Thursday, January 04, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #7

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 7, Yahweh Fully Uttered, closes and summarizes the first section of the theology on the core testimony of the Old Testament. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

Brueggemann sees his summary of Old Testament theology as a "thematization" of the witness of the OT rather than a systematization because Israel's testimony is full of tensions and cannot be systematized. The main tension is between the descriptions of God as a forgiving God of order in covenant with Israel to bring them benefit, and yet the same God is the One who is willing to destroy Israel and anyone who disturbs His righteous order. There is no easy resolution to this tension and perhaps the tension should be left as is, with the human response to both love and fear God left intact. Perhaps some of this tension can be resolved in the New Testament with the Romans definition of wrath as "giving over" the offender to the consequences of sinful choices and with the 2nd person of the Godhead taking on this wrath at the cross, but even that does not fully resolve the tension  we feel as we read. We want to fully understand and explain God, but that is an impossible task.

The faithful God who forgives (nsʾ) iniquity is the same God who visits (pqd) offenders for their iniquity. That is, the very God who is in inordinate solidarity with Israel and who is prepared to stay with Israel in every circumstance, is the God who will act abrasively to maintain sovereignty against any who challenge or disregard that sovereignty. 270

Thus I propose that in the full utterance of Yahweh, the thematization of Yahweh is as the powerful governor and orderer of life who is capable of generous and gracious concern, but this same Yahweh has a potential for extraordinary destructiveness. These texts of destructiveness are endlessly problematic for normative theology. 275

The One with whom Israel has to deal is not an image, a category, a genre, a concept, or a norm. Rather this is a particular God with a name and a history, who is a free agent and an active character. Israel’s faith is finally not trust in something that is transcendent in Yahweh, so as to escape what is contingent. But Israel’s life with this God is endlessly dialogical, and it is therefore always open and always capable of newness. Israel is tempted to minimize the risk and curb the danger by boxing Yahweh into its formula. But each time it does so, Yahweh surprises. 282

In the second half of this chapter Brueggemann looks at several texts which try to bring harmony to this tension between God's self-honoring righteous sovereignty and His "resilient relatedness" that remains steadfast to His commitment to the well-being of humanity and all of creation. The common terms that refer to God's righteous sovereignty are the "glory, holiness and jealousy of Yahweh." Glory refers to the right (portrayed as won in battle with other gods or human rulers) to be honored and obeyed. Holiness refers to the absolute, unique otherness of God. Jealousy refers to God's passionate self regard for His own reputation. These characteristics lead God to punish/destroy nations, including Israel. Yet all of these also lead to God passionately loving and protecting Israel and His creation. God is appealed to, especially in exilic texts, as the God of covenant loyalty who has great compassion for His covenant people. How can God be both a God who who jealously guards His righteous reputation against all disregard and evil and yet can forgive and restore sinners? It is not an easily resolved tension. It is clear from the OT that this tension is part of God's character and that God's righteousness includes His love and compassion somehow in a way that we cannot fully understand. The NT resolves at least some of this tension with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection as God Himself bridges this gap for humanity. But anyone who says they fully understand how this can be has reduced God down to something less than God, which is idolatry. 

The collage of texts concerning the glory, holiness, and jealousy of Yahweh leave one astonished at the largeness and roughness of the claim made for Yahweh, and the power and intensity with which that claim is made. This is a God who will be taken seriously, who will be honored and obeyed, and who will not be mocked. The nations are warned; and Israel is also on notice. Yahweh must be taken in full capacity as sovereign; there is no alternative. 295

Yahweh’s righteousness is engaged in the work of well-being. Israel has benefited from this gift of Yahweh’s righteousness, and the nations are invited to participate in the same. But neither Israel nor the nations can receive such transformative activity unless they are among those who bend the knee and swear with the tongue to the sovereignty of Yahweh. This convergence of sovereignty and compassion is a staple of Israel’s faith. Where this convergence functions well, Israel’s testimony renders a coherent picture of a character of constancy and reliability. Isaiah 45.21-25, 306

Beyond the Old Testament, it is fair to say that the New Testament and the Christian tradition have, on the whole, moved beyond this tension to affirm a complete identification of God’s power with God’s love. One specific ground for such a complete identification is found in the truth of the crucifixion of Jesus, wherein God’s own life embraces the abandonment of broken covenant. In this theological claim, Christian theology has extended the hints about God already voiced in the most pathos-driven witnesses of the Old Testament. 311

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