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imagination“If Scripture is ever again to be a living source for theology, those who practice theology must become less preoccupied with the world that produced Scripture and learn again how to live in the world Scripture produces.  This will be a matter of imagination, and perhaps of leaping…

The world imagined by Scripture is considerably smaller than the human world.  It is obvious that the spatial world of Scripture is tiny compared to the cosmos of Carl Sagan.  The temporal world of Scripture hardly is to be compared with the history of time, according to Stephen Hawking.  The world imagined by Scripture also is small when one considers the wide range of possible human activities.  Scripture has a fairly limited sensibility…

In another way, the world of Scripture also is larger than that of ordinary human endeavor.  Scripture imagines a world more richly furnished than our own, including angels and demons and assorted spirits of a sort not recognized by Sagan and Hawking.  Most of all, its world contains (or perhaps is contained by) God, which makes it the biggest of all possible worlds…

[All of these various ‘worlds’] are both less and more than this physical space and time.  Their imaginings open up the human perception of the here and now.  As a result, this moment and this place look different by being placed in a larger space and longer history…We now act thus and not so because we conceive the world to be constructed in this way and not that.  The world constructed by Scripture also provides an opening to new perceptions of the here and now, and provides options for disposing of this and that in ways not otherwise imaginable…

People act on the basis of the imagined world in which they dwell, and by acting on what they imagine, they help establish their worlds as real.  Those acting on the imaginings of a Sagan or a Hawking make the world of Sagan and Hawking more real and less imaginary.  So also those who act on the basis of the imaginary world of Scripture make it less imaginary and more real–a dream shared is a dream less in danger of disappearance.  Living in any of these worlds requires a fundamental acceptance of its premises, an adjustment of vision according to its perceptions, and a decision to act as though these premises and perceptions were not only real but valid…By so seeing and acting we turn the world imagined by Scripture into the real world in which we live and move…

Theology is the name we give to the effort of our minds to grasp the world conjured by God and construed by the Scriptures.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, “Imagining the World Scripture Imagines,” in Theology and Scriptural Imagination, eds. L. Gregory Jones and James J. Buckley, pp. 3-4)

lament“Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote [after his son died in a mountain climbing accident].  The answer is, No.  The wound is no longer raw.  But it has not disappeared.  That is as it should be.  If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over.  Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved.  That worth abides.

So I own my grief.  I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it.  I do not try to dis-own it.  If someone asks, ‘Who are you, tell me about yourself,’ I say–not immediately, but shortly–‘I am one who lost a son.’  That loss determines my identity; not all of my identity, but much of it.  It belongs within my story. Lament is part of life…

Every lament is a love-song.  Will love-songs one day no longer be laments?” (Nicholas WolterstorffLament For A Son, pp. 5-6)

Story and Imagination

clines“To the degree that the hearer or reader of the story is imaginatively seized by the story, to that degree he or she ‘enters’ the world of the story.  That means that the reader of the story, when powerfully affected by it, becomes a participant of its world.  One learns, by familiarity with the story, one’s way about its world, until it becomes one’s own world too.” (David J. A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch, p. 102)

david“The biblical portrait of David seems uncannily consistent: nearly everything that he is said to have done seems to fit pretty well with everything else.  The David who emerges from this narrative [in 1-2 Samuel] is striking in another way as well: it would be no exaggeration, I think, to describe him as the most vigorous, realistic, and in some ways the most human of all the Bible’s heroes.  If Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah scale the vertical axis of human existence, the one that leads from earth to heaven, David, by contrast, spans a good part of the horizontal one.  The Bible certainly does not idealize him, but he is all the more appealing for that.  No bit of human hope and despair, bravura and foolishness and bitter melancholy, smoldering hatred and deepest love, is foreign to him…David may be the Bible’s best character because he is no character at all.” (James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now, p. 492)

“In the course of its historical pilgrimage Israel cried out to God from the depth of its distress in the name of David, the one in whom Israel found its existence before God portrayed.” (Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak For Us Today, 3rd ed., p. 45)

PoetryPurpose“Can we therefore conclude that the Hebrew term ‘meditation’ suggests something like romantic self-consciousness—a self-consciousness that expresses itself essentially in monologue?  The answer is that the Psalms are not monologues, but insistently and at all times dialogue, poems of the self but of the self in the mutuality of relationship with the other…Here [in the Psalter] the self in meditation is immediately confronted with a ‘Thou’…In fact we do not have here an autonomous ego at all: the ‘I’ of the poem is in a real sense constituted by the dialogue with the ‘Thou.’  There is no ‘person’ behind the ‘I’ whose existence can be separated from that relationship…

To speak of relationality pure and simple is, however, misleading.  The Psalms are not exercises in existential philosophy; we are not speaking of an encounter for the sake of merely discovering the existence of the other and of the self in relation to the other.  The ‘Thou’ answers the plea of the ‘I’ and that answer signals a change in the opening situation.  The Psalms are in this sense dynamic, they involve action, purpose.  W. H. Auden said in his elegy on the death of Yeats, ‘For poetry makes nothing happen.’  This is not true of the Psalms.  In nearly every psalms something does happen.  The encounter between the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ is the signal for a change not merely in the inner realm of consciousness but in the realm of outer events…

Just as the initial sorrow had arisen from an external cause, so the joyous outcome of the crisis links that joy with ‘thy salvation’–[salvation] here as always signifying triumph in the realm of physical action…We are emphatically in the realm of political and historical experience.  The situation at the end of the psalm is not the same as that at the beginning.  If at its opening the psalm takes us from the ‘world’ into the inner realm of consciousness, it likewise and with an equally determined movement takes us back at the end into a realm of outer events.  The psalmist knows ‘the passion and the life whose fountains are within,’ but he does not remain in that zone, for the God who meets us in the interior drama of the soul is the same God who acts mightily in history.  This is a scandal to the many Bible critics who offer purely ‘psychological’ readings of this psalm and others, seeking to preserve the purity of religion from the contamination of history and politics…This becomes an article of faith for D. Robertson, who declares that ‘the Israelite community knows what Shelley knows, that no petition from them is going to lead God to make human life basically different.’  This is not what the Israelite community knows: it knows that, mysterious though the ways of God are, there is still a potency in prayer, a power not to be rigidly separated from outer events in the ‘world’–‘this poor man cried and the Lord heard, and saved him out of all his troubles’ (34:6).  Precisely here is the cutting edge dividing Western aesthetics from the implicit claims of biblical poetry…Poetry has made something happen.  No matter how deeply interior the meditation, the psalmist does not let go his hold on the historical and concrete.” (Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation, pp. 108-11)

“The instability of evil is the moral order in the world.” (Alfred North Whitehead, cited in J. Gerald Janzen, At the Scent of Water: The Ground of Hope in the Book of Job, p. 57)

instability“Probably like most people outside the culture determined by the Enlightenment of the West, Israel too was convinced that there was a definite and even clearly recognizable connection between what a man does and what happens to him, such that the evil deed recoils banefully upon the agent, the good one beneficially.  Like a stone thrown into water, every act initiates a movement for good or evil: a process gets under way which, especially in the case of a crime, only comes to rest when retribution has overtaken the perpetrator.  But this retribution is not a new action which comes upon the person concerned from somewhere else; it is rather a last ripple of the act itself which attaches to its agent almost as something material.  Hebrew in fact does not even have a word for punishment.  The words [in Hebrew] can denote the evil act: but they can also denote its evil result, and therefore punishment, because the two things are basically the same.” (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume 1: The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions, p. 385)

Why God Is Angry

psalmscommentary“One suspects that the nicety of this theological distinction [i.e. the various possible reasons behind experiences of God’s anger in our lives] might be lost on the psalmist–swimming in a bath of tears, dissolving in a bed of weeping.  When one is suffering, it is usually not the time to deploy such theological distinctions, as one hopes Job’s comrades learned.

But such distinctions do matter for the life of faith in the long run.  The concept of the anger of God is the necessary corollary to the love of God.  Without God’s anger, God’s love is reduced to sloppy sentimentalism.  To be sure, God loves us.  But because God also loves our neighbors, when our actions result in the suffering and death of our neighbors, God’s love becomes indivisible from God’s anger.  But God’s anger is in service of God’s love.  God’s anger is not a permanent state, but one that arises from time to time when human violence against other creatures whom also God loves sparks God’s anger.  God’s wrath is neither random nor inexplicable.  It arises for specific reasons, which the prophets, in particular, spell out.  And God’s wrath is certainly instrumental.  That is, God is angry for the sake of the relationship God shares with the world and for the sake of the wellness of God’s creation.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson and Beth LaNeel TannerThe Book of Psalms, NICOT, pp. 107-08 on Psalm 6)