Friday, July 31, 2015

An Old Testament Theology of Individual Spirituality and Character

Goldingay3I am continuing to work through Volume 3 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Life. In this volume Goldingay is looking at how Israel was to live, “not the life Israel actually lived”, but “the life the First Testament reckons it should have been and should be.” I continue to post quotes from Volume 3 on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. There will be a link to this blog post on my Facebook page where you can comment. Please comment there. Though the OT has more to say about the ethics of the community, individual responsibility, ethics and character are also its concern. So let’s have a good discussion about Goldingay’s view of the life of wisdom out of this post on Facebook.

In chapter 6, Spirituality and Character, Goldingay looks at what the Old Testament says about "the individual in general." How does the individual relate to God? Ethics flow out of character and God created humans, "in the image of God" which would imply that our character is to be like God's. On the other hand we are not God so part of who we are involves submission to God and his plan for us. We are also created as social creatures, so this cannot be understood or lived out in isolation from our communities. Thus, the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. This comes out in a sinful world in compassion and patience for those who have needs and forgiveness of those who wrong us, even to the point of caring for enemies. This involves a passion for doing right and an anger/disgust toward what hurts others. We are called to be people of integrity whose whole life reflects the character of God. This sometimes means that we have to stand apart from the crowd who is going in a direction away from God. In this situation love can involve rebuke.

I am called to be a person of similar character to Yhwh: committed, compassionate, patient, peaceable. forgiving, caring for my enemies, faithful, passionate, angry, disgusted. I am called to be a person of goodness and integrity, independent of the faithless and honored by the faithful community. 586

Individualism lies at the very core of American culture. Our only ultimate obligation is to our own well-being. But the divorce of the individual from the community has generated "the empty self." A first fruit of God's liberation of people is that we are drawn out of solitariness into fellowship, drawn into commitment. 591

Instead of being a whole person, a person of integrity and commitment, it is possible to be a divided person (Ps 119.113), one who will not make up his or her mind whether or not to live by Yhwh's commands and promises, whether to follow Yhwh or the Master (Baal-1 Ki. 18.21). Such people have to make up their minds before coming in to Yhwh's presence. 600-601

The second section deals with Israel's call to Holiness and Purity. This call had to do with Israel being distinctive from the nations because Yhwh is distinctive and separate. Holiness has less to do with morality (although there are moral implications) than with being totally devoted to Yhwh. Moral purity is an important part of the concept but does not fully explain the purity laws in the OT. Goldingay proposes that these laws have more to do with living within the order God has placed into creation. We need to live in harmony with the way God intended creation to be and follow its rhythms and order. Living within God's moral standards is only part of that.  Israel was to live in a way that did not "Clash with who Yhwh is." This was to help Israel in their mission to draw the nations to God. Goldingay advocates that the church embody some rituals (along with the main distinctive of a Jesus-following lifestyle) that would also "embody" this distinctiveness.

Purity is thus expressed not by withdrawal from the world but by the way we live in the world...The principle of living by the structured and ordered nature of the created world illumines other regulations in the Torah...A hallmark of the holiness of God is a reverence for and participation in the order of the cosmos. 612-613

God's missional purpose lay behind the purity system. It was designed to keep Israel in a way the world could see. It is then in this same connection that the system is abolished (Acts 10). After Jesus' death, resurrection and commission to take the gospel to the world, there are no purity rules. Yhwh's concern to reach the nations will now work itself out in a different way. 619

Such (ritual) practices indeed fulfill a missional function. In the West they do so by raising questions, by making people ask whether there might be more to life than meets the eye. In traditional cultures with their emphasis on ritual and the way it shapes people's lives and religion, Christian faith might enable the gospel to get home by working with ritual rather than reckoning that the gospel has no place for it. 621

Section 3 discusses living in light of creation in issues Relating to Life and Death. In the OT, "Life involves living in accordance with the way God created the world and fulfilling our role there." (624) Even in a broken world in which we kill and eat other life, the Israelites were to show reverence for the fact that God created it and breathed life into it by not eating the blood. There was a sense of ritual atonement to every meal in which meat was eaten. The normal daily act of eating and drinking was to reflect holiness and reverence for God. Many of the OT laws were there to "safeguard the distinction between life and death." God does not die and his purpose is to remove the "stain of death" from creation. Thus, while the OT forces us to acknowledge the fact of impending death for all of us, we have hope in God's purpose for all his people who we will join in bodily resurrection.

The food regulations thus encouraged reverence for life as well as respect for the order of creation, and once again raise questions about the identity of Western Christian lifestyle with that of the surrounding culture and reiterate the call to visible holiness. 628

You cannot go straight from death to worship. The stain of death needs to be removed from people if God is to have anything to do with them. Sacrifice does that because it presents something that gives up life and accepts death, and thus changes places with the person who has given up life and been affected by death. 633-634

Looking forward to resurrection is a matter of looking forward to the consummation of God's purpose for Israel and thus for the church. 638

Another way holiness, acting as the image of God, is shown by God's people is in the way we handle things Relating to Time and Stuff. In the OT context this mainly related to Sabbath and tithing. Sabbath was a "stopping day" a day of rest "that marks God's people out" as different from those around them. Tithing encouraged contentment and "relativizes the importance of acquiring stuff." Sabbath encouraged the people to live in harmony with the created order and keep work and business in the proper perspective. Time belongs to God and, though there are times we need to work hard, we must also take time to enjoy relationships and God's world. This shows our faith and contentment in what God provides. Tithing is designed to show the same thing, although it could be misused by the wealthy to avoid giving generously to God. Tithes were not only for maintaining the religious structure in the OT, but were even more focused on helping the poor and needy.

Sabbath links with the fact that in the land Israel enters into God's rest. Because God has completed that work, human beings can afford to take time for feasting, hospitality, the nurture of children and care for the sick and disabled. 640

The First Testament is not big on frugality or self-denial in themselves, though it implies an approach to such questions while coming at them from another angle. It emphasizes indulgence in the context of generosity and hospitality, which imply self-denial and frugality; what one shares with others, one is denying oneself. 651

There is no basis for saying that tithes must be paid to the church. Indeed, instead of using tithes to pay pay pastors and keep church buildings ambient, we might use them to offer nourishment, education, basic health care and health education for people in the Two-thirds world. 655

Wisdom, or Insight, is also critical for the spiritual person and it is a prominent subject throughout the OT, especially in the Wisdom Books. Goldingay defines wisdom, "the application of the heart and mind, under the influence of the spirit, to living life in accordance with the way the world is and for the sake of what is good, in reverence for Yhwh and acknowledgment of Yhwh." (656) This is learned as human beings relate Yhwh's revelation to human experience. Tradition is good, but we need to recognize the source of the tradition and be discerning. We also need to realize our limitations and that there is much in the world we do not understand. The Wisdom books are full of riddles, enigmas and seeming contradictions to illustrate this. Job's debate is an example of what happens when this is not taken into account. Discernment allows us to navigate this ambiguity and the OT gives the freedom to question and face facts honestly. The key is "mindfulness," keeping in mind Yhwh's covenant and commands and teaching them

In Israelite wisdom there is no attempt to achieve a theoretical, self-contained picture of the world or of human nature, but rather a notable caution with regard to comprehensive attempts at explanations; in contrast to this there is an unfinished and unfinishable dialogue about man and the world. 660-661

Yhwh's commands are the key to understanding (Ps. 119.98-100, 104) Christian meditation is not transcendental meditation. It is meditation on an object. Such meditation or mindfulness or active remembering is key to First Testament spirituality. 666

Biblical spirituality also involves careful attention to what we say. Our speech is an indicator of our love and devotion for God, His word and His people. This requires a mind focused on God's word. When it is, our words become the means to give life and blessing to ourselves and ourselves and others. Words can be death-dealing when they reflect our selfishness and ignorance of God's ways. Ywhw's words are powerful and life-changing and when we speak them out to the world and pray them back to God they provide powerful blessing, or judgment on evil and evil people. True relationships are characterized by honest, but life-giving, loving words.

Ideally speech combines insight and authority: it does so if Yhwh's teaching is written into the mind. A mark of commitment to Yhwh's teaching and expectations is to talk about them. 669

Words of blessing are life-giving words...Blessing someone is a way of praying for them or is related to praying for them. 672

It is through speech that we express our wisdom and convey wisdom to other people, and also express our stupidity and encourage folly in others (Prov. 15.2). There is thus something to be said for silence. 675

In the West the issue of Suffering results in the conversation about theodicy, "why do bad things happen to good people?" In the OT suffering was just assumed to be part of life in this imperfect world and the question was "What (and when) is God going to do about it?" This life is a life of testing and challenge that prepares us for the next one (with NT further revelation). Suffering can turn us toward God and his mercy as we realize our vulnerability and weakness, and increase our motivation to hold on to God and hope. Suffering can also become the "vocation" from which we do ministry. The bottom line is that we just do not have enough information (Job and Ecclesiastes to know why we suffer in each situation.

Suffering issues from our vulnerability to life and death and other people. It can then be a challenge to be met or an argument to be engaged in or a spur to penitence or a vocation to be accepted. The question it raises is whether we can hold on to God and hold onto hope. 681

Facing suffering is part of the challenge of being human that emerges from God's not having created the world a place that was finished. It is a place that is ordered and good, indeed very good, but a place that requires subduing by humanity...Testing is integral to human experience. 683

Our sinfulness means we can let fear and rage express themselves in inappropriate forms, such as self-defense or revenge or preemptive attack, but this too does not mean we should avoid expressing them at all. (Psalm 35) models how to channel them into prayer. 697

In the Old Testament the spiritual life is not just one of moral development, although that is important, it is dependent on Transformation by Yhwh, a conversion that leads to repentance. Yhwh's teaching produces this change. We need Yhwh to "write his laws on our hearts" and then we respond with commitment to them. Transformation also involves imagination. Despite the evil in the world we "imagine" the world of God's promises to be so true (this is not vain hope because God's promises are so sure they are spoken by the prophets in the past tense) that we live and make decisions now as though they are assured outcomes. So we live a life now based on the reality of God's promises and teaching as the ultimate reality in our lives. 

So there is a subtle relationship between God's grace and our commitment. I must be committed to walking in God's way, yet I appeal for God's help in order to do so. 700

Imagination remains at the core of moral reflection. Moral imagination generates the world of what ought to be, thereby making moral living possible. It does not exactly make the world; objectively the world exists. But subjectively it makes the world for us. It also makes moral living possible through driving us out of our own world into the world of others. 704

God makes Israel the object of love and takes Israel through tough experiences of the kind that can shape its character. And then God sits back and hopes that this will all work, high on expectancy but sometimes experiencing disappointment; what Yhwh hoped and thought they would do, they do not do. 706

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