Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #12

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 17-18 close the section on how God is revealed through His relationships with His covenant partners. 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.…

Chapter 17, Creation as Yahweh's Partner, looks at Israel's testimony regarding God's relationship with creation and human responsibility within it. Again, there are two strains of revelation which seem to be in tension with one another. First, creation is presented positively as blessing, in which God arranges the earth to provide order, fertility, beauty, light and meaning to its people and all created things. This is not a one off where God created it and then left it to work itself out, but continues to provide blessing through childbirth, agricultural fertility, and prosperity. Humans are responsible to live well within this world by being wise, understanding how creation works and living accordingly; righteous, living within God's moral boundaries; and worship, that teaches about and praises God for His gifts in creation. The negative strain in the creation stories is the battle between God and the forces of chaos that disrupts and destroys creation. This is portrayed as both a completed and ongoing battle. God is always at work holding back the forces of chaos, but sometimes seems to purposely let them loose in "wrath" as discipline or punishment. It also seems that creation was designed so that human misbehavior can loose these evil forces as well. The bottom line is that humanity and all creation are completely dependent on God to maintain the order and blessing of creation and to protect it from the forces of chaos and evil. 

It is Yahweh’s will for this newly ordered world that it should be fruitful, invested with “the power of fertility.” Yahweh has authorized in the world the inscrutable force of generosity, so that the earth can sustain all its members, and so that the earth has within itself the capacity for sustenance, nurture, and regeneration. This capacity for generosity is no human monopoly; it is assured that every genus and species of creation can “bring forth,” according to its kind. 529

It (The idea of the power of death still on the loose in creation, which may at any time cause havoc) is not, moreover, a diminishment of Yahweh. To the contrary, it is an assertion of how urgently indispensable Yahweh is to a viable life in the world. Yahweh is the guarantor of blessing; but where that power of blessing is not concretely enacted and guaranteed, the undoing of creation takes place. 537

Yahweh has retained these awe-evoking powers for Yahweh’s own self. Thus while Yahweh can unloose the forces of blessing (or fecundity) into the world, Yahweh can also unloose the forces of curse and death—and will do so, in an extreme case, when Yahweh’s sovereignty is mocked. , 539–540

The rest of chapter 17 shows that Yahweh is committed to ultimately blessing all creation and renewing His blessing on the earth even after the most devastating judgment. God's "resolve" is to complete His plan for a blessed, perfected earth. When humans reject God's blessing, He will withdraw resulting in chaos, exile and destruction. But God is always committed to re-ordering the chaos in a new creation. We can be certain that God will complete this plan because He is committed to His creation.

The poem is a declaration in the mouth of Yahweh, who publicly and pointedly claims authority to replicate the initial creation, only now more grandly and more wondrously. This promised action of Yahweh is clearly designed to overcome all that is amiss...the new creation now promised concerns not only Israel, not only the entire human community, but all of creation, so that hostilities at every level and in every dimension of creation will be overcome. “All will be well and all will be well.” Isaiah 65.17-25, 549

It is not in Yahweh’s character to be a God who settles for chaos. It is in Yahweh’s most elemental resolve to enact blessing and order and well-being. 550

Yahweh promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by Yahweh, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in Yahweh’s resolve, and in Yahweh’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of Yahweh. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohû wabohû and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness. 551

Chapter 18, The Drama of Partnership with Yahweh, closes and summarizes Part III of the theology which discusses the testimony derived from God's relationship with His covenant partners. This is very important because, really, God's character can only be known in the revelation of Himself made to and through these partners. Brueggemann summarizes the OT witness to God's relationship with His partners as a pattern of creation blessing, brokenness from covenant failure resulting in chaos/death/exile, and finally restoration to hope and blessedness. Christianity builds on this pattern with the addition of crucifixion and resurrection. In this drama of partnership there is always a tension between God's freedom and sovereignty to defend His holy otherness and His compassion and commitment to covenant. The partner has an obligation to call out to God and be an active member of this partnership. The OT witness is that God responds to the call from "the pit" and will restore the exile to their land, the chaos to a place of blessing and abundance, the hopelessly oppressed to a viable hope and the dead to life. It is this story of blessing, abundance, restoration, help and hope that provides the needed answer to the enlightenment story of scarcity, loneliness and despair.

The person in the Pit is not to be passive and docile, awaiting the initiative of Yahweh. The whole pattern of the psalms of complaint suggests that in the Pit, the human person can and must initiate the process of rescue by shrill protest and insistent hope. It is not possible or appropriate, in the horizon of Israel, to worry about works and grace in such a transaction, because the mutuality of covenanting requires that both parties should be mightily engaged in the demanding, hopeful act of rescue. 554

Yahweh, who is addressed and reached in the nullity, is known in Israel to be a God willing and able to enact a radical newness for each of Yahweh’s partners, a newness that the partners cannot work for themselves. This newness is deeply shaped by Yahweh’s initial acts of sovereign generosity, but it runs well beyond the imagination of those in the nullity...This drama of brokenness and restoration is the primary outcome of the transactions between Yahweh and Yahweh’s partners. 558

At the culmination of Israel’s portrayal of reality is a certitude and a vision of newness, a full restoration to well-being that runs beyond any old well-being. This culmination in well-being, assured by the resolve of Yahweh, is articulated in the conclusion of most psalms of complaint and in prophetic promises that eventuate in messianic and apocalyptic expectations. Israel’s speech witnesses to profound hope, based in the promise-maker and promise-keeper for whom all things are possible. 561

No comments: