Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wrath? Yes!

The notion of the wrath of God is not a pleasant one. Indeed the modern consciousness resists it mightily. Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is cited often, but only for negative and antiquarian reasons, that is, an example of a time and a theology that are long gone. Again, however, a dismissal of this notion may be simplistic and reflective of a tendency to cut the moral nerve of our theology. The wrath of God is a metaphor, an anthropomorphic figure, to express the conviction that there is in the universe a moral connection, that the love and mercy of God are not apart from or understandable without the justice of God. Sin is not finally, and in the Bible never actually, an abstract notion. . . . It is a breakdown in the nature of relationship, a moral breach that always has consequences . . . It is not a divine appetite that confession seeks to satisfy, but a divine nature that is just and insists that the universe reflect that justice.— Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994) 247–48; cited in Standing in the Breach, page 239 (emphasis original)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Carta Online!

Carta has a new online program coming soon. It looks great; they are going to premier it in Boston at AAR/SBL in November. You can get a preview here: https://vimeo.com/230358095/8dba570479

Figurative language? Or literal? Is there a difference?

The traditional position, both in philosophy and in linguistics – and indeed the everyday view – is that (1) there is a stable and unambiguous notion of literality, and (2) that there is a sharp distinction to be made between literal language, on the one hand, and non-literal or figurative language on the other. According to this view, while literal language is precise and lucid, figurative language is imprecise, and is largely the domain of poets and novelists. In his 1994 book The Poetics of Mind, cognitive psychologist and cognitive linguist Raymond Gibbs examined this issue. Based on a close examination of the key features that are held to distinguish literal and figurative language, and based on a wide-ranging survey of different kinds of psycholinguistic experiments aimed at uncovering such a distinction, Gibbs found that there is no evidence for a principled distinction between literal and figurative language.—Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, p. 287

All that's left…

Like so often in the psalms, David entrusts himself to Yhwh’s mercy (cf. Ps 51:1 [MT 51:3]). Divine mercy is one of the fundamental attributes that Yhwh has revealed to Moses in the aftermath of Israel’s archetypal sin, the golden calf (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Exod 34:6). Since then, Israel has invoked divine mercy, as one of the last resorts, like one who has nothing left to claim for oneself, but to throw oneself to the “womb pity” of God (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Dan 9:18).—Standing in the Breach, page 237

Friday, September 15, 2017

How does this king thing work anyway?

The prophets speak on behalf of God to the people, while the kings are called to rule and judge wisely on behalf of the divine King. The prophets are called to stand in the breach on behalf of the sinful people, whereas the kings have the responsibility of protecting the people against earthly enemies (cf. Ps 72). Unlike the prophet, the king’s role is not primarily advocating for the people before the heavenly throne and speaking to the people on behalf of God. In fact, it is interesting to note that God communicates to a person as great and pious as King David through the prophets Nathan and Gad. Having said this, Israel’s kings also intercede occasionally for the people.—Standing in the Breach, page 224

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Worship wars, part 2

From The Christian Week
I have recently had the opportunity to visit two of the most popular churches in my city. They both had something in common when it came to worship. First, both had very good worship bands that were obviously very talented. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed (or right out) and the lights were on the band. The band only played a few songs and most of the congregation listened instead of singing along. Basically, both churches put on very nice and professional Christian music concerts.
I’m seeing and hearing a lot of this in the last several years.

Back some 15 years ago, while we still lived in the Twin Cities, we went to a all-city gathering of a megachurch that had local campuses scattered throughout the city, such that each branch was only a couple of hundred. Our daughter was involved with one of the branches and invited us to join her for the big gathering, advertised as a worship service. The first 30–45 minutes were basically a big concert, complete with light show. Truly spectacular, but I wouldn’t have called it worship; the songs were not singable by a congregation and there was no attempt to involve the congregation. It was just a (well-done) concert.

Sadly, that seems to have become the norm in many places—and not just megachurches, either. : ( Maybe I’m an old man waxing nostalgic, but I seem to recall that once upon a time people would enjoy sitting on the floor and singing (admittedly not very good or theologically deep) choruses together. If somebody could play a couple of chords on the guitar, they would accompany, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was the body was together and sharing.

That seems to be dead now. People talk about getting together for a Bible study, and you enquire about the format. Response, “Oh, we’ll throw in a CD and sing along with some well-known Christian artist for a song or two, then we’ll throw in a teaching DVD by a well-known Christian teacher.” My question, “Is there any interaction on the part of those there?” Response, “Oh, sure, we’ll discuss the teaching a little bit, but hey, what do we know compared to the teacher?”

The Reformation is dead.
</idle musing>

Justice? What is justice?

In the Old Testament, justice always describes a relationship between two entities. When applied to God, the terms for justice can be used with reference to the relationship between God and the world, between God and society, or between God and individuals. Correspondingly, when applied to humanity, justice can refer to the relationship between an individual and the world, between an individual and God, or between an individual and society. The relational aspect of justice gives it a dynamic and process-driven character. That is to say, justice can increase and decrease, it can be attributed or denied, and therefore ultimately remains elusive.

The motif of justice in the Old Testament has two axes: divine justice and human justice. Both axes involve—albeit with different emphases—cosmological, historical, anthropological, theological, and ethical dimensions. Both axes share three further aspects: the belief in justice, the problematizing of justice, and the redefining of justice.—The Development of God in the Old Testament, page 30

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There are limits!

The outcome of Samuel’s prayer (1 Sam 15:11) is already foreshadowed in the prophet’s warning that was voiced in the context of his commitment to pray for both people and king: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Sam 12:25). We find the same dynamics in Deut 10:12–22. There intercessory prayer for pardon can only be effective in the long run, if the prayed-for party returns to Yhwh and His ways. In the case of Saul, we have seen that there are indicators that suggest that his repentance was not genuine. This understanding of intercessory prayer is strongly endorsed in Jeremiah’s intercessory activity. Jeremiah has to learn as well that there comes a time when intercessory prayer for the disobedient party is rendered ineffective and judgment takes over, if the party itself does not return to God (cf. Jer 15:1). In spite of the prophets’ persistent warnings and prayers, Israel persisted in their disobedience. The prophetic warning materialized in 721 and 587 B.C.E.—Standing in the Breach, page 222

<idle musing>
Yes, there are limits to how long. I was in a discussion with someone a week or two ago who thinks that it is "too late" for the US and the Western world. Personally, I don't agree. Anyone who has read about ancient Greece and then compares it to modern western society would have to agree that western society still looks puritanical compared to them … and look at the success of the early church in those areas! If only we would spend more time praying and less time soapboxing, maybe we'd see the same results.

Of course, praying isn't as "sexy" and doesn't bring the personal accolades. And big gatherings, proclaiming victory over the darkness, are much easier than the moment-by-moment death to self necessary for real victory over the darkness.

But the call remains. It's our choice to obey it—or not.

Whose praise would you prefer? Society's? Your subgroup's? Or God's?

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Are you listening?

This pattern of informing the prophetic mediator is categorically spelled out in Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” Particularly in the case of Moses’ advocacy, I have argued that Yhwh does not just make the prophet privy to His intentions for information’s sake, but Yhwh does it because He seeks to elicit an intercessory response from the mediator (cf. Exod 32:10, Num 14:12, Deut 9:14). Moses responds to what is most likely a concealed divine invitation to plead for mercy by imploring the Lord: “why does your wrath burn hot against your people. . . . Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind (נחם [nḥm]) and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exod 14–32:11). As a result of Moses’ prayer, Yhwh changed His mind (נחם [nḥm]). about the intended judgment (Exod 32:15). So when we read in 1 Samuel 15 that “The Word of the Lord came to Samuel,” saying that God regretted (נחם [nḥm]) that He made Saul king because of his disobedience, we are most likely to understand that Yhwh is not only informing Samuel in characteristic fashion about His plans, but also that God is inviting a response from His prophet.—Standing in the Breach, page 209

<idle musing>
Are you listening to God? Are you hearing him say he's going to judge? If so, maybe instead of getting on your soapbox and condemning everything, you should get on your knees and intercede. OK, forget the maybe. You definitely should get on your knees and intercede. Then, and only then, do you have a right (and responsibility) to warn the people.

My experience (limited though it may be) is that if I start blasting without interceding first, it's out of a self-righteous attitude. On the other hand, if I intercede first, I find that I'm crying out for them because of love, not with a judgmental attitude. Try it!
</idle musing>

Monday, September 11, 2017

No silver bullet

In the context of Moses’ prayer, as recorded in Deuteronomy 9–10, there is good reason to argue that the efficacy of the intercessor’s prayer is dependent on the reception of the prophets’ instructions (cf. Deut 10:12–22). In other words, the response of the guilty party plays a decisive role in whether the mediator’s prayer is answered or not. Only if the sin is recognized and confessed, and one is committed to do so no more, is the mediator’s intercession likely to be effective long-term. This dynamic of biblical intercession is further confirmed in the context of Jeremiah’s intercessory ministry. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Samuel’s speech ends in a warning that reminds of the covenant curses as we find them in the book of Deuteronomy: “you shall surely perish” (Deut 8:20, 27).—Standing in the Breach, page 205