Archive for July, 2008

The sixty-eighty Psalm refers to a marching deity with an archaic expression that might be translated as titular: ‘He of Sinai’.

Israel’s faith does not begin with abstractions nor with generalizations about a cosmic deity and his unchanging rules. Rather, faith in Yahweh beings, for Israel, with memory of an upending liberation from the invincible power that was Egypt, her captor. In time, Israel’s faith will generate exquisite statements about creation and its solidity, about the timeless structures of reality under Yahweh’s rule, about the wisdom that is required to inhabit such a place. (more…)


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Biblical spirituality comprehends that extreme crisis of body and soul in which a human being finds himself terrified, anguished, and undone in the presence of Yahweh. At times the soul’s calamity experiences Yahweh’s accusing silence as his only, unholy communication:

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O LORD—how long?

Bold, fear-challenging vigor comes to us in such prayers. They provide words for that moment when few seem capable of taking up the angst that seems sufficient to kill us but chooses instead the less bearable determination to prolong our suffering while the heavens remain silent. (more…)

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The biblical psalms are intensely realistic, particularly those that are born in a bed of conflict.

No pious evasiveness, no pollyanish denial shows its face in this genre of the biblical anthology. One counts the enemy with subdued precision, missing not a one. Indeed the third psalm, a point in the psalter when things are only just finding their stride, begins with just such a declaration:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me.


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When the biblical book of Job storms to its table-turning conclusion, it has no remaining curiosity for the battered psyche of its central figure. All that we know is that things are now better than they were even in the almost paradisical state in which we met Job.

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.

Even if the book does not wonder, we may. How did Job look back upon his ordeal? What regrets dogged him, what fears of a reprise? How stable did his restored world appear to him to be? Whom to trust, this beleaguered man who had been both abandoned and pursued by those who ought to have sat with him and wept? What longings for his first wife might have stalked his sleepless nights? What aching after an argument with this or that daughter might have wandered in the direction of the lost daughters and sons or of a favorite among them? (more…)

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Irrepressible mercy is both many-splendored and complicating.

The famous colloquy of Acts 15 is made necessary by the unanticipated vigor with which non-Jews respond to the proclamation that Israel’s messiah has died and come alive again. To James of Jerusalem is given the moment for summation. He responds by framing events in the context of prophetic anticipation:

This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’

It turns out that David’s fallen tent will house more than just Jewish tenants. All peoples are now understood to come into its shade. Hints given by the prophets of an incalculable mercy begin to take shape. (more…)

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In a manner of speaking, Job gets his wish in the end. In another way, he does not.

As the book’s pain-wracked central figure has plead, Yahweh breaks silence and speaks. Yet he does not provide Job with the simple justification he has so volubly desired:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

In just such an unpromising mode does the books’ famous ‘Yahweh speech’ begin. Job seems doomed to face down divine omniscience as his most daunting adversary. It seems Yahweh will answer Job’s complaint with words, only to crush him with the weight of them. (more…)

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Many Christians refer to one of Jesus’ final recorded statements as his great commission. As commonly translated, one might also consider it Jesus’ great imperative:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

However, the italicized words render a Greek participle that might just as well be understood to embrace a wider spectrum of circumstances: As you go, make disciples of all nations … (more…)

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