Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An Old Testament Theology of Judgment (“Nightmare”)

Goldingay2I am continuing to work through Volume 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith and posting 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.

Chapter 4 is entitled The Nightmare, which describes the consequences when Israel fails to respond to God in faith. He pictures this as the “nightmare vision” of the prophets – which, sadly, is a stark reality. Yhwh must and will respond to sin (faithlessness) with dire consequences, but the fact that the prophets are even talking about it implies that there is always an opportunity for repentance and restoration. Though Goldingay provides some interaction with “the problem of evil” this is not his main focus. Punishment is not the end goal of God’s wrath; the end goal is repentance, restoration and blessing.

He begins with a discussion of Faithlessness, or the nature of sin. Evil only has meaning when compared to the nature of good. Therefore, evil is whatever God isn’t. Goldingay does not even see sin as a topic – it is a lack or a “no.” Thus, idolatry is worshipping what is not God and sin is “falling short” of God’s character. It is expressed as rebellion, going one’s own way, self-confidence, falsehood, and incorrigibility. It is prevalent through all humanity. Sinners are described as stubborn, deaf and blind, and resistant to Yhwh. This was not God’s fault – what he created to be good was twisted and ruined by “human hearts.”

Evil does not exist in itself, indeed, in this sense neither does goodness. Goodness is what Yhwh is, and evil is what contrasts with that. Evil thus consists in the absence of what God is: compassion, grace, long-temperedness, commitment, truthfulness, forgiveness, and a willingness to punish wrongdoing. 254

The confession that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Is. 64.6) is not a statement about universal human sinfulness nor a declaration that even our best deeds are spoiled by sin. It is... more likely a statement about the way the whole community has become stained, an acknowledgement about the life of the people of God as a whole as it has turned out over the centuries. The church can thus identify with it as its own life over the centuries has also turned away from the potential of its beginnings and been characterized by faithlessness, failure, dissension and violence. 263-264

Yhwh's questions (in Jeremiah 44.7-10) are not designed to elicit answers but to express the mystery of human stupidity and the stupidity of the people who belong to God and the frustration and anguish of God in trying to work with people. 278

Section 2, The Consequences, deals with the effects and God’s responses to human sin. The consequences of sin are described in several pictures in the OT: Defilement, corruption, rejection, abandonment or rebuff by God (as a hurt husband leaves an unfaithful wife), and withdrawal. More directly, God’s actions are described as wrath, darkness, attention to punishment, and blinding. This results in exposure because God has withdrawn protection, shame, war and its devastating effects, wasting away, annihilation, expulsion and exile, pollution, withering away and dissolution and ultimately death.

As the First Testament has a number of images to describe sin itself, so it has a number of images to describe its effects. Sin stains us, makes us disgusting, alienates us from God, leaves us unhealed. It also has a number of ways of describing God's reaction: rejection, rebuff, abandonment, withdrawal, wrath and an active seeking out of Israel to express that wrath. 278

From Yhwh's perspective, the point about prophets is to be means of declaring a divine word when Yhwh wants to utter one, not just when people want to hear one, If they refuse to have prophecy on those terms, they forfeit having it at all. 288

Wrath stands in parallelism with terms such as desolation, destruction, decimation, fire, anguish, breaking up, darkness, captivity and falling from power. It emphasizes the fiery nature of the experience that comes to the people rather then the feelings of the agent of this experience. 289

Yhwh does the pouring, yet they also do it. They confuse themselves and blind themselves by their refusal to look in the direction Yhwh points...He simply brings judgment to fulfillment when he allows humans to bear the consequences of their own actions. Admittedly "allows" may be an understatement. Isaiah portrays Yhwh's action as more active than that. 295

War is one of Yhwh's chief means of bringing this (judgment) about. Modern readers are often troubled by the way the First Testament speaks of Yhwh making war on foreign peoples and commissioning Israel to do so. It may take the edge off this sense of offense (or it may increase it) to recognize that the First Testament gives great prominence to the fact that Yhwh also uses other peoples to make war on Israel, and in addition makes war on Israel in person. 298

As the compassionate one, Yhwh consistently acts as the great life-giver to the whole world, even though most of it looks elsewhere. But when Yhwh's own people behave thus, they may not get away with what the rest of the world gets away with. 310

Section 3 discusses the question, “Can the Nightmare be Forestalled?” Again, the fact that the prophet is announcing judgment implies that the punishment may be stopped, delayed, mitigated or one may be preserved through it, if one repents. Yhwh is very patient but judgment will come. Often judgment is a means of testing to show who is faithful or a means of “shaking the people to their senses.” The response sought is that people would seek, pursue, and turn to God with all their heart as demonstrated by their actions. However, there is always a “perhaps.” The prospect of judgment should always drive God’s faithful people to prayer.

While Yhwh's ultimate purpose for Israel is predetermined, Yhwh's will for the immediate future is never fixed. It is always dependent on the human response. People need never despair. Yhwh is not like a judge declaring a sentence that will be implemented no matter what the guilty person's response. 317

Every prediction of disaster is in itself an exhortation to repentance. In order to move Yhwh to relent, what people need to do is have recourse to Yhwh instead of seeking help from other sources, human or divine. 321

Repentance is corporate and outward (Joel 2.12-13). Yhwh is not merely interested in individuals turning away from wrongdoing and doing so inwardly, but wants to see the people as a whole doing this and doing it publicly. 328

Section 4 asks “Is the Nightmare the End?” When the exile happens is it all over? When the wrath of God falls what then? The prophets always have hope because God has “leftovers,” a faithful remnant. Judgment will work to discipline, strengthen and identify this faithful group. It will provide correction and refining so that restoration can happen. As in the exile (70 years), God’s punishment is limited and he will rescue his faithful people and preserve them through the times of judgment and wrath. This was true for Israel and it will be true for the church.

A people who had come to an end would not be able to pray. The calamity that comes on Israel is something like an end because it is an act of retribution for the people's faithlessness. But it is not an end because it is also an act designed to correct and refine a people that Yhwh still intends to work with. 334

Yhwh's action against Israel is indeed designed to be restorative and not merely penal. It encourages "the pain of taking responsibility." 341

It can hardly be the case that the church has taken the Jewish people's place as God's chosen people. Rather, the church is a vast expansion of that chosen people that has Israel as its core. The dynamics of Israel's relationship with God then reappear in the church. 348

No comments: