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Conversing with a Dangerous God April 2, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, God.

The Raft of the Medusa

The Raft of the Medusa

Even a cursory reading of the Biblical Prophets uncovers some rather bold and stark images for God. My notion is that the degree of this boldness is proportional to the degree of “spiritual blindness” in those first hearers. Flannery O’Connor, when asked why she creates such bizarre images in her stories, replied, “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” If we don’t think like this we can be tempted to sit in judgment of the writers since some of these images seem reckless and negligent.

The prophetic metaphors are presented to Israel in the context of “spiritual blindness” symptomatic of decades of idolatry and missed Sabbaths. Augustine famously stated that humans are restless until we find our rest in God. And G.K. Chesterton continued this train of thought by saying that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” This practice of erecting God substitutes makes a person “blind” to God. The eyes of the heart focus on everything but God. Though stated in the negative, God’s assignment to Isaiah implies that the purpose of the prophetic message is to restore spiritual hearing and seeing:

“Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;

make their ears dull and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

challengingpropheticmetaphoDr. Julia O’Brien in the book Challenging Prophetic Metaphor identifies three metaphors for God that are not simply bold, they might be considered “toxic”: God as (Abusing) Husband (Hosea 1-2), God as (Authoritarian) Father (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 63-64), and God as (Angry) Warrior (Nahum). She writes,

“I believe it is important, even ethically mandatory, to recognize and resist dangerous thinking wherever it occurs, including and perhaps especially in the Bible. To be faithful, I believe, demands recognizing the problems of biblical texts, how they participate in a web of power relations that are toxic. As long as the Bible . . . carries weight in the church and in the culture, I believe it has to be read responsibly, with eyes wide open . . . But I also maintain that these books should be read, that they have value for the life well lived. [W]resting with these books has led me into deep reflection on intimate relationships, parenting, anger violence, politics, the power of language, and the responsibility that Christians have for the way that they think and talk about the divine”

Reading the Bible responsibly includes examining all the images it contains – even the ones we don’t like because they make us uncomfortable or we cannot explain them. Responsible readers do not avoid texts that are difficult to understand. They do not try to soften sayings that shock. Neither do they apologize for things that offend feeling like they need to defend the Bible. Maturity is the result of this kind of responsible reading. Maturity allows readers to doubt with courage and converse with God about what the Bible says.

Many Christians have not matured beyond a “Sunday School” faith. Avoiding honest dialogue about metaphors like the ones O’Brien deals with in her book contributes to this immaturity because people maintain a selective understanding of the Bible and a constricted knowledge of God. The only option these people have in this condition is the idolatry of which the prophets warned hearers in the first place.

“Looking North” – fixing our eyes on Jesus – must mean being informed by every piece of revelation we can get our eyes on. Will you trust the “Good Shepherd” to keep you and lead you as you pursue knowing the fullness of this God?

What images and metaphors are in the Bible that you have struggled with throughout your Christian experience?

Visit Dr. Julia O’Brien’s blog at Amazon.


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