Thursday, February 12, 2015

An Old Testament Theology of “God” #2

Goldingay2Here we continue the discussion of Volume 2, chapter 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith. This 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. That is a big subject so I divided this long chapter into two posts. As always, there will be a link to the blog posts on my Facebook page where you can comment on this post and on any other posts there. Again, I appreciate that Goldingay does not take the approach of abstracting attributes of God, as helpful as that may be, but tries to see “what divine personality emerges from the story as a whole.”

The 5th section of the chapter is entitled Yhwh’s Presence and discusses the truth that Yhwh is the “God of heaven” and yet is present in the world in a much broader and more dynamic sense than the experiential and is able to grant us access in many different ways. In other words…

Our statements about the Divine presence are inclined to collapse into statements about us and our feelings or awareness rather than about God...The First Testament is more interested in the objective fact of God's presence, with its different implications. God's presence means God acts to bless. 97

Yhwh is omnipresent in the sense that he has access to everywhere, but he can come and go as he pleases. He can be located in a temple or nation, yet fills the universe. He may be present in a brilliant splendor or through actions. He may be present through his spirit or face (outward expression). His reach is unlimited. He is even present in his spoken “name.”

The dwelling place of God is particular and spatial. It is not universal and everywhere... God's dwelling is still with Israel and is still cultural and spatial at the end, as it remains when Revelation 21 takes up the image of the New Jerusalem. 104

Section 6, Yhwh’s Love, disputes the common notion that the God of the Old Testament is a god of wrath while the New Testament God is one of love. Yhwh is often portrayed in the OT as a Father/Ruler who cares deeply about and is committed to the well-being of his children. As a parent and shepherd he protects, shapes and carries his people with a motherly compassion. He is attentive to their needs (both for help and discipline) and approaches his people with mercy…

By linking "Holy One" to the term "of Israel," Israel's testimony asserts that this completely separated One is the characteristically related One. The idea of holiness is thus recharacterized by bringing it into association with Yhwh's own distinctive nature. The holy one who dwells on high is the one who dwells with people who are humiliated and crushed. 116

Thus, the Yhwh of the Old Testament is a healer who is committed with true faithfulness to his covenant. It does not depend so much on his weak, transient, sinful subjects. His righteousness is a “commitment to doing the right thing by the people with whom (he) stands in relationship.” And he does this with a great passion that assures the deliverance of his people. This passion guarantees that the weak will be carried, the sinful cleansed and forgiveness will be given.

Yhwh chooses to pay the price for (sin) rather than making us do so. Yhwh thus declines to let the relationship with Israel be broken by wrongdoing. God bears the cost of human sin.What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this...In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to himself. 125

This does not happen without personal risk to God himself. Yhwh’s “lowering of himself” into relationship leads to his sadness when the relationship is broken. God is portrayed in the OT as being let down with disappointment and grieving like a father over his wayward daughter, or husband for a wife.

(The pain of God, Jer. 31.20) refers to God's pain in loving sinful men, something different from Isaiah 63.9, which just means sharing human pain. Scripture thus corrects the idea of the impassability of God, the idea that pain does not properly belong to God, which comes from outside scripture. 134

Does this mean that Goldingay dispenses with the wrath of God? No, in Section 7, Yhwh’s Hostility, he says there comes a point where Yhwh says with weary skepticism, “that’s it!”

Israel's God is not simply a God of wrath. But Yhwh is a God of wrath. God gets fed up with the way we turn away, withdraws in response, lets anger find expression, and does so in ruthless fashion. 135

God’s wrath can take many forms. It may take the form of hiddenness or absence. It may take the form of anger that protects victims with strong action or it may break out in a whirlwind or earthquake of rage (which grieves God even when it is necessary). Sometimes his wrath is redress on his enemies who have misused the people he loves or a self-assertion that God’s righteous rule cannot be ignored by evil people. There even comes a point where God must repudiate the evil-doers and act with ruthlessness as a warrior or slayer to stop the enemy who unrepentantly hurts his children or damages his creation. 

The exaltation of Yhwh in holiness necessitates the putting down of humanity in its misleading exaltedness. 145

As ever, Yhwh has been caught between acting in judgment on people because of their wrongdoing, which Yhwh would not wish to do if it can be avoided, and acting in judgment on these people for the sake of their victims, which Yhwh would wish to do. But there are times when judgment cannot be postponed any longer and when compassion for one party has to yield to compassion for the other. 151

The final section of this chapter concludes that there are, Two Sides to Yhwh’s Person and Activity, and we must take both into account…

Yhwh is characterized by power and love, mercy and anger, forgiveness and rejection, violence and sorrow. Yhwh's person and activity embrace the total range of personal qualities, the capacity to undertake all divine roles and the total potential for sovereignty. Yhwh is a war god, a fertility god, a healing god, a rain god and more. Instead of these different roles being shared among a number of gods, one God fulfills them all. 156

God’s power is complemented by his faithfulness to be a God who can deliver and defend justice. He is both Creator and Liberator who can create order but subvert it when it is used by people to oppress others. He is compassionate and forgiving but absolutely holy in his faithful exercise of authority. He is always faithful to who he is but we experience this differently in different types of situations. God is like a parent who knows that he must discipline his deeply loved child but is pained to do it. (Discipline really does hurt the good parent more than the child!) But, Goldingay sees an “asymmetry” in God in which his toughness is overcome by his tender love. We need to see both of these sides but realize that what God really wants is to bless us.

Yhwh's personality profile is outlined near the beginning of the First Testament story (Exodus 34.5-8)...The popular impression that the First Testament God is a God of wrath reflects the impression that wrath has priority over mercy, but at this key point when the First Testament directly speaks to that question, it affirms the opposite. God's compassion has the last word. 160

It is a commonplace of human experience that people have dominant aspects to their personality and also secondary aspects... In this regard we are like God. It may be that God has some personality aspects in balance. God holds together idealism and realism... God holds together firmness and flexibility... For instance while Genesis 1-2 indicate that God combines a capacity for planning and for serendipity, the biblical story as a whole suggests that God is more inclined to serendipity. 165

Ultimately, it is the same God who died for us and took the pain of our judgment that will judge all of us in the end. We can’t fully put that together mentally but we can praise him for it.

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