Thursday, February 19, 2015

Springs of Water in the Desert





Israel experienced a purgative experience during the time she wandered in the wilderness. Her wandering lasted forty years. Travel through the wilderness would have initially been a short one. The relatively short time that it would have taken them to travel from Sinai to the promised land would have constituted the interval of time in which she would have spent in the desolate desert. However, while on the borders of the promised land she buckled under the weight of her own unbelief. She failed to trust in the promise of the Lord and because she failed to trust the Lord she questioned His goodness and kindness. She questioned His integrity. She questioned His person. This led to the forty years of wandering in the desert in which the Lord would teach Israel to believe.

The wilderness experience was a formative one for the people of Israel. After the forty years had been completed and the people found themselves once again on the borders of the promised land, the purgative function of the wanderings had borne much fruit. The people were ready and able to enter the Land of Promise as the Lord had commanded them. They received the testimony of the Law, as well as the rest of what we know as the Pentateuch just before the entered the land. They were poised to embark on their divinely appointed task to claim the land. Subsequent history will show that the Israelites did not lose sight of this formative experience. 
As Palmer Robertson notes in his helpful volume on the wilderness motif, the historical reality of the wilderness served to inform the religious experience of later Israelites. The Psalms are particularly useful in this connection. In remembering the mighty acts of God on her behalf, Israel was able to sing of the glory of the Lord and to life up voices of praise and thanksgiving. He provided Israel with safety and sustenance (Psalm 105). The Psalms also use the wilderness tradition to underline personal guilt (e.g., Psalm 95, 106). Finally, Robertson notes, the Psalms use the wilderness tradition to remind the people of Israel to trust in the Lord and follow His ways (Psalm78). The Israelites saw in the wilderness experience of their ancestors a representation of their own present experience and calling. It was an historical moment that provided them with the means by which to examine their present experiences. This line is picked up in the prophets in which the prophets look forward to both a time of wilderness wandering and renewal. The way the prophets view this wilderness and renewal is fascinating. Isa 41:17-18 reads:

17When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the LORD will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Verse 18b says "I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." Verses 19-20 continue further in this direction and speak of the fructifying of the wilderness. Anyone who would look upon this will know that it has been by the hand of God. This is a breath-taking statement. It is breath-taking because while it certainly uses imagery tied to the wilderness as a place of want and destitution, it suggests that the wilderness is not something to be traversed, but transformed.

God brought the people of Israel through the wilderness to a land of plenty. The wilderness was but one aspect of the journey, albeit a difficult one. It was a place of destitution and want, a dangerous and harrowing place. However, when God is present, it is a place not to be feared but embraced. One embraces the wilderness experience not as an end in itself, but only ever as a context in which to embrace God more fully and to experience the riches of His divine grace. His presence and promise indicate that the inhospitable place is but a light momentary affliction.   
At least one principle difference distinguishes the wilderness wandering of the Exodus generation and the wilderness as a motif in the prophets.  The former can be left behind by taking just one more step. The latter, however, can only be left behind by way of a divine act.  When the wilderness seems to encompass the whole world, then the wilderness itself must transform into something altogether different. The prophets envision Israel living in a wilderness and while living in such an inhospitable environ they would behold the wilderness sprout into an arboreal paradise. This suggests that the people of God have moved past wandering or traveling to a point of waiting.

The people of God wait for Him to act and do what only He can do: change the world. The time of wilderness will elide into the time of paradise. This is not just a step in the right direction; it is the hopeful expectation of the end for which God created the world. The people of God wait. The wait is an active one, for just as the word of God was to condition every step of the pilgrimage of the Exodus generation, the Gospel of the Lord conditions every aspect of the manner in which we wait. This is the hope about which the prophets prophesied.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Need for a Miracle

God created man for communion with Himself.  Surely there is more to the question of the relationship between God and man than this, but it is at least this.  Without entering at this point  into the complex questions associated with the nature of the image of God, we may confidently assert that God made man in His image.  Being then the image of God, man possesses a peculiar status not had by any other created reality (whether animate, or inanimate; whether physical or spiritual).


This communion is not inviolable.   It can be hindered or disrupted.  The only thing that could hinder or disrupt communion with God is sin.  When a man or a woman think it in their best interest to do what God forbids, he or she transgresses God's will and thus becomes a transgressor.  Sin separates man from God. This is a mockery. 

God's holiness is His attribute that distinguishes Him from the creation.  It speaks of his transcendence.  Though it distinguishes Him from His creation and in this sense separates Him from it, it does not press against the creation to drive it from His presence.  God's holiness embraces the creation; it envelops it.  Sin is the contrary of this.  it is a mock holiness that shrouds the human soul in darkness.  It distinguishes him from his Creator by enveloping him in corruption.  This anti-holiness is repulsive, not simply as something against which one might recoil, but it positively drives away.  It is a hunger.  It is consumption. Sin is the cloak of the darkened heart that distinguishes it from its Creator.  Sin breaks communion.

Because God is who He is, and because sin is what it is, God must judge it.  It is the antithesis of God, so it must be destroyed. It must be removed.  A dilemma arises at this point.  

Sin hinders, disrupts and breaks communion with God.  If God were to judge it, to remove it from His presence, then the person whom He had made in His image would no longer be in a position to fellowship with God.  Therefore, communion would no longer be possible.  However, if God did not judge a person's sin, the person would remain in an estate of sin.  His sin would still separate him from God and therefore communion would no longer be possible.  Whether He judges sin or not, once sin enters into the picture, God can no longer have fellowship with the man whom He made in His image.

How then can communion with God be restored?  Somehow sin must be judged and judged in such a way that divine justice is satisfied, and the person who committed the sin might yet live.  This requires a miracle.

The miracle required is one in which someone who is life itself could embrace the judgment of God and exhaust the full weight of His holy fury. Who else could do this but God Himself?  

Jumping ahead in the realm of theological discourse, Christians say that God the Father, sent God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit to secure salvation for His people.  The Son of God made flesh is that miracle.  It is a miracle of such grandeur that it eclipses creation in the magnitude of its beauty.  Had it not been for Jesus Christ, God the Son made flesh, humankind would know only the shadow and then the reality of death.  But because of Christ, the Father has clothed man in His own holiness.    



     

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Theological Exegesis (Hermeneutics)

I am somewhat of a latecomer to the world of 'theological' exegesis. Several books have come out recently in which the authors explain what it is (or at least what their particular take on it is). Other books have been published in which a specifically theological approach to the biblical text is used and celebrated. I have haphazardly danced around the periphery of the topic and the discussion surrounding it, entering the arena here and there, but with no clear objective for engaging with the material. Recently while reading through the inimitable John Webster's essay Hermeneutics in Modern Theology: Some Doctrinal Reflections found in his book Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics, I came across his five theses from which he works in constructing a distinctly theological hermeneutic (pp.57-58). I believe implementing these will go a long way towards providing one with the 'tools' for a properly and robustly theological exegesis:

1. There is no single thing called 'understanding,' and those traditions of modern theology which accept responsibility for articulating or responding to any such phenomenon have in fact usually been recommending a certain anthropology as a transcendental condition for Christian theology. Much greater headway can be made by adopting a low-level approach, in which hermeneutics is as it were 're-regionalized,' and the foundational task of elaborating a hermeneutical phenomenology of interpretive subject is abandoned.

2. the chief task of such a re-regionalized theological hermeneutics is not the construction of better theory to ground Christian reading of the Bible but construction of theory which makes sense of that reading by depiction. Its main business, in other words, is making a map of particular, historical, social and spiritual space within which this interpretation occurs, without worrying about inquiring into the (anthropological) conditions of possibility for there being such a space at all.

3. Such a depiction of the 'space' of Christian reading of the Bible is a matter of making a Christian theological construal of the field of reality within which such reading occurs. It is, in effect, a hermeneutical ontology which is required, although the governance of theology requires that this ontology be quite other than a religiously-tinted metaphysic or phenomenology.

4. Accordingly, the language, conceptuality and modes of explanation of a Christian construal of the hermeneutical situation will not be pre-doctrinal. It is a theological theory which is required, not an essay in the interpretation of Christian symbols understood as penultimate expressions of something more humanly basic. As theological theory it is enclosed and determined by the positum of Christian theology--particularly, the Credo of the church, ultimately the Word of God--to which it is responsible and in response to which it is a movement of intellectual self-articulation.

5. Most of all: theological hermeneutics will be confident and well-founded if it says much of the reality which is the axiom of all Christian life and thought: the living, speaking reality of the risen Jesus Christ present in the Spirit to the assembly of God's people.