Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Old Testament Theology of “God”

Goldingay2Volume 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith, discusses the theology of the OT in a more thematic way, trying to look at theology in the categories presented by the text itself. Where the first volume tended to focus on the narrative sections of the OT, this volume focuses more on the prophets and the wisdom sections. The second chapter of the book is entitled God, and focuses on the most important revelation of the OT: Who is God and what is He like. Appropriately this is by far the longest chapter in the volume and so I will comment on it in two parts here. I am continuing to post quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. There will be a link to the blog posts on my Facebook page where you can comment.

The central idea of the Old Testament concerning God is that there is one real God and his name is Yhwh. He is revealed, not in an abstract way, but in a very practical, personal way from within his relationship with the nation of Israel…

Here, God is not a concept, but a person who can be personally known. Nor is God a person to be found at the depth of our being or as the ground of our being, but a person who lives outside of us and independently of us; the First Testament begins from God's act of self-revelation outside of us. The real God is the God who speaks and acts in Israel's history. 21

The first section, The God Yhwh, discusses the question; “what is this God like?” Goldingay sees the “most fundamental description of Yhwh” is holiness. Holiness expresses the transcendence of God, “Holiness points to Yhwh's metaphysical distinctiveness over against humanity.” (23) Yhwh is a God of majesty who projects his holiness to creation so that it will honor him. He is a living personal God…

Yhwh is "the living God" or the "God of life" ...The fact that the Scriptures speak thus of God resists our spiritualizing God. It is a basis for God's being the creator and savior of both body and soul, and for God's being able to act at all. 26-28

He speaks and acts within time and within creation and has a mission, program and plan within them. Yet he sits above all of this as the one and only God and creator and universal God. He is the eternal one, the Creator who is wholly other than his creation. He is the only, unique real God and there is nothing to which God can be compared.

The First Testament's take on the idea of God's eternity is not that God is outside time but that God is throughout time... God's experience of time is different from that of human beings, but it is still an experience of time in the sense that God knows about before and after, about shorter and longer time, about looking forward and looking back. God embraces and is present to all time. 34

The proper response to this God is worship, and God is passionate (jealous) that human beings fulfill what they were created to be by being worshippers of the one true God.

God's sovereignty and greatness do not depend on what happens in the Temple. But worship should correspond to the truths about God. 43

The second section, Yhwh’s Aides and Representatives and Rivals, deals with Yhwh’s relationship with “other gods,” Yhwh’s heavenly court and other supernatural beings.  The OT affirms the reality of these beings but insists that they are “Yhwh’s underlings.” Even the “adversary” (as were the gods of other nations) was part of the court of Yhwh who, though in rebellion, still will accomplish God’s plan. All of these entities will be judged in the end by Yhwh.

There is rather a variety of ways of speaking about supernatural entities other than God. There is the aide who mediates Yhwh's own presence and activity. There is the advocate or restorer who speaks on our behalf with Yhwh and the adversary who may speak against us. And there are the supernatural centers of power that can deliberately oppose Yhwh's purpose and Yhwh's people. 44

The gods form a body of mighty aides who do what Yhwh says, armies of ministers who put Yhwh's desires into effect (Ps. 103.20-21). They do not rule the world. God does that; they are nothing but servants. 45

The imagery of aides emphasizes the personal nature and authority of God's involvement in the world, though they distance Yhwh from this involvement. The imagery in the Psalms avoids this distancing and emphasizes the moral quality of this involvement. God's people really experience God's own light, truthfulness, good and commitment. 50

The adversary is not a supernatural being with power over against Yhwh. His authority is strictly circumscribed. He can accuse, but he cannot judge (Zech 3). He can tempt, but he cannot overwhelm; he requires human cooperation (1 Chron 21). He can test, but only within the boundaries that God allows (Job 1-2). 55

Section 3, Yhwh’s Leadership, explains the phrase “Yhwh is Lord (Adonai).” It means that he is absolutely sovereign. He can do, be or know anything. “When Yhwh chooses, nothing can escape his sovereignty, Yhwh’s reach or Yhwh’s awareness.” The best earthly analogy of this is kingship; Yhwh is king of all the earth and king of Israel. As the perfect king he exercises power and authority with perfect energy and knowledge. His power extends over the nations and the supernatural world; over everything that happens – even the bad things.

The two sides to kingship, sovereignty and commitment, find expression in the metaphor of shepherding. A king is his people's shepherd; as Israel's king, Yhwh is its shepherd... Like kingship, shepherding suggests on one hand absolute authority and the power of life and death, and on the other an obligation to see that the subjects of this authority and power are looked after properly. 63

The metaphor of judge does not have its locus in a theory of law. It lives, rather, in a world of desperate, practical appeal to those who have no other ground of appeal or hope and in a world of righteous rage among those who are appalled at exploitative brutality that must be called to accountability. 67

Job StructureGod is the only one in the universe that is truly completely free. Thus, God exercises flexibility in how he works with the universe. He may not handle similar situations in exactly the same way, as Job discovers. Though we can know God in relationship, much of what he does is incomprehensible to us.

The ultimate concern of the book of Job is not the personal welfare of Job's family and household, or that of Job himself, but an ultimate cosmic question about the basis of God's relationship with the world as a whole. It is our privilege as human beings to be part of a much bigger story than the story of our own lives. 81

Nevertheless, Section 4, Yhwh’s Wisdom and Word, shows that God does have a plan, purpose and goals, and runs the world in a wise way. God will accomplish his plan, but it is our responsibility to learn what he is doing and respond faithfully to work with him.

God's plan refers to the way God works out specific details of an overall vision as decades unfold, in interaction with human actions... It relates to the sequence of events whereby God implements the intention to bring about the world's deliverance. 85

Often our experience of God’s plan seems random. God is consistent in his character and will not change his goal to complete his creation. However, he is flexible in how he deals with people so that we need to be careful in our assumptions about God. We need to trust his character, not our knowledge of the plan.

God can have a change of heart about bringing calamity or about bringing blessing, but these are not possibilities of equal status. The order in which they come in Jeremiah 18 reflects the fact that the former is Yhwh's "true and proper" change of heart. It is God's nature to have a change of heart about bringing trouble. It is not God's nature to have a change of heart about bringing blessing, though God can do so if necessary. 92

More on chapter 2 in the next post.

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