Goldingay’s focus in chapter 3 is that the creation story in 1-2 should not have led us to be surprised at the Fall. The tree with deadly fruit was in the garden, and Adam and Eve did not have the capacity in themselves to deal with it. Thus, chapters 3-11 analyze what went wrong and how God will enter into the situation to remedy it. However, at the end of chapter 11 we are still left with a seemingly hopeless situation in which all the world has succumbed to curse and its effects. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope in the rare stories of faith and God’s promise of continued involvement with his created world.

The first section in the chapter, Disobedience and Discovery, deals with the disaster of sin. Of course, evil is in the world before Adam’s sin in the person of the snake and, at least in potential form, through the “tree of knowledge.” This fact, along with the need for the “tree of life” implies that death was already a reality and invades the garden of God. Adam’s failure to use his God-imaged freedom to trust God plunges the world into the curse instead of the humans subjecting the world to God’s rule. Nevertheless, God continues to fully enter into relationship with Adam and Eve and this brings hope and forgiveness into the story.

God is not a person who relates to the world with supernatural indifference or in cool rationality.If the world was created with laughter, it is wrecked with anguish. 138

The 2nd section of the chapter, Expulsion and Loss, deals with the “fall’ which Goldingay characterizes as a “failure” and a “loss” instead of a “fall.” Genesis 3 only begins the story of humanity’s wrongdoings. The bottom line is that “life ends in death and we cannot find our own way to the secret of eternal life.”

The 3rd section of chapter 3, Violence and Curse, discusses the story of Cain and Abel and its implications. Blessing works itself out as God blesses people with birth and the productivity of creation, but humans bring curse on themselves as they ignore the divine word and are rejected by God and bring in murder and broken relationships. However, God cannot leave them alone and continues to reveal himself to draw people to “call on the name of Yhwh” to be in relationship with him.

Section 4 of the chapter deals with the Fall and Ruin  caused by sin leading up to the flood while section 5, Grace and Exemption, discusses the faith of Noah and God’s gracious covenant with him. God warns that sin always leads to devastating ruin which brings great pain to God and judgment to people. God’s sovereignty does not mean that God likes everything that happens. Hope comes as God extends grace to Noah, a man who “lived in right relationship with God and according to his standards.” God then extends covenant to Noah, to which Noah responds (correctly) with worship.

The 6th section of the chapter, Realism and Pledging, focuses on the fact that God is realistic about the condition of people, “inclined toward what is bad,” yet removes the curse of the flood as God moves to reconcile humanity. Despite pervasive sin God desires to bless and be in relationship with the people he has created.

We are persons like God and therefore God can be portrayed as a person like us...All this will make incarnation possible and intelligible, when God appears as a human being and enjoys food and drink, weeps and gets angry, goes for walks with people and asks questions in order to discover what people think. 176

Section 7, Abuse and Strife, show that despite God’s covenant, human beings mess things up and “justify God’s gloomy conclusion about how bad things are with human beings (Gen. 8.21).” Family, sexuality, cities and nations are abused to create “strife which spoils life.” At the end of chapter 11 of Genesis there seems to be doubt as to whether God’s creation purpose will ever be fulfilled.

God's intention is a diverse humanity that can find its unity not in the domination of one city, one tower, or one language but in the 'blessing for all the families of the earth' (Genesis 12.3). It is the test for globalization and for the world's one superpower. 190

Chapter 4, God Promised, begins the story of Israel’s ancestors and encouraged Israel to “apply to itself the story of the blessing of creation and see it as God’s promise for it as a people.” In a way God was “starting over” his creation plan through the nation of Israel.

In the 1st section, God’s Charge and God’s Promises, Goldingay discusses the promise and covenant given to Abraham. God makes promises to Abram and God requires a faith response from him. God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham still requires him to make a faith commitment lived out through obedience (as imperfect as Abram’s was).

The First Testament subverts the distinction between YHWH's promises and YHWH's commands by calling both "God's Words," and thus subverts the distinction between what we call faith and what we call obedience. 198

Circumcision becomes a sign of male unfitness to be part of the people of God... The covenant sign becomes the covenant indictment and the covenant shame upon men. It is a mark of failure as much as a mark of status. 203

The people of God always live in the context of the charge and the promise, but the way these work out vary with people's situations, their context in God's purpose, and what is going on between them and God. 204

Section 2, Blessings: Nationhood and Land, deals with God’s blessing of Abraham to give him the land and make him a great nation. God works with individuals but his purpose is to create a people.

To believe that God could save individuals and ignore nations is like believing God can save souls and ignore bodies. By relating to Israel, sanctifying nationhood in it, and determining thus to draw other nations to God, the promise affirms God's involvement in the corporate aspect to human life and in the historical order. 205

Even if she came close to cursing Sarai, God will make her a beneficiary of the promise that foreign peoples will find blessing through Abraham. 207

It is as owner of the land that YHWH can grant it to one people or another, but any people that comes into possession of it has to remember that in a sense it continues to belong to YHWH. 209

Section 3, Being a Blessing, discusses God’s 2nd command to Abram to be a blessing to all the world. From the beginning the purpose of the calling of Abraham and the creation of the nation of Israel was to fulfill God’s creation plan for the whole world. Israel was to do this by “faithful exercise of power” that God gave them and sharing of the blessing.

The purpose of Israel's history of liberation was to point to and witness to the fundamental reality, to God's liberation of the world into the just and righteous order of his creation. 214

The First Testament does not develop a doctrine of rejection to parallel its doctrine of election...There is one blessing in order that there may be many. That is how God and the world works. People receive things so that they may share them with others. 217

Humanity is created to control God's world and to enjoy God's garden and most of God's fruit, but God remains the owner of these. Humanity's relation to the world is not that the garden serves humanity, but that humanity serves the garden. 220

Section 4, Abraham’s God and Other Peoples, discusses how the blessing to Israel and the world around it should work out in practice. Even though, at times, poor response to Abraham brought judgment, God’s desire was that they live in peace with those around them and be a conduit of God’s blessing to them.

Esau's story puts a question mark after the unequivocally negative readings of an enemy. "No matter how severe the conflict, or how deeply rooted in past history, reconciliation between brothers remains a possibility, even if that does not finally eventuate in a close relationship." 226

Section 5, Promise and Fulfillment, deals with the “already-not yet” aspect of the covenant that Israel lived in, and that we live in today. All the promises are partially fulfilled in the present but Israel must live in the light of the future full fulfillment of the covenant. This involves living on the foundation of God’s promise and seen in generosity with his blessings.

Relating to God means living in the present in light of the future and living for the future in light of the present. 231

So a sense of God answering is not a necessary preliminary to the experience of God acting. Perhaps. God does appear to Jacob once more (Gen 32.24-32). Perhaps this was a response to that prayer, distanced from it to discourage Jacob from thinking he can manipulate God the way he manipulates other people. 241

Section 6, The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, discusses the revelation of God and his character to the patriarchs. This is revealed through the names given to God and through his appearances to them and what God says to them.

People who belong to other religions (Melchizedek) who do not know what God has done in Israel's story are not cut off from any knowledge of God. They have a knowledge of God that needs filling out and building on. 243

Calling God "the God of my father" first affirms that God enters into personal commitment to individuals. Other Middle Eastern religions had many gods who could relate to individuals in this way. Among Israel's ancestors there is only one God to do so, so that this God is both the high God, the awesome creator, and the personal God involved with individuals. 245

God could have defeated Jacob by means of superior firepower, but God apparently foregoes such possibilities, lays aside the divine power and glory, and engages with human beings on something like level terms...This was no dream, no mere spiritual struggle. God becomes human in order to struggle with humanity. 251

Section 7, God Who Acts, says that God also reveals himself through what he does in seeking to “ensure that blessing wins out over curse.” He works directly or indirectly. He works through humans or despite humans. He even works through events in which he does not seem to be involved.

Genesis does not see God as necessarily the primary cause of events and humanity as the secondary cause. Sometimes human beings are the primary cause of events and God's involvement is reactive... God's intentions, worldly events and human decisions may thus interrelate in a number of ways. One cannot universalize any of these ways in which God relates to human actions. 252

The emphasis on the brothers' free actions in the narrative and in Joseph's comments works against the suggestion that, having decided to take Jacob's family into Egypt to survive the famine, God somehow inspired the brothers to do a deed they would otherwise have not thought of - any more than later God had decided to have Jesus betrayed and therefore somehow inspired Judas to betray him. In such events, both God's design and human design are involved, but the former is working against the latter. 260

Section 8, Relating to God, shows that when God acts a person has a choice to respond and this choice determines their destiny.

The ambiguity that runs through his story suggests that the special position of the people Jacob-Israel is not dependent on which way the ambiguity falls in this life... The ambiguity that runs through the Jacob's story advertises the possibility that a person like him may change or may continue to be what he or she has always been. 262

The absence of words such as holy from these stories is a sign that there is no holy caste (priesthood), holy time (sabbath) or holy place (temple), as there is no holy book. 264

The final 2 sections of chapter 4, Marriage and Parenthood and Family Life, focus on the outworking of God’s promise and plan in the very mundane arena of the family life of the patriarchs. The families must deal with problems that seem to put the promise in doubt (infertility) and their bad choices create conflict and broken relationships. Rivalries, abuse of power, deceit, fraud and outright evil shows that God is committed to working through and with dysfunctional people and families. God is comfortable with working through very fallible people because God is able to change lives.

From the beginning, this family's life involves bereavement, grief and the need to cope with the practical consequences of these...The stories do not ask where death comes from, but focus on the way God's story continues. 272

Most of the ancestors' experiences of marriage and family are not distinctive to them, but are the kind that make human life in general fall short of people's dreams... they imply that these realities of marriage and family are not the way things are supposed to be. 275

Like other characters in Israel's story, Joseph is a human being with strengths and weaknesses, and God works through both of these-- and not merely despite them.281

The treatment of deception provides a particularly clear indication that the First Testament is not as interested in passing moral judgments on its characters as it is in seeing how God works out a purpose through them in their moral ambiguity. 285

It is in these dysfunctional patriarchal families that God's blessing works itself out. In their very growth, through and not merely despite their surrogate motherhood and their multiple wives, the promise of increase comes true. God is relaxed about working via human fallibility and human mistakes... Their hope and their gospel lie not in the moments when the human beings get things right, as they occasionally do, but in the fact that God is making promises come true through the whole story and not only through its acceptable features. 287

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