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Si Paul Simon solo pudo encontrar cinco formas para dejar a su amante, el escritor de Salmos 119 claramente le supera. Versículo tras versículo de este poema acróstico –significa que la primera letra de cada línea sigue al alfabeto en un patrón claramente identificable– enaltece la palabra, la ley y la promesa del Señor con un lenguaje usualmente utilizado solo para elogiar el amor romántico.

Me regocijo en tu palabra como quien halla un gran botín.

(Salmo 119:162 LBLA)

Aunque las líneas específicas de este salmo audazmente enfocado han encontrado su camino a la espiritualidad judía y cristiana, para muchos lectores modernos el salmo mismo parece ser tedioso y—me atrevo a decirlo—un poco obsesivo. Un poema como este da primacía a la forma y luego a su contenido. Incluso un lector compresivo tiende a concluir, cuando ve al escritor llegar a la quinta línea que empieza con la letra “ayin”, que debe darse un descanso.  

Sin embargo, vale la pena sujetar la impaciencia moderna con forma, repetición y ley, lo suficiente como para preguntar qué tipo de alma genera una celebración épica de la instrucción divina. ¿Quién, por ejemplo, podría decir esto sin una sonrisa burlona?

Tus testimonios he tomado como herencia para siempre, porque son el gozo de mi corazón.

¿Quién, sin ironía, afirma esto? 

Quebrantada está mi alma anhelando tus ordenanzas en todo tiempo.

Algunos aspectos de dicho perfil vienen a mi mente.

Primero, el escritor está profundamente consciente de su propia fragilidad. Él habita en un mundo donde abundan la amenaza y la traición, uno donde sus pies parecen resbalar al menos que pueda situarlos firmemente en los cimientos de la instrucción divina. 

En segundo lugar, él cree que YHWH crea y sostiene el mundo. La palabra del Señor para él es un subconjunto de su proyecto de sustento del mundo. El caos y el orden no son teóricos para él, sino más bien las articulaciones de su existencia diaria. 

Tercero, él encuentra en la instrucción de YHWH como dadora de vida. Una y otra vez, contrapone una petición por la instrucción vivificante del Señor ante la desintegración de la vida y la esperanza.

Cuarto, él ha encontrado rica recompensa al dedicar una energía formidable al dominio de los prefectos de YHWH. Su enfoque a ese conjunto de aprendizaje que él cataloga como preceptos, ley(es), promesa y palabra(s) es todo menos pasivo. Él enérgicamente busca su recompensa y las anhela cuando parecen distantes.

El erudito bíblico Walter Brueggemann nos ha enseñado que los salmos hablan a nuestras vidas al grado que hemos sido destrozados o desorientados por los eventos. Uno no esperaría que un salmo nomistico como este—con su concentración inflexible sobre lo que está establecido y verdadero—encaje muy bien en la observación de Brueggemann. Sin embargo, sorprendentemente, parece ser así.

En toda su artificialidad sintética, el salmo 119 nos pide que consideremos si los seres humanos más destruidos o amenazados podrían necesitar, más que nada, una palabra. 

El poeta que está detrás de nuestro salmo 104 contribuye a un compendio que añade a la acción de YHWH en la historia una celebración a su obra en creación. Es una bella rareza.

Curiosamente, dos características de la participación divina en la creación entretejen la celebración del salmista. 

Primeramente, el salmista observa la acción divina no solo en la creación original, sino en el continuo sustento de las criaturas de YHWH. Cuando se toca esta nota, vemos también la colaboración de las criaturas. YHWH provee los recursos necesarios, y las criaturas responden reuniéndose si son animales, y en la labor del campo y del hogar si son humanos. 

Él hace brotar la hierba para el ganado,
y las plantas para el servicio del hombre,
para que él saque alimento de la tierra,
y vino que alegra el corazón del hombre,
para que haga brillar con aceite su rostro,
y alimento que fortalece el corazón del hombre
.

Los árboles del Señor se sacian,
los cedros del Líbano que Él plantó,
donde hacen sus nidos las aves,
y la cigüeña, cuya morada está en los cipreses.

Los montes altos son para las cabras monteses;
las peñas son refugio para los tejones…

Todos ellos esperan en ti,
para que les des su comida a su tiempo.
Tú les das, ellos recogen;
abres tu mano, se sacian de bienes.

(Salmo 104:14–15 … 27-28 LBLA)

En segundo lugar, no es solo el salmista el que se regocija en esta colaboración modelada y de sustento. YHWH mismo se alegra por esto, tal como el poeta en su contemplación.

¡Sea para siempre la gloria del Señor!
¡Alégrese el Señor en sus obras!
Él mira a la tierra, y ella tiembla;
toca los montes, y humean.
Al Señor cantaré mientras yo viva;
cantaré alabanzas a mi Dios mientras yo exista.
Séale agradable mi meditación;
yo me alegraré en el Señor.

Aquí la creación no es objetivada de ninguna forma impersonal o mecánica. Es una comunidad viva y con aliento, diseñada por YHWH, poblada por seres que son totalmente dependientes de su provisión y encargada, en el caso de los seres humanos, de convertirla en una provisión ampliada y extendida para los demás. 

El ciclo de vida y muerte se reconoce, un asentimiento dado a las temporadas de fulminante escasez. Nada de esto nubla o limita el regocijo del salmista, ni presumiblemente, el del Creador.

Los esfuerzos humanos sobre la vastedad del mar y en el desafío del suelo contribuye a una visión doxológica. 

Hay sinergia, colaboración, e incluso una cierta imitación de Dios en todo esto.

Solo al final los “pecadores” y “los malvados” manchan sus glorias. Estos quedan encomendados al justo poder de YHWH. 

El mundo como lo vemos no es, podríamos pausar para considerarlo, inevitable. Tampoco es ordinario. Es la obra de manos divinas. Todo se inclina al regocijo. Es una invitación incluso ahora a la risa apreciativa, a un corazón que se alegre al considerarla. 

¡Bendice al Señor, Oh, alma mía!

Emmanuel Bellon begins this work by scanning the historical background of theological education in Africa (Part One: History and Financial Challenges of Theological Institutions; Chapter 1: The Historical Initiatives). By managing to squeeze in the book’s first paragraph the phrases ‘endemic financial challenges’ and ‘the carcasses of struggling institutions littering every corner of the continent’, Bello signals that his will be no Pollyanish reading of events. Indeed, at the turn of a first page we find theological education in Africa described by one authoritative assessment as ‘the weakest element of the entire enterprise of Christian Missions’.

Bellon faults, inter alia, the widespread adoption of the Berlin model of education by missionary educators and the institutional reliance on donations via the hoary model of ‘faith missions’ for the debris that clutters the landscape he surveys. But to mention one aspect of theological education as practiced elsewhere that has been imported on to African soil would be to blunt the author’s severe criticism of the entire project, which has left Africa bereft of sustainable models for institutional life with real capacity for survival and perseverance in the continent.

In spite of the obstacles to which Bellon alludes, African theological scholarship has advanced apace and found its voice on a global platform. Yet the ache in Bellon’s lines persists, because the institutionality that would assure a future for such advances on the part of African churches, scholars, and believers remains largely absent. This is the particular burden of the work under review. Its author will not stray far from it.

A chapter on ‘calling’ to Christian leadership (Chapter 2: Opportunities for Training: The Call to Christian Leadership Ministry) might at first seem to represent a detour from the topic of financial viability for theological institutions. Yet in the logic under development, this is not so. Bellon is at pains to uncover the personal element of those who are most immediately effected by the viability of centers of theological training or, as it happens, the absence of the same. His narrative makes it appear that the infrastructure of African theological education may be designed for a population entirely other than the corpus of the called that are assuming leadership of African churches.

Two observations emerge. First, the project of theological education faces from the outset the difficulty of proving its worth to doubters. Second, the very structures it has assumed from early missionary initiative are too often not those that are attractive to emerging church leaders.

Training is not offered at accessible cost and format. Additionally, institutions staffed by faculty who have been shaped by accredited universities outside of Africa have chosen to ignore the migration towards accredited status that other education institutions have experienced. Bellon describes a landscape pitted by both quandaries and ironies. At no moment has the African church more desperately needed well-trained leaders. Yet the institutions arguably most concerned with shaping those leaders are beset by institutional weakness and an aversion to the changes that would render the viable today and tomorrow. 

Bellon begins his consideration of financial models (Chapter 3: Matching Financial Resources) by rehearsing the opaque arrangements under which missionary teachers and administrators were funded ‘from abroad’ with little or no attention given to the real cost of this phenomenon. The consequences as missionary staffing for diverse reasons became less plentiful are in retrospect quite obvious. First, the true cost of theological education and its outcome in the form of student fees were—respectively—never calculated and abysmally low. Second, when the flow of missionary staff diminished, no provision had been made for hiring African successors at a living wage.

Given the circumstances he is describing, Bellon’s prose is occasionally and appropriately biting, nowhere more so than when describing inequities that are invisible to one party but painful and even exasperating to the other. 

The need for survival overshadows any contractual commitment that holds no bright future. Consequently, many of the students completed their studies but did not return to their institutions. The trained African graduates could not have imagined when they began their journey that they would be in a situation in which they might end up with the same qualifications as their missionary faculty friends, but be offered a standard of living far lower than their counterparts … In addition, some graduates did not attempt to return to Africa for fear that a weak economy could not provide sufficient opportunities. Instead, these individuals availed themselves to whatever employment opportunities could be translated into a stable livelihood abroad and settled into those positions. Therefore, the reality was that initial educational contracts and agreements with funders and contracting theological institutions were constantly broken. Graduates learned to live with the guilt while struggling African institutions grew bitter about students who abandoned them.

Bellon anchors his consideration of ‘matching financial resources’ in a comprehensive survey of the theological college’s stakeholders. Each of these has a particular angle of interest in the institution itself and at times an array of them. The difficulties that lie alongside the advantages of multiple stake-holding constituencies is that each of these brings its own concerns and passions to the seminary. Sometimes these do not align with the core concerns of the school. In consequence, theological colleges can be pulled away from their core precisely because such stakeholders tend to be highly influential and even essential for the institution’s viability.

The author surveys as well sources of income based on data largely culled from a survey of Majority-World theological seminaries carried out by Overseas Council International. Few features of the landscape encourage. Yet Bellon concludes Part One of his work by surveying as well the need for change, possible agents, of change, and obstacles to change. His direction suggests that he, at least, finds reasons for hope that theological education in Africa can in fact be placed upon a firmer footing.

Bellon leads us next into a discursive review of the Apostle Paul’s view(s) regarding what today we might call ‘missionary support’ as a means of sustaining his apostolic project (Part Two: Biblical Foundations for Financial Sustainability; Chapter 4: Missionary Support for Ministry). Since chapter 4 is the only chapter in ‘Part Two: Biblical Foundations for Financial Sustainability’, the section might have more accurately been titled ‘Pauline Foundations…’. With a depth and subtlety proper to a work that is not primarily an exegetical endeavor, the author discerns a parallel between Paul’s multilayered views regarding ‘missionary support’ as his calling, on the one hand, and the role of leaders and faculty of African theological colleges on the other. The recourse to Paul is seasoned with a suggestive reference to the biblical Levites, who ‘administrated (sic) grain, animal and fruit offerings in the temple, which they were divinely authorized to use for their livelihood as they served in ministry to priests to Israel. It was therefore appropriate that they derived their livelihood from this sources. Just as God appointed the Levites to ministry so should the staff of a theological institution be supported out of the proceeds of missions.’

By this reviewer’s lights, the paradigmatic line—a dotted one, to be sure—that links Levites to theological faculty is a straighter one than that which links the apostle the same body. For this reason, I find Bellon’s treatment curious and worthy of a return visit at some point.

Meanwhile, Bellon pivots to the fact that—though such missionary support of theological faculty is appropriate—the institutions in question are seldom in a position to offer it.

Institutions must be held accountable both spiritually and materially regarding how they meet the needs of their faculty and staff.

Strong language, and with a moral edge. But how?

Bellon’s answer begins with a summons to avoid the most trouble-making features of donor engagement with the theological college. These are exacerbated when the donors live in the West and the college finds its place in Africa, to cite an example not far from Bellon’s field of survey. Yet the author is at pains to insist that such cross-cultural mutuality is a very Pauline dynamic, the value and legitimacy of which should not be questioned. 

The delicate dance fails when donors insist on their own preferences to the detriment of the college’s creativity; when fundraising efforts cast local realties and players in a pitiful or otherwise negative light; and when the donor-college conversation fails to move all the way to creation of ways for the college, its people, and its mission to thrive in a healthy ambience where the actors (faculty and administrators, chiefly) are honored by compensation levels worthy of their labors.

Yet the burden of the book’s Part Two would escape our grasp if we were to imagine that Bellon is advocating one particular way of sustaining the work of a theological college. His attention to the Pauline example now takes the form of an extended treatment of Paul’s ‘tent-making’ occupation. For reasons that touch upon personal integrity, a prioritizing of the extension of Paul’s gospel, and an visible demonstration of the need for Christian believers to work with vigor and diligence even in the least respected trades, Bellon finds Paul to be an exemplar for a second economic model for theological schools.

One glimpses near the end of chapter five in the midst of Bellon’s powerful argument for a tent-making theological institution that his constructive contribution to the institutional dilemmas he has so painfully sketched out has leapt out of the blocks. Theological colleges have the right to ask for donations, just as Paul did. Yet they are also well advised to diversify their income streams via tent-making, just as the apostle also found it prudent to do.

This sensitivity translates into responsible interdependence that is healthy and praiseworthy. As sponsorship grows, respect and trust for partners can also strengthen. In a responsible, interdependent relationship, donors are blessed as they give, and recipients are able to fulfill the divine mandate to train men and women for church and society. Lack of sensitivity can significantly hinder the work of God as sponsors might feel tempted to break relationships causing the work of a ministry to suffer. This Paul described as being a burden to the donors, which should not be.

The author’s introduction of the term ‘responsible interdependence’ is a promising antidote to the mantra of ‘sustainability’ that appears so self-evidently virtuous and absolute in the eyes of many Western donors and organizations, yet lands with a thud among Majority World institutions precisely because of its stunning capacity to overlook the fact that nearly all such Western organizations—and educational ones par excellence—are in some real way donor-dependent. ‘Sustainability’ often comes as a recipe delivered from West to non-West for the baking of a respectable cake, when in fact it is seen from the other side as merely the latest chapter in a long book of Neo-imperialist prescriptions.

Bellon is eager to exit this stage and to begin a genuine conversation about trust-building. He is to be commended for this.

What is more, he finds an instructive parallel between the ways in which the apostle Paul was criticized for his tent-making option and the way that theological institutions fall under critique for launching out (yet) again in modern tent-making directions. Bellon does not imagine that a complimentary tent-making frontier is any kind of easy answer for theological institutions. He does insist that in the ‘dynamic tension’ of making the effort divine grace is to be discovered.

Bellon’s  Part Three (Toward Financial Sustainability of Theological Institutions) and Chapter 6 (Church Ownership and Institutional Governance) narrate an almost farcical disconnect between church leaders and theological institutions. His read of how theological institutions were, in retrospect, almost destined to be orphaned when their missionary founders departed is not for the faint of heart. An extended quotation is necessary:

Certainly, theologians are important stakeholders who work with ideas and analytical tools that are exclusive to the discipline, like any other professional field. Donald Luck noted, “As remote and comical as fussing with ideas may seem, ideas are real and very important. They change the world. In other words, even by pragmatic standards, ideas are real because they have practical consequences.” Theologians expect the church—more than any other constituency—to be most sympathetic with lofty ideals and social causes. Instead, the result has been alienation. This slow but gradual drift between the academics and church leadership over the years has seen every effort for church ownership dwindle.

Aloof theologians are often not the kind of people with whom society easily associates. Theologians seem to spend considerable amounts of time analyzing the past but seldom make recommendations for the present. Their preoccupation with the future is always in doubt except when discussing signs of the end times and God’s divine judgment. They are perceived as scholars who take pride in challenging, questioning, and raising doubts about the activity of the church. They often come across as more arrogant than concerned about the simple biblical traditions of the past. This seeming arrogance and spiritual pride of theologians is an affront to church leadership, resulting in the church’s withdrawal of interest in whatever goes on in the theological institutions.

Regardless, the church is a major stakeholder in theological education. Therefore, ownership of the institution is worthy of consideration if these campuses are to experience sustainability—particularly financial sustainability. Yet, theological institutions desire independence from the church with regard to major decisions. This has further aggravated an already sour relationship. The OCI survey indicated that church leaders are not among the top three agents of change in theological education in Africa. On the contrary, they represent the top three obstacles to change in the institutions. The prevailing emphasis should be to explore various ways to work with, instead of against each other.

Such an essentializing description of ‘aloof theologians’, ‘the academics’, and ‘scholars’ provides this reader with multiple reasons to bristle.

But Bellon is barely getting started. From this point of his survey, he launches into a sustained argument for church-institution (the latter meaning the seminary or theological college) partnership where ‘ownership’ is a function of the church but mutual ‘responsiveness’ is at the core of the relationship. Although one might wish for a nuancing of certain of his points, this reader finds little that is worthy of disagreement. Even his seven granular descriptions of how ‘institutional leaders’ must strengthen this brand of church ownership draw a hearty if occasionally qualified ‘Amen’.

However, I miss a list of similar duties that are incumbent upon the church in this mutually responsive relationship. As a veteran of church-seminary tensions in multiple contexts—with the scars to show it—this worries me. Churches, it seems to me, are as capable of one-sided conceptions of ‘responsiveness’ as theological institutions are. 

Bellon signals the location where he will place the preponderance of responsibility for financial viability—the governing body—by dedicating an unexpected number of pages to how governance ought to function in (African) theological colleges, but seldom does.

Drawing heavily upon the above-referenced survey produced by Overseas Council International (full disclosure: this research occurred during the presidential tenure of this reviewer at Overseas Council) and the superb doctoral dissertation of Jason Ferenzci (Serving Communities: Governance and the Potential of Theological Schools; Carlisle, 2015), Bellon next surveys a number of factors that in concert create a climate in which organizational health can thrive. Summarizing, Bellon writes that…

Effective governance of theological institutions can be achieved if there is a community of trust, presence of alignment, responsive integration, a strong enabling CEO, and succession planning. It is the confluence of all these factors that makes a difference. The governance process is like a concert in which a fluid function centered on the board but [draws] expertise, skills, and time of the rest of the organization as well.

The first two, and indeed the conventional, revenue streams in African theological education are tuition and donations (Chapter 7, The Role of the Third Stream). The duo holds sway of course in other regions as well, although Bellon implies that the ‘charitable’ approach and economic realities of Africa have rendered the impact of the first stream negligible and the second stream an uphill watercourse. Thus the need for a ‘third stream’, which the author defines as ‘any revenue generated by theological institutions apart from tuition and donations … for the sole purpose of fulfilling the core mandate of theological education at an African institution.’ 

Though income generated in this way often lies outside the expertise available on the staff of African theological colleges, a quick look at mission history persuades Bellon that the effort is a viable one. In addition, the current climate make ‘short-term capital projects … a more compelling case for support than long-term capacity building projects’ when the third stream and the second stream are taken into view at the same time.

If Bellon’s rehearsal of aspects of healthy and unhealthy institutional structure has at times appeared a worthwhile if pedantic exercise, it is in this seventh chapter that the reader discovers the destination to which his method leads. This is also the moment when Bellon makes his unique contribution to the discussion via a metaphorical turn that produces the vocabulary of the ‘God-given seed’. Again, a full quote is merited:

The God-given seed is the talent or resourced divinely placed within the reach of every theological institution to develop third stream projects successfully. The seed supports an institution’s mission to generate financial resources for continued development of leaders and like the biblical talent in Matthew 25:14-28, God has provided every theological institution a seed to guide the success of a third stream project. Of course, seeds will differ with every institution, as some institutions are better endowed the others. Nevertheless, all institutions have been gifted with a seed. Consequently, theological institutions must trust God to open their eyes to identify and explore their unique seed for the benefit of the institution.

God-given seeds come in all forms and shapes, such as land, buildings, expertise, the student body, faculty, administrators, churches, affiliations, and the like. Although these things are often obvious by most standards, institutions often overlook God-given seeds in areas critical for the success of third stream projects. Discovery of God-given sees is often hindered by policies, customs, traditions, and the culture of an institution. Sometimes these hindrances are wrapped around the policies of primary sponsors such as churches and mission agencies.

Bellon then walks his reader through critical decision points that will keep the nurturing of the God-given seed from burdening theological and institutional leaders and from distracting the college from its shared vocation of training Christian leaders. The board and what are sometimes called talented ‘raving fans’ are brought into the picture as key assets for this delicate dance, which can in this reviewer’s experience otherwise begin to resemble a slow-motion train wreck. A catalogue of third-stream projects introduces some thought-provoking options and moves the discourse in the direction of concreteness and practicality. 

To his credit, Bellon is acutely sensitive to what can go wrong or at least throw up novel challenges as the God-given seed is identified and projects to operationalize its promise get underway. These include mission drift, management challenges, financial loss,  and what the author calls ‘nonprofit privileges’.

In my view, the value of Bellon’s experience as a theological educator rather than a more generic institutional advisor shows its face here. He has seen in all their horror the frustrations of both theological educators who endeavor to develop third-stream projects and of allies of the college whose experience is limited to the business world. Not all good ideas transfer smoothly across this dotted line. Bellon knows this, and so is well placed to educate his readers to the reality that it may be some time before victory is declared and a parade organized.

Bellon is so confident in the promise of such third-stream projects as to declare that even foreign donors ‘should not gravitate toward the usual piecemeal grants that provoke and appetite but do no satisfy hunger … donations can be used to primarily focus on addressing the weak state of institutional structures that threaten (sic) the future of theological education in Africa … These then become seed grants to kick-start third stream projects, under requisite professional guidance and support. This strategy is to ensure profitability. Although conations can fluctuate along local and foreign economic trends, the are an essential part of advancing theological education across the globe.’

Bellon is not arguing for the cheap ’self-sustainability’ that is often preached by Western donors and other partners. Rather, he wants Africa’s Western partners to remain close, but to re-configure their engagement with African theological colleges in a way that supports the march towards viability that has to date never adequately been undertaken.

Bellon’s eighth chapter (Strategic Collaboration and Modes of Delivery) constitutes a survey of areas in which institutions might fruitfully collaborate rather than guarding their own institutional prerogatives. The list, a long one, would make for fruitful contemplation at a gathering of suitably desperate institutional leaders.

Chapter 9 (Leadership Development) argues that leadership development and succession are matters that ought to be approached proactively rather than in the moment of crisis. In few corners of this sprawling work does Bellon sound quite as contrarian against the backdrop of his Africa context.

Unfortunately, quality leadership development has been sporadic up to this point given the assumption that leaders will always emerge as a natural course of nature … In other worlds, mimicking specific leaders is not the key to leadership development anymore. Instead, new forward-thinking mentoring is a clear departure from the former charismatic change-leader syndrome that characterized so much of leadership development in the past.

Bellon follows this observation with a rehearsal of what good leadership looks like—both in the leader himself or herself and in the leader’s institutional ecosystem—in an African theological institution. Although the Western reader may engage the chapter as a detour from the volume’s declared them, it seems that Bellon’s apologia for its inclusion might well include that in African theological institutions there is no enduring financial viability without effective and well-supported leaders.

A final installment (Chapter 10, The Wheels of Financial Sustainability) gathers the contribution of the previous nine into the metaphor of a wheel with six spokes: church ownership, institutional governance, third stream projects, strategic collaboration, modes of delivery, and leadership development.

The image of the wheel works not only because of the convenience of being constructed of spokes. It also draws this reader’s mind to the notion of a journey, conceivably of a long and arduous one.

The image would not be alien to the tone of Bellon’s work. Emmanuel Bellon has served up a four-course meal: One part cri de coeur over the sometimes abysmal state of African theological institutions; one part gritty determination that these critical theological colleges can in fact move towards sustainability; one part nuts-and-bolts instruction regarding how to get started and then gain momentum on the path to sustainability; and one part resilient hope that African church and society can in fact be nourished, led, and served by superb graduates of the theological schools he knows so well.

No one is better placed than this author for the tough diagnostic and prescriptive work that we have in Leading Financial Sustainability in African Theological Institutions. Ghanian-born Bellon is a veteran of the sometimes thankless task of theological leadership in today’s Africa, where the burgeoning growth of Christian churches would seem to render theological education an easy task, but never does. Bellon drives home the reality that achieving financial sustainability in the continent’s seminaries and theological colleges is no mere economic challenge. Rather, it requires deep theological undergirding, life-long growth in leadership skills beyond the classroom, broad collaborative instincts, and a measure of outright daring.

Dr. Bellon’s observations are pertinent beyond Africa, for the issues he addresses obtain across most of the Global South and—indeed—in the venerable institutions of the West, where financial sustainability is also every day’s challenge. Leaders and governing boards of theological seminaries will find in Bellon an empathetic and knowledgeable mentor.

Times like these are best met with lament.

Not with firm declarations and explanations in the name of God, or calls for peace and stability above all else. As though we knew more, understood more than we do.

Just lament. We have been given words for it, why not use them?

Yet even in this present darkness one must confess a persistent hope, one that will not die.

Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this tenacious hope as only he can.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;      
     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;      
     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 

And for all this, nature is never spent;      
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 
And though the last lights off the black West went      
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent      
     World broods with warm breast and with ah!
         bright wings. 

          —Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, The Grandeur of God





Come. Brood now, brood again over us.

El salmo 103 insiste que vivimos en un mundo en el que una clara visión lleva a la gratitud.

La bendición es realidad. No reconocerlo significa que alguien se ha quedado ciego, quizá aún que ha sucumbido a una mentira. 

Sin embargo, la gratitud requiere una elección—y aún aquella elección continua que se convierte en disciplina—porque por alguna razón desconocida somos propensos a olvidar. La bendición es un hecho, pero la gratitud rara vez ocurre por naturaleza. Requiere practica, disciplina, incluso cultura, para que la bendición se responda con acción de gracias. 

Es por esto que el salmista emplea la figura extraña de exhortar a su propia ‘alma’ a que bendiga al Señor. No es que las bendiciones de YHWH son difíciles de ver, es solo que son fáciles de perder. Son más fáciles aún de olvidar. 

Bendice, alma mía, al Señor,
y no olvides ninguno de sus beneficios.
Él es el que perdona todas tus iniquidades,
el que sana todas tus enfermedades;
el que rescata de la fosa tu vida,
el que te corona de bondad y compasión;
el que colma de bienes tus años,
para que tu juventud se renueve como el águila.                                                    

El Señor hace justicia,
y juicios a favor de todos los oprimidos.
A Moisés dio a conocer sus caminos,
y a los hijos de Israel sus obras.

(Salmo 103:2–7 LBLA, énfasis añadido).

La mayoría del tiempo el último recurso de interpretes sinvergüenzas es insistir que ‘el idioma original afirma verdades que no se entienden en la traducción’. Sin embargo, en este caso es parcialmente cierto.

Las palabras en cursiva son participios del idioma hebreo. En al hebreo clásico el sentido de este es usualmente una actividad continua. Aunque no puede ser el caso con la última cadena de participios—YHWH dio a conocer sus caminos a Moisés solo en el pasado—la preponderancia de la evidencia sugiere que debemos bendecir al Señor aquí precisamente como aquel que habitualmente actúa de esta forma. Es su naturaleza, su hábito divino, el trabajo fácil de su mano derecha. 

Sería una carga para el idioma, pero tendría más sentido traducir esto con la forma del definitivo en inglés, junto con un gerundio: El que está perdonando…El que está sanando…El que está redimiendo…El que está rodeando…El que está satisfaciendo…

En pocas palabras, así es como es YHWH. Tú puedes contrastarlo con otros señores, si quieres, y dar gracias porque has caído bajo el cuidado de este. 

Cuando vemos claramente, en un mundo gobernado como este salmo insiste en que el nuestro es gobernado, bendecimos a su Gobernante. Le damos gracias. Nos volvemos agradecidos.

No se nos pide aquí que superemos la realidad con esfuerzos psicológicos. Se nos pide que veamos las cosas como son.  

De lo contrario, sería lo más extraño, como los tropiezos de un ciego, los placeres infundados del adicto a conspiraciones, o la mujer que se ha apartado totalmente de la realidad. 

¡Escucha, alma mia! 

El crescendo es una característica central de la alabaza bíblica. La dinámica de la adoración es tal que un número cada vez mayor de adoradores están atrapados en su fuerza concentradora.

Sin embargo, si se concentra, es decir, si se fija la mirada de la criatura en lo que es más cierto acerca de todo lo creado de lo cual él hace parte, también se descentra, porque su fuerza fluye hacia afuera. Casi por definición, la alabanza es una fuerza centrífuga, su potencia contagiosa cautiva círculos cada vez más grandes en su ruidosa labor.

Cuando el salmista ha agotado su descripción de la alabanza como el ofrecimiento de la comunidad humana, un reflejo recurrente le permite extenderse también al mundo no humano. Él personifica lo que previamente pudo haber sido considerado inerte, aquella naturaleza supuestamente no doxológica que nos rodea: 

¡Ruja el mar y cuanto contiene,
el mundo y los que en él habitan!
¡Batan palmas los ríos;
a una canten jubilosos los montes!

(Salmo 98:7-8 LBLA)

Sería errado leer esto de forma rígida y literalmente, con esa inclinación peculiar de reificación que caracteriza el lector creyente cuando lee la Biblia. Empero, sería mucho más errado no darse cuenta del punto de vista del salmista acerca de la magnitud del circulo de alabanza.

Ciertamente existe algo benevolentemente totalitario en la práctica de alabar al Creador del mundo. Esa alabanza no está completa hasta que todos se han unido a su canto. La euforia de la alabanza lleva consigo una cierta tristeza en la actualidad, porque la comunidad que danza, que canta, y que adora es consciente de que todavía no todos reconocen que la verdad central sobre el Creador y la creación es que el Creador debe ser alabado por su creación.

La coerción no es el motor ni el medio de esta verdad. Al contrario, es impulsada por la agudeza que llega a aquellos que unen sus voces al canto, y sus cuerpos a la danza. YHWH es, como en el salmo dos antes que este es tradicionalmente traducido, muy digno de ser alabado.

Así es la cuestión.

El apóstol Pablo es, similarmente, profundamente doxológico en su entendimiento de la creación, redención y su divino Hacedor. Él sabe muy bien que todo pensamiento verdadero, todo discurso correcto lleva a una inexorablemente a la doxología. Para Pablo, no hay una fuerza coactiva en esto. Así como el salmista, él parece simplemente entender que así es el mundo. Aquellos que lo ven bien, aquellos cuyos lentes no están distorsionados por manchas refractarias, saben que es cierto y comprenden que es la más verdadera de todas las verdades.

Pablo conoce la tristeza, también. Una nota de melancolía que respecta el hecho de que aun no todos alaban de esta manera lo lleva a hablar de aquella creación que ‘gime’ mientas aguarda su completa y catastrófica redención.

Sin embargo, el apóstol está seguro, así como el poeta del salmo noventa y ocho, de que esta triste restricción no siempre detendrá el canto de la humanidad y la explosión doxológica que es el derecho y destino de toda la creación. Un día, él sabe, aún las ríos aplaudirán; incluso los montes cantarán juntos con alegría.

Los salmos están llenos de una asertividad esperanzadora, como que ‘nunca seré sacudido’.

Dicha confianza, aún cuando es más frágil de lo que parece, se basa en la presunta estabilidad moral del mundo. Esto es, la justicia existe y prevalecerá. Si uno no confía en este aspecto de la habilidad de YHWH, entonces ya casi nada importa.

Al mismo tiempo, la experiencia humana sabe sobre esta justicia retrasada. Le duele la realidad vindicativa que sus ojos no han visto y, a decir verdad, muy rara vez vista. Aún así, persiste la firme esperanza en un resultado que las personas razonables pueden acordar. Sabe que YHWH, a la postre, no hará menos que esto.

Porque ni del oriente ni del occidente,
ni del desierto viene el enaltecimiento;
sino que Dios es el juez;
a uno humilla y a otro ensalza.

(Salmo 75:6-7 LBLA)

En los salmos y mucho más allá, la antología bíblica se capta mediante la noción de un drama cósmico. La aleatoriedad no tiene ninguna posibilidad contra la convicción que de YHWH tiene un plan para su mundo, que este plan es apasionado si se resiste misteriosamente a las zonas sombrías pero feroces, que la experiencia humana es el escenario privilegiado de este drama, y que su resultado es seguro. En este teatro cósmico, YHWH mueve sus piezas en una forma que paradójicamente no obtiene resignación sino resolución y decisión. Puesto en términos convencionales, él levanta a los humildes y humilla a los orgullosos. 

El escritor del salmo setenta y cinco prueba este bebedizo fortalecedor mientras contempla la arrogancia de los arrogantes que parecen estar a su alrededor. Se siente seguro de que la perdición de los arrogantes está asegurada. Es más, alaba al “Dios de Jacob” antes de que este misterioso Soberano haya ejecutado la caída de ellos y la frustración de sus planes. 

La alabanza preventiva hace eso. Es lo suficientemente segura de su confianza como para encontrar la fortaleza en el momento de celebrar lo que YHWH apenas está desnudando su brazo fuerte para hacer.

The Idea of a Christian College by [Arthur F. Holmes]This little work, revised in 1975, distills the thinking of one of the most profound conceptual minds behind the modern history of Illinois’ Wheaton College, arguably the flagship of the North American ‘Christian Liberal Arts College’ fleet. Phrases like ‘all truth is God’s truth’ and ‘the integration of faith and learning’ subsequently became common and even anodyne slogans of Christian liberal arts colleges throughout North America.

But in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Holmes was breaking new ground in defense and cultivation of the Christian college. The desire to break free from an inward-looking and fearful Fundamentalism never lay far from the surface. The book still expresses itself with an almost alarming lucidity and is perhaps as much a counter-cultural manifesto in these pragmatic times as it was when Wheaton’s great philosophy teacher was holding forth with his English accent and scribbling the lines of this book with his forceful pen.

Two of the book’s nine chapter titles are questions. The first makes its query in the broadest possible terms: Chapter 1, ‘Why a Christian College?’.

In this opening salvo, the author alleges a veritable jungle of ignorances and misconceptions about what a Christian college is actually for. In this spate of ground-clearing, Holmes is already arguing against a protective and certainly a defensive purpose for such an institution. Holmes finds the answer to his ‘Why?’ in the interpenetration of two distinctives, the educational and the religious. Educationally, the Christian college exists not in order to indoctrinate but rather to educate in ways that are both deep and daring. Religiously, such a college does not keep its piety separate from the other disciplines that come in for research and teaching. Rather it engages all appropriate disciplines from a faith commitment that is articulated and foundational.

From Holmes’ perspective, theology is bound to exercise a sort of queenly function in this endeavor, even if the author is at pains not to allow his queen rights of tyranny. Significantly, ‘Theological Foundations’ is the title of the book’s second chapter and, in a manner of speaking, of its first declarative chapter. Holmes discerns four theological pillars for the project of the Christian College. First, the fact of creation means there is much to be explored and investigated, all of it coming from a Maker’s good hand. The bugbear here is Gnosticism, which would counteract Holmes’ program by placing that truth which is worth one’s while in the sphere of the esoteric, far removed from the creative sphere that humankind is invited to and charged with investigating.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Holmes capitalizes ‘Gnostic’, inadvertently pointing his reader to a defined religio-intellectual movement that can be historically located rather than to the general disdain for the created physical realm that he clearly intends. The gnosticism he wishes to rebuke is with us today as an unorganized and largely unreflective set of mind whose exponents know little both of the historical Gnostics and of the family resemblance that Holmes glimpses in them.

The second pillar is the human person, a complex and rich feature of creation who is at his or her best when curiosity ranges wide across the created plain. Indeed, ‘(T)he educator’s task is to inspire and equip individuals to think and act for themselves in the dignity of persons created God’s image.’

Third, the fact that the realia that present themselves to us are the work of a single, benign Benefactor means, first, that all truth belongs to God no matter where it is found (that is, not exclusively nor even principally through the lens of theology) and, second, that truth is a unity no matter how beguiling its complexity. Faith, then, does not impede one’s quest to engage and understand truth; it empowers it: ‘Faith is neither a way of knowing nor a source of knowledge. Faith is rather an openness and wholehearted response to God’s self-revelation.’

Holmes’ fourth theological pillar is the oft-referenced ‘cultural mandate’. Human beings are cultural creatures. As such, we imitate God as we engage with and create culture. ‘To confess God as Creator and Christ as Lord is thus to affirm his hand in all life and thought. It is to admit that every part of the created order is sacred, and that the Creator calls us to exhibit his wisdom and power both by exploring the creation and developing its resources and by bringing our own created abilities to fulfillment.’

The Christian College’s theological foundations, then, fuel a robust and fearless education enterprise.

In his third chapter (‘The Liberal Arts: What and Why?’), Holmes traces the historically shifting lines of what has come under study in the enterprise to which we now refer as ‘the liberal arts’. But he is more concerned to move beyond this ‘extensional definition’ to an ‘intensional definition’: ‘the liberal arts are those which are appropriate to persons as persons, rather than to the specific function of a worker or a professional or even a scholar’.

One might consider Holmes’ person as person here to be the second accusative often attached to the verb ‘to teach’. That is, one teaches something to or for someone. His emphasis upon the formation of a person sets his approach and indeed the practices of a ‘liberal arts college’ off from vocational and other forms of education. There may be no more violent rupture than this between the author’s program and the pragmatic spirit of the age that renders unremarkable proposals to assess the value of an educational institution principally or even exclusively by counting the dollars its graduates earn within, say, ten years of their departure from it. Holmes believes that educating the person represents a larger and more compelling ambition than that, nor will he concede that to do so is not to attend to matters of a graduate’s employability.

When we ‘make a person’, in Holmes’ view, we are dealing with a multi-faceted though integrated creature. He or she is a reflective, thinking being, a valuing being, and a responsible agent. There is a place for other kinds of education, Holmes avers, but it is the particular remit of liberal arts education to provide ‘an opportunity to steward life more effectively by becoming more fully a human person in the image of God, by seeing life whole rather than fragmented, by transcending the provincialism of our place in history, our geographic location, or our job.’

Because the entire trajectory of Holmes’ apologia for liberal arts education tacks towards the formation of a person rather than the transmission of skills, Chapter 4 (‘Liberal Arts as Career Preparation’) flows as something other than the rearguard maneuver to which it might otherwise have been reduced, particularly in the face of prevailing notions that any education worthy of one’s dollar must demonstrate a short path to a (well-)paying job. The author is entirely convinced that the liberal arts education is solid preparation for a vocation, but not via a mechanical or short path. Rather, Holmes argues, such education forms a complete person who is eminently employable precisely because she has been pressed into significant scrutiny of her attitude towards work, exposure to a wide breadth of education, and development of conscious values that are patient of articulation. In a day in which one’s vocation may include serial dedication to a sequence of jobs, this—in Holmes’ view of things—is the kind of applicant that any employer should be loath to overlook.

Although an unsympathetic reader might by this point have begun to conclude that Holmes wants the church qua church to keep hands off the education of its young, his deep dive into how faith and learning integrate suggest otherwise (Chapter 5: ‘Integrating Faith and Learning’). Here Holmes argues that if a mature faith does not lie at the root of a Christian liberal arts college’s shared life, then it ought to abandon the adjective ‘Christian’. Yet this centering of Christian faith at the core of the college does not take us back to the notion of indoctrination.

Sometimes even interaction (reviewer: between faith and learning) has been repressed in favor of indoctrination, as if prepackaged answers can satisfy inquiring minds. Students need rather to gain a realistic look at life and to discover for themselves the questions that confront us. They need to work their way painfully through the maze of alternative ideas and arguments while finding out how the Christian faith speaks to such matters. They need a teacher as a catalyst and guide, one who has struggled and is struggling with similar questions and knows some of the pertinent materials and procedures. They need to be exposed to the frontiers of learning where problems are still not fully formulated and knowledge is exploding, and where by the very nature of things, indoctrination is impossible.

Holmes moves on from a soaring paragraph like the one just quoted to survey four approaches to the integration of faith and learning: attitudinal, ethical, foundational, and ‘worldview’. He finds a thoughtful Christian appropriation of each of these approaches as the needed, if composite, thing. The volume’s chapter four is, as one says, worth the price of this little book all by itself. Nearly fifty years on, this propositum rings remarkably undated.

It is patently obvious that ‘academic freedom’ is nowadays either a push-and-pull activity within Christian educational institutions—and not merely the Christian liberal arts college—or a topic of derision by secular critics who regard it as impossible within a religious framework or both. Holmes recognizes the dilemma that the alleged existence of the thing surfaces. His sixth chapter, entitled simplify enough ‘Academic Freedom’, addresses ‘(1) why academic freedom is important in the Christian college, (2) how it may be conceived, and (3) some criticisms it meets.’ His discussion is prefaced by a simple definition of his principle term: ‘Academic freedom is the recognition that faith and intellect, like love, cannot be forced and must not be, if each is to play its part in relation to the other.’

Holmes is also cognizant of the damage that is achieved in its absence.

To deny academic freedom is historical suicide. Rather than confirming men in the truth it will drive them from it. Rather than cherishing orthodoxy it will render it suspect to every inquiring mind. Rather than developing the intellectual resources essential to Christian thought and action it will stifle them. Rather than launching a strategic offensive into the citadels of secularism it will incarcerate us in the ill-equipped and outdated strongholds of past wars.

Holmes’ summons to professors to attach the words ‘responsibly’ and ‘carefully’ to their practice of academic freedom will not satisfy all trustees and all alumni, nor indeed will it be applauded by all professors. But it does set off academic freedom in the context of a Christian college context from that intellectual unaccountability which imagines itself devoid of presuppositions and is in other ways painfully and historically naive. One imagines that Holmes would agree that academic freedom is a core principle that in practice is a matter of constant negotiation. 

If the book’s high-water mark has been reached by its fifth or sixth chapter, this does not imply that subsequent chapters represent a winding down. Rather, for example, Chapter 7 (‘College as Community’) anchors all that has been said in a realistic—one might even say unsentimental—view of the college community. Perhaps today more than at the time of writing, ‘community’ is patient of a number of interpretations. Holmes would doubtless reject the most romantic of them, for he is convinced that community is not easily achieved and is built around the reality that the college community’s common cause is educational. One belongs to and participates in this community because one has chosen to learn and to do so in the company both of teachers and of other student learners. One can imagine elements of community that Holmes would happily discard on the grounds that they make little or no contribution to learning. 

Having suffered through chapel services in which the speaker appears to be on a mission to discredit learning, this reviewer finds Holmes’ take on college chapel to be particularly helpful:

So can the college chapel service that is a regular part of community life in the Christian college. It should not be peripheral to the educational task but should constantly renew the vision of a Christian mind. When the well-intentioned speaker discourages intellectual pursuits or cultural involvement or political action, he turns off many students. Chapel speakers should realize that a Christian college exists to cultivate the intellect and involve people in their culture, and that it is therefore more than a conserving influence in the world. A college is Christian in that it does its work in a Christian way, not by encouraging an unthinking faith to counterbalance faithless thought. If education is God’s present calling to students, then no question arises about whether God or studies comes first, for God is to be honored in and through studies. Compartmentalization has no place on the Christian campus.

Holmes constructs his penultimate chapter (8, ‘Experience is not Enough’) around two premises. First, ‘experience alone is not understanding.’ Second, ‘Education requires understanding.’ About a half-century after the book’s first printing, it is challenging to recognize Holmes’ erstwhile antagonists with completely clarity, though it is not difficult to name their daughters and sons. One can surmise that he was battling a reduction of education to quasi-educational ‘practical experiences’ as well as the corresponding diminution of rigorous reflection that accompanies this, as other, reductionisms. Regardless, the chapter’s final paragraph suggests a certain baring of teeth at the approach of adversaries, whether intramural, extramural, or both.

Liberal education develops the person. It is an open invitation to join the human race. Christian liberal arts education is an invitation to become increasingly a Christian person. But neither the excitement of traveling in Europe, nor the trauma of living in a ghetto, nor simply looking at paintings or making them, not unexamined religious experience and service activities can develop an educated person. Experience must be humanized if it is to be educational; to be humanized it must be educated. In the final analysis that is why raw experience is not enough; uneducated experience cannot educate. Experience alone is not education.

This reader was drawn inexorably towards the final chapter with its promised personification of the author’s argument for a certain kind of education. In his ninth chapter—‘The Marks of an Educated Person’—Holmes considers two fictional but highly recognizable individuals who have enjoyed the benefits of a liberal arts education but in fact have not emerged from the process with the desired qualities. His final page is dedicated to a description of another. Her name is Pat, and Holmes’ profile of her is worthy of quotation in full though it will easily signal the five decades that have passed since he conjured her image.

Pat is widely read. She has read Plato and Augustine, Shakespeare and William Faulkner. She’s acquainted with both Bach and Bartók, and enjoys Monet and Picasso. She thinks of them all as her friends. But she does not brag: she wears these friendships lightly.

Pat is alert to the issues of the day: she feels the injustices of apartheid and admits there are ambiguities in Nicaragua. She listens to the other side, rather than reacting with an outburst of ridicule or anger. She measures her judgments before she acts, and before she votes. Her vote, in the end, is the kind of vote a democracy needs—informed, principled, and caring—not just blindly partisan. Her friends tell me she always gets to the heart of an issue.

Pat is aware of some new developments in science and technology, biology in particular, and the moral dimensions of genetic research both interest and concern her greatly—even though her major was literature. She continues to read, to learn, to grow, for she realizes that however large the circumference of her knowledge, just as large are the borders of her ignorance. Yet she doesn’t worship either knowledge, or art, or influence, or even her relationships with her friends. She worships the One from whom all blessings flow, the One who gives but also takes away. Whatever her abilities, whatever her development, whatever her accomplishments, she blesses the name of the Lord.

Pat, I say, is an educated person.

Beyond longing for the increase of Pat’s tribe, what ought one to do with a little and old book like The Idea of A Christian College?

One might begin by placing it at the center of intentional conversation in any number of Christian educational institutions, whether or not they aspire to the moniker ‘liberal arts’. The work is accessible, compelling, and remarkably up to date in the light of its age.

Holmes never insists that the kind of education he describes is the only or even the best kind of education. One suspects that he would wish a thousand flowers to blossom, though he would tenaciously resist any attempt to uproot his particular plant. What he persistently—and by this reviewer’s lights, effectively—combats are the short-cuts, the settling, the mere self-preservation cum indoctrination, the gnostic alternatives to engaging the world as it comes to us, the vicious and purblind pragmatisms that claim to know what is ‘relevant’ and what is not. 

One might wish to query Holmes as to whether the Christian liberal arts education he admires is, is not, or can be made accessible to more than a sliver of the globe’s inhabitants. Alas, he is not present to respond. One guesses, however, that the response we cannot hear would begin by a gently persistent probing of the assumptions behind such a question.

This reviewer, feet firmly planted in a South American context that no one would call privileged, is convinced that—no matter where we begin—Arthur Holmes’ little apology for something larger, more beautiful, and more enduring would move us higher, move us closer to a shared life of learning and teaching that is worthy of all our sweat and tears.

En este momento, parecemos estar embriagados por nuestra propia autoestima, sin embargo, con pocas esperanzas de lograrlo por la ruta intoxicante que hemos elegido. Por lo tanto, puede parecer un momento difícil para hablar de Dios riéndose sarcásticamente de los pequeños esfuerzos de la humanidad para establecer su estatus y prerrogativa. Sin embargo, los salmos eligen esa imagen cuando sus escritores imaginan al Señor que gobierna a las naciones tomando la medida de los esfuerzos terrenales tendientes a suplantarlo.

Esta risa es un buen sonido -una manera de euanggelion– para aquellos israelitas que se encuentran rodeados por enemigos gentiles cuya enemistad declarada contra el Dios de Jacob debe tener consecuencias dolorosas para sus hijas e hijos. Frecuentemente, la mención del cielo riendo a carcajadas de los designios de los maquinadores es precedida por alguna declaración en labios de los malhechores en el sentido de que “nadie escucha” o “nadie ve”. Son inmunes a la justicia celestial, o así consideran.

Observa el salmo 59.

Aquí el escritor está preocupado por lo que parece ser una amenaza de guerra por parte de los gentiles contra el pueblo de Israel y/o Judá. Su descripción de guerra en términos caninos es de agarre:

Regresan al anochecer, aúllan como perros,
y rondan por la ciudad.
He aquí, se jactan con su boca;
espadas hay en sus labios,
pues dicen: ¿Quién oye? (Salmo 59.6-7 LBLA)

Luego, el sonido de la risa:

Mas tú, oh Señor, te ríes de ellos;
te burlas de todas las naciones.

A causa de su fuerza esperaré en ti,
porque Dios es mi baluarte.
Mi Dios en su misericordia vendrá a mi encuentro;
Dios me permitirá mirar victorioso sobre mis enemigos.

La imagen marca el movimiento contra la soberanía de YHWH sobre su mundo como “cosa de locos”. Dicha insurrección parece prudente desde cierto punto de vista, pero risible cuando se tiene la perspectiva adecuada.

O mira, el tan famoso, salmo 2, un himno de confianza en la arquitectura histórica del Señor y el estatus de su rey ungido:

¿Por qué se sublevan las naciones,
y los pueblos traman cosas vanas?
Se levantan los reyes de la tierra,
y los gobernantes traman unidos
contra el Señor y contra su Ungido, diciendo:
¡Rompamos sus cadenas
y echemos de nosotros sus cuerdas!

Él que se sienta como Rey en los cielos se ríe,
el Señor se burla de ellos.
Luego les hablará en su ira,
y en su furor los aterrará, diciendo:
Pero yo mismo he consagrado a mi Rey
sobre Sión, mi santo monte. (Salmo 2:1-6 LBLA)

Sería un error muy común leer en tal risa burlona un papel de adversario por parte de YHWH hacia los pueblos como naciones. Por el contrario, el mismo material presenta un compromiso con su redención, que es en puntos impresionante en su alcance y belleza. Sin embargo, a través de tales pasajes se evidencia una fuerte corriente de humildad y, a veces, de humillación. Es decir, la redención en los salmos y los profetas llega a las naciones cuando se someten al Dios de Jacob y a veces incluso al mismo Jacob/Israel. No hace falta decir que la historia de la interpretación se ha tardado mucho en discernir qué forma podría tomar tal subyugación—forzada o abrazada con alegría.

Cuando se escucha esta variedad de risa divina, no se dirige contra los no judíos en su totalidad, sino contra las naciones que buscan escapar de la soberanía determinada de YHWH no sólo sobre su pueblo Israel, sino sobre todo el mundo creado. Para los escritores que se complacen en el género, el reino de YHWH incluye no sólo su tribu abrahámica sino también—la frase es importante para fijar la atención de Dios en la gente—el tevah, el “mundo entero habitado”.

Es una estupidez, de hecho es una especie de broma, que pequeños hombres y mujeres se crean capaces de resistirse a tal poder.

Es más para su beneficio, la literatura parece sugerir, encontrar su misericordia en su fuerza, su bondad en su consejo, su futuro—velado por la desconcertante niebla del caos—en la historia.

La ayuda está disponible.

Este es el mensaje que el poeta que creó el Salmo 46 subraya en un tiempo en donde todo parece que lo que es confiable ha sido estremecido. Solo se necesita haber sentido un terremoto para que esa estaca existencial se clave en el alma, que solo aparece cuando la tierra se mueve.

 Se puede suponer que cualquier cosa se mueva bajo coacción. Pero no se supone que la tierra se mueva. Es la Cosa Inmóvil, el escenario en el que todo tipo de mobiliario hace un sonido agrietado y se agita. La gente marcha, corre, se arrastra, algunos se quedan, otros nos hacen desear que se hayan quedado. Pero la tierra en sí misma no se mueve.

 Entonces, de repente, se mueve, dejando a uno a preguntarse si existe algo en que se puede.

Dios es nuestro refugio y fortaleza,
nuestro pronto auxilio en las tribulaciones.
Por tanto, no temeremos aunque la tierra sufra cambios,
y aunque los montes se deslicen al fondo de los mares;
aunque bramen y se agiten sus aguas,
aunque tiemblen los montes con creciente enojo.
(Salmo 46:1-3 LBLA)

Al explorar su tema, el poeta se refiere a Dios en medio del caos con una descripción hebrea que es única en la antología bíblica. Él es, se nos dice, נמצא מאד (nimtsa’ me’od). Para una traducción, el traductor muy literal podría querer algo como esto: muy encontrable/descubrible. Las almas más poéticas nos han dado una convincente y duradera tradución: un pronto auxilio en las tribulaciones.

Lo que esta frase castella consigue con un notable toque estético, sacrifica parcialmente por el otro lado en términos del significado que el salmista desea expresar. Dios no está tan presente en una manera ordinaria e indiscutible, en tiempos de angustia, como la interpretación más bien filosóficamente inclinada en el español podría llevarnos a creer.

Más bien, él está disponible. Es decir, es sensible a ser buscado. Él escucha y reacciona cuando se le pide. Puede parecer que está oculto o incluso, al contrario de la traducción español que tenemos ante nosotros, ausente, ya que todo lo que es fuerte y fiable es lanzado como las olas en el mar. Pero él se dejará descubrir en esa mêlée por alguien que lo busca asiduamente mientras la casa se quema a su alrededor.

Este salmo, uno de los mejores de la antología bíblica, pasa a explicar el significado de la disponibilidad divina cuando los cimientos se estremecen. Aprendemos, de forma más prosaica, que el Señor está con nosotros. Quizás fue esta afirmación la que llevó a los traductores a expresar la presencia de YHWH con su notable giro de una frase que merece ser repetida: una ayuda muy presente.

Hay un río cuyas corrientes alegran la ciudad de Dios,
las moradas santas del Altísimo.
Dios está en medio de ella, no será sacudida;
Dios la ayudará al romper el alba.
Bramaron las naciones, se tambalearon los reinos;
dio Él su voz, y la tierra se derritió.
El Señor de los ejércitos está con nosotros;
nuestro baluarte es el Dios de Jacob. 

La espiritualidad bíblica, más a menudo de lo que vence las circunstancias de caos, alimenta un espíritu tranquilo en el centro de la existencia. Pero aun esta afirmación no es es mecánica, no es el producto de una quietud forjada por la fuerza de un alma human. Más bien, es el resultado del paradójico esfuerzo de buscar a un Dios que se deja encontrar a la fuerza, normalmente mientras las montañas y los pueblos continúan su furia justo afuera de la frágil puerta.