A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Once Again, the Problem of War in the Old Testament: Some Wisdom from the Late Peter Craigie (Part 2)

I apologize for not getting around to the second post sooner. The first post can be found here for review. Quotes from Craigie's book will be presented in italics. My own comments are in parentheses in standard block type.

The first of Peter Craigie's three internal problems concerning the war-like material in the Old Testament focuses on the problem of God. The dilemma concerns the character of God (pp. 94-97). Craigie writes,

The problem of God was pinpointed in the names and epithets of God: he is "God the warrior" and the "Lord of Hosts/Armies." The image evoked by expressions such as these is that of a warlike God, not unlike the gods of war known in the pantheons of a variety of Near Eastern religions. And this image of God in the Old Testament is a problem precisely because, at first sight, it appears to be so out of harmony with the conception of God in the New Testament texts. (The important terminology here is that "at first sight, it appears." More to be said on this later.)

The first point which is important to stress in this context is the nature of human language when it is applied to God. It is the nature of language to be limited... God is transcendent; in his fullness, he exceeds the limits of human language and human understanding.... the language with which we articulate the knowledge of God is limited. (This is absolutely true, not only for the biblical writers but for twenty-first century humans as well. We would do well to remind ourselves of that when we casually dismiss difficult biblical text because they do no comport with our own contemporary and limited understanding of God and how we speak of God. The current and fashionable moral therapeutic deism, so prevalent in some circles, is definitely not a biblical understanding of the divine.) And so expressions like "God the Warrior" and "Lord of Hosts/Armies" we may understand as a part of the divine language about God, provided that the limitations inherent in language are recognized and remembered. (This is indeed an important point. Affirming that this language does indeed reveal something important about the nature of God, doesn't mean we can flatly apply the text in an uncritical way to today. When one looks at these violent texts in the context the the biblical canon-- the larger biblical narrative-- these text should not be used to justify violence today. To appropriate these narratives in that way is to misappropriate them.)

The first truth about God to which this language points is that God participates in human history.... Words such as "warrior" and "armies" point to the realities of human existence and human history; when the words are used of God, they point to his involvement in that existence and history. (In other words, God gets into the mess of human history, particularly into the history of Israel for the sake of God's people and ultimately the entire world. The sad fact is that human history has all too often been written in violence, blood, and tears. If God were to remove himself from that then God would remove himself from human existence. But God chooses to enter even the violence with the goal that one day the violence will end. He chooses and sides with Israel and fights for Israel ultimately for the sake of the whole world, that the whole world will one day experience the peaceable kingdom in its fullness. Human beings are the ones who have made the mess, not God. We should not be scandalized by a God who enters into our mess that we have created and acts in ways that we believe God should not act. In giving us freedom and creating the mess, God limits how he must act in order to achieve his ends. But entering into the blood and violence of Israel's history is the means to a greater end-- redemption which is characterized by peace. That future vision of peace is realized in Jesus Christ. Thus, one cannot understand the ministry of Jesus apart from his teachings on nonviolence and his refusal to use violence to achieve his ends.)

In general terms God has participated in warfare towards the ends of both judgment and redemption. God's intervention in human history, specifically the history of warfare, in terms of judgment and redemption, points to a larger truth, the truth concerning the providence of God. (The mistake we must not make here is to think that God participates in warfare today towards both judgment and redemption. The coming of Jesus Christ is the game-changer for how God participates in history. God now primarily participates in history through the church, whose mission of redemption is nonviolent at its heart. God's providence is now centrally focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ and realized through the mission of the church.)

In order to achieve the ultimate redemption of man, God acts through human beings. He acts in the world as it is, for if the prerequisite for divine action were sinless men and sinless societies, God could not act through human beings and human institutions at all. (Do I really need to comment on this? It should be obvious. It seems to me that God's involvement in Israel's history, even in its warfare is a proto-incarnational-- that is, a kind of presence of God that points toward something more fully in the future. That full and decisive incarnation comes in Jesus Christ who makes the way of nonviolence for his people a possibility and a reality in the here and now. We would not have that decisive incarnation of God, if God could not nor would not have acted in the world as it is, and yes, even in Israel's violence. That God rolls up his metaphorical sleeves and gets his hands dirty in human history offer great hope for a world that seems hopelessly fated to blood and violence and warfare. That God has not left us to ourselves is good news even in the mess that is war.)

In the next post, we will look at the second problem before us-- the problem of revelation.

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