Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Unsettling God : The Heart of the Hebrew Bible

An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible

An Unsettling God : The Heart of the Hebrew Bible by Walter Brueggemann is an honest reading. It is an honest grappling with the text of the Old Testament. John Goldingay's remarks however summarize this reading succinctly. He notes, ""An unsettling God? 'An unsettling Walter Brueggemann' some of my students would say." This book is a real look by a real scholar concerning the peculiarities of the Old Testament concerning YHWH as a dialogical character and His partnership with Israel, the human person, the Nations, and Creation.

This text itself is a condensing of Brueggemann's larger work, "Theology of the Old Testament". In the Preface he lets us know that "The big idea of this book is that the God of ancient Israel is a God in relationship, who is ready and able to make commitments and who is impinged upon by a variety of "partners" who make a difference in the life of God." (pg. xi) Indeed a God in relationship "pervades the Old Testament".

In the first chapter Brueggemann suggests Christians "in the present time" are to undergo a "recovery of the  Jewishness in our ways of reading the text." (pg. 6) He says that "a recurring Christian propensity is to give closure to our readings and interpretations, it is recurringly Jewish to recognize that our readings are always provisional, because there is always another text, always another commentary, always another rabbinic midrash that moves beyond any particular reading." He also discusses Martin Buber and his likewise dialogic reading of the text. There is truth to this but we cannot leave it here. Even as we read the text, all the while understanding a dialogic nature, and then re-read the text again and again over time we still glean truths that emerged from our initial readings. The meaning is then found in a relational aspect since much of the Scriptures appear to be pregnant with meaning. This should not mean however that there is no discernible meaning even at first reading.

He goes on to discuss how God is a God in pathos. God's pathos, "concerns the engagement of YHWH with Israel and with the world, and therefore YHWH's vulnerability and readiness to be impinged upon." (pg. 9) He mentions the work of Abraham Heschel concerning YHWH's pathos. He then writes, "the peculiar character of this God is as available agent who is not only able to act but is available to be acted upon." (pg. 9) He also notes the work of Jurgen Moltmann and the ways Christian theology has "asserted the apatheia of acknowledging the suffering of the Son in which the Father does not participate." (pg. 10) Moltmann believes that "it is necessary to talk in trinitarian terms" concerning "what happened between Jesus and his God and Father on the cross..." He also notes "The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son." (pg. 11)  Brueggeman agrees here and says that "Moltmann's statement is completely congruent, in the categories of Christian theology..." For Brueggeman God is "deeply at risk in the drama of fidelity and infidelity in the world." (pg. 11) 

In chapter five Brueggeman goes on to point out that "YHWH takes creation--the whole known, visible world--to be YHWH's partner." He points to Genesis 1-2 as obvious example and says others not so obvious.  He cites various passages in this chapter including Psalm 19:1-4; Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 104:14-23. He defines creation as "the network of living organisms that provides a viable context and home for the human outcome of YHWH"s generous, sovereign freedom." (pg. 138) Often times we do not take into account God's role with creation. Brueggeman rejects Creation ex nihlo and posits that God "ordered the 'preexistent material substratum.'" (Pg. 138) 

He goes on to note that creation includes "human creatures but not especially human creatures--are looked after, cared for, sustained, and protected by the generous guarantees that the Creator has embedded in the creation." (pg. 139) YHWH gives the "blessing of life" as "guarantees for all creatures" (pg. 141) and wisdom compels us to give attention to things that "keep the world generative." (pg. 141) 

Speaking of a "Renewed Creation out of Hopelessness" Brueggeman brings our attention to Hosea 2:2-23. He notes that on the basis of this text that "the future to be given by YHWH, it is no longer possible to keep distinct the future of Israel and the future of creation..." (pg. 157) He takes us into many texts but cites Isaiah 65:17-25 and says that the "new creation now promised concerns not only Israel, not only the entire human community, but also all of creation, so that hostilities at every level and in every dimension of creation will be overcome." (pg. 160)

Brueggeman concludes that there is a "basis for a genuine alternative to the nihilism of the modern world...This testimony of Israel, echoed by Christianity, not only gives different answers--it insists on different questions, wherein the answers offered are...tenuous...the intramural quarrels in the church, and the ancient alienations between Christians and Jews, are unconscionable...when this lean, resilient tradition stands as a fragile alternative to the embrace of the Nihil." (pg. 176)

This book is not for the faint of heart, or the "weekend warrior". If you are a student of the word and want to dive into the heart of the Hebrew Bible then read this book. You may not agree with everything but you will learn something.

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