Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vengeance and violence

David Ker has a provocative post. I admit I have not been reading all of David's posts - too many cartoons this year. I really am too serious. But this man is a creative writer and he is spending himself for others. And his questions have raised an abnormally 'interesting' conversation.

Why have I come to love the TNK and how do I put up with the fierce God of the OT? And not to mention the purity laws which I do not follow and the clobber texts and the desire for vengeance in the Psalms and the ban in Joshua and so on and on and on.

Over the years I have had various responses to these questions. I read Peter Craigie's The Problem of War in the Old Testament, and though I loved Peter before his untimely death years ago in a car accident, and I am delighted that his son Gregor is our morning show host on CBC Victoria, and though I have read the book twice, I cannot say that I understand the problem as problem or that I need to remember any particular solution. Craigie treats war as parable and stresses that the whole parable must be read to learn its lessons - not just the wars of conquest but also the defeats. His 120 page essay is not to be reduced to a soundbite. There is, however, more than war in the OT. But his suggested approaches are not why I love this human record.

I writing this after a busy and stretched day. I have been stretched in the exercise of rigid logic. How can I pretend to be a theologian or a Biblical interpreter when I understand how easy it is to be wrong. I have spent my life in software. I know bugs and incompleteness and unexpected results and things that won't ever deliver value. If such obvious things are incomplete, how can any reading of Scripture be complete? How can any one of us frame an argument that is without holes? How can the lawyers or the priests or the scribes or the scholars convince us of anything with accuracy?

They can't. Why then, would God be able to do it? He didn't. He lets consequences happen and we interpret within whatever framework we must. This is as true for 'His Word' as it is for any other book or set of books. There are all sorts of incompletenesses, errors, omissions, and things we read that we should not take as good examples.

Re the violence - I used to be an allegorizer. Amalekites are the flesh. Egypt is the world. Of temporizing use perhaps. I.e. only allegorize while you are treading water to catch your breath. In fact, Egypt is loved and so is Amalek. I have heard about Marcion - but the bridle of blood is no less evident in the NT. So how about a universalist absorption of violence? Isn't that what the cross has done? Maybe in part and maybe even theoretically, but practically, in the hands of Christendom, it has a bad reputation. The words won't justify the failure of action and the failure in action. Christendom needed to collapse and it has. Its teachers did not know their own story and did not know the power that this death accomplishes in those who hear. Nor did it acknowledge the rule of God "O'er heathen lands afar", where "thick darkness broodeth yet!" Such talk is colonial. It does not know of what Spirit it speaks.

But I am still stuck - so why do I spend my time reading TNK and that slowly? Not to justify it. But because it points me to a choice I do not seem to have invented, to an anointing not preached to me but which can be found, to a chosen nation and an anointed man, and to the way real things happen and real teaching to a real me as part of this election. This God is free. Free to chose or not. Free to ignore, Free to correct. I will know as I have been known. I have been known so I will know. I will read out and I will read in to these texts in the joy of the knowledge that has been read into me and that speaks in me.

There is so much hurt in this world. You can't move without noticing. How can one 'find words' to bring a hint of the comfort that is available to the elect but that is not yet entered into?

As Craigie writes at the end of his essay:

What is remarkable about the wars of Israel is the religious insight with which they were recorded and understood. God was believed to participate in human history; in this belief, the Israelites were not unique. But from no other Near Eastern nation did there emerge a vision of peace and an anticipation of the redemption of all mankind as there did from the disastrous defeat of the Hebrew people in war.
Perhaps I should have chosen the great lament of Psalm 89, but what occurs to me is the invitation from Psalm 34.

determined I sought יְהוָה and he heard me
and from all my fears he delivered me
him they paid attention to and were radiant
and their faces were not embarrassed
zis poor one calls and יְהוָה hears

Now you must read the whole acrostic diatribe on Psalm 34. David, it seems we have been wrestling with this question of our violence for some time. Don't let go till you are blessed.

1 comment:

David Ker said...

I believe cartoons are serious. ;-) There is an impact in visual versus verbal communication that I am exploring.

Thank you for this wonderful reflection on your journey, all our journeys actually. While I am purportedly doing this for my students it is of course at the most basic level a personal struggle. I wonder about the arbitrariness of our exegesis. Either we make sophistical houses of cards that model "proper exegesis" or we wield Alexander's sword and hope that it is two-edged. I'm increasingly seeing the latter as the more reasonable method.