Friday, April 12, 2013

The God of war and violence

There is an exploration about God and violence here. In order to keep 'inspiration', the writer, Jeremy Myers, has to invoke a bit of double-think. That God inspired the error in Scripture.

I agree that this gets around the problem but what does it mean but that we have to put our brains in gear to read history. (Scripture is historical - but much of it didn't happen of course.)

Jeremy recognizes that the theological advice of Job's friends is suspect. This is the first step towards reading Job as parable. Yes, the man there was from the land of Uz is a parable, a once-upon-a-time story. The second step is to see in the opening of Job a direct confrontation with the theology of Deuteronomy 28. Ticciati (Job and the Disruption of Identity) contends that what is "at stake in the book of Job is ... the Deuteronomic Covenant itself." So this book has much in common with e.g. Psalm 89 where the promises to David are questioned. Job can even be seen as an image of Israel during its trial in exile. Just to touch on the direct allusions to the covenant, consider the successive destruction of Job's livestock and children, Deuteronomy 28:31-32 and the final straw, Job 2:7 echoes Deuteronomy 28:35. All this in the context of blessings and cursings.

The third step is to realize that the book of Job describes itself as parable. Therefore the 'history' is irrelevant. What is history about Job is that this discourse was written some 2500 or so years ago. They wrote literature in those days too. Job is a literary setup to argue a point or two of theology.  To read it as life is to make it a horror story. Such a reading completely undermines the tenderness in this text.

Part of the theological problem is a set of words which are indefinable: God, spirit, divine, inspired, etc. These rapidly become a house of cards within our thought process, because in thinking, writing, and conversation, the indefinable is poorly used.  Example: use the divine passive (safe) rather than God as subject of a sentence (unsafe).  The divine passive is safe because the actor remains indeterminate.  Theological discourse is a knife-edge.

So what do I do with my warrior King? (Exodus 15:3).
יְהוָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה יְהוָ֖ה שְׁמֹֽו. 
And what will I do with Amalek? (Exodus 17:16).
וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַיהוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר
This is a fascinating phrase - literally: And he said, for the hand on the throne of Yah (not the full name) is war in Amalek from generation to generation.

(Whose hand is on the throne of Yah?) I also ponder that command among many to destroy the Amalekites. Surely we have here a comment that borders on allegory directly in the Scripture itself - just as Job attacks the assumptions of Deuteronomy.  If you will have it, Egypt is the world, and Amalek the flesh. But the allegory is a rationalization (slight improvement on double-think). We must somehow find the tenderness in the warrior.

I said in a recent post,
The character of the Lord is again determined by his actions, frequently listed in the psalms, and never (outside the recitals of the canonical history and the eschatological hope) are they violent or creating the poor and the displaced. The God who promises is not a God who fulfills promises by violence.
Then I said - I had work to do to substantiate this. Well, I think I can. There is this way of putting it:

The God who becomes incarnate takes all violence into himself. (Careful, this is not a long distance cop-out).

So - who is this God who becomes incarnate? When did this God start doing this? God's violence is attributed to God by the Biblical writers. From the point of view of Israel, escape from slavery was God's work. Egypt reaped its just reward. (And God was grieved.) Once redeemed, the people rebel and spend some time reaping their own consequences. (And God was grieved. Read Psalm 78.) Their weakness is exemplified in the objectivized enemy, Amalek.

Yet God still plants the people in their land. In the land, enemies abound, troubles are plentiful, the people want a king, and the king takes full advantage of power. (And God was grieved.) The line of kings fails (Psalm 89). The people are exiled. Turning the captivity of Israel is frequent in the psalms (e.g. 14, 53, one of the doubled psalms). The destruction of the enemy is Israel's prayer but it takes time to realize how much of the enemy is in themselves.

We have this canonical history, a history of a rebellious and self-serving people with rebellious and self-serving leaders and a history of violent redemption attributed to God. Is this to be an example of redemption for the world, an example of good and evil, of love and destruction, of merciful and merciless? What else does one do with children who have to learn good and evil? What then are we to learn from this canonical example, wrenched out of a violent history?

Why should we have any hope with such an example? Perhaps it is just the wonder of the tenderness that is shown to us through others who care. Is the final hope still subject to violence because the violent and self-serving still manage to get their way in this life?  What is the consequence? The destruction of the earth as described by Isaiah 24:6 - probably reflecting an observer in war.  I noted the rhetoric of this passage here. You can ignore the funny letters - just look at the shape. 24:6 is right in the middle - and does it not describe the lust for wealth and the consequence for the earth and for us?  Do not our actions today result in injustice that will bring about a similar result?

Who will deliver us then?  The God who takes on the consequences of all violence? That is the theory of the incarnation but maybe there is no deus ex machina acting here, but rather the God of Psalm 146 - whose present action is restoration and healing and who achieves this result through the actions of a people who have learned mercy (Psalm 149). If we imitate those actions in the ongoing present tense that are attributed to God, then we too will be taking on the healing of the world rather than its destruction.

But wait - what if I don't want to, um, take on the violence of this world? It's more than a bit inconvenient. I prefer to use avoidance strategies. There is an argument for delay. Healing takes time too. Wait for the right time, but obey the command when it comes - Don't be like horse and mule (Psalm 32). In the canonical story of the new song, even Jesus slipped away from the crowds (who would have thrown him off a cliff, Luke 4:29), or let others take the heat when the moment was not right (as at the death of the innocents when Rachel was weeping for her children, Matthew 2:18).