An issue seldom addressed by OT scholars Most pertinent material is found in laments Most abundant source of lament and divine speech found in the prophets Due to relationship between God and the prophets, often difficult to disentangle God’s words from the prophet’s words Lament and associated material developed in response to the fall of the northern kingdom, Israel, in 722 BCE Further developed with fall of the southern kingdom, Judah, in 587 BCE
A Broken Relationship The broken relationship with God’s people is the cause of God’s suffering Divine lament follows the form of human lament on false accusation (Ps. 109) The one falsely accused asks that the penalty a guilty judgment would bring be brought to bear on the false accuser Remedy to false testimony found in the legal code (Deut. 19:16-21) God’s speech in the prophets often characterized by a mix of lament and accusation (Is. 1:2-9) If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days, and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the LORD, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
A Broken Relationship “Lament is always an integral aspect of the wrath of God.” (p. 110) Early texts of this kind speak of God as grieving Ps. 78:40-41 Num. 14:22 God still grieves (Eph. 4:30) God has been grieving since the early days of humanity (or, inhumanity) (Gen. 6:5-6) Story of the flood took written form about the same time as Isa. 54:9-10 From God’s perspective, judgment looks like grief How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel. None of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
The Memory of God Heschel on Isa. 1:2-3 “The speech that opens the book of Isaiah, and which sets the tone for all the utterances of the prophet, deals not with the anger of God, but with the sorrow of God. The prophet pleads with us to understand the plight of a father whom his children have abandoned.” (Heschel as quoted by Fretheim, p. 114) Jeremiah begins in a manner similar to Isaiah, but with God in the role of a spouse instead of a parent (Jer. 2:2) Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
The Memory of God Not a rush to judgment, but God’s pathos, grief and long-suffering love Present situation as described by the prophets not where God wanted to be Jer. 2 follows with a series of rhetorical questions in which God answers the false accusations of the people (Jer. 2:5) Designed to draw the people into dialogue Like Ps. 81 where God calls and the people refuse to answer Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
The Memory of God “God’s hands are extended all day long in invitation, even to a rebellious people; but they would have none of God. Judgment must fall, but again it is accompanied by a heart full of grief.” (Isa. 65:1-2) In Hosea 11, we see another portrait of God as a rejected, suffering parent “’Over and above the immediate and contingent emotional reaction of the Lord we are informed of an eternal and basic disposition’ revealed at the beginning of the passage: ‘ I loved him’ (11:1).” (Heschel as quoted by Fretheim, p. 120) I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices. When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
The Future of God Hos. 11:8, in particular, focuses on the future of the relationship A future that is yet to be determined by the interaction of the people with God Anguished “How long?” questions (Num. 14:11) Negative behavior of the people has gone on far too long God feels abandoned by his people Divine questions in the prophets addressed to all the people, not just the leadership (Jer. 4:14) And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved. How long shall your evil schemes lodge within you?
The Future of God Purpose of divine questions to prompt repentance Despite the evidence, God still hopes that the people will return to relationship
Summing Up God Suffers Because God is “one who is deeply wounded by the broken relationship”. (p. 123) God is already looking to a future restored relationship beyond the broken relationship “God is able to absorb all the arrows of outrageous fortune that pierce him through and, instead of becoming callous or removing himself from the line of fire, still seek to bring about a future which is good for those who inflict the wounds.” (p. 124)
Summing Up God Suffers Because God does not walk away from the relationship, but through suffering seeks its restoration “God will remain gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love.” (p. 124) God honors humanity by giving them a role in determining their future “God is revealed as one who is not vindictive, legalistic, or exacting as to matters of judgment….God is genuinely in search of an alternative way into the future.” (p. 125)
Rooted in Israel’s Experience The Exodus marks the beginning of awareness of God suffering with his people Exod. 2:23-25 God heard God remembered God saw God knew Exod. 3:7-8 Suffering of the people becomes God’s own, intimate experience After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with mild and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Rooted in Israel’s Experience Between Exodus and prophets, God responds to another situation in which the people suffer because of their sin (Judg. 2:18) God responds to the suffering people without repentance on the part of the people Judg. 10:16 suggests that the suffering of the people is costly to God “His nephesh [soul] was shortened” (p. 129) “God’s presence with the distressed and the oppressed must mean that God has so entered into their situation that it truly becomes his own.” (p. 130) Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.
God As Mourner Certain texts reflect a God who mourns as if at a funeral (Amos 5:1-2) Situation so grave that it will result in death Intended effect is to shock the people into repentance “It is thus not God’s threat that is intended to move the people to repentance, but God’s sorrow!” (p. 131) (Isa. 52:14-15) Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel: Fallen, no more to rise, is maiden Israel; forsaken on her land, with no one to raise her up. Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals—so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
God As Mourner God’s name is at stake here (Ezek. 36:20) “God suffering is rooted in two factors: suffering with the suffering Israel, and suffering in the face of other nations who have seen God’s name dragged through the mire. Israel’s failure reflects back upon God; God is disgraced because of what Israel has done to his name. But, even though Israel has besmirched God’s honor, God does not hold a grudge against Israel. God endures that suffering, too, while entering compassionately into the suffering of Israel.” (p. 132) God’s mourning extends to other nations (Isa. 15:5, 16:9, & 16:11) But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them, “These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.” My heart cries out for Moab; his fugitives flee to Zoar, to Eglath- shelishiyah. Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vines of Sibmah; I drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealah; for the shout over your fruit harvest and your grain harvest has ceased. Therefore my heart throbs like a harp for Moab, and my very soul for Kir-heres.
Summing Up God Suffers With Judgement of Israel leads God to answer with mourning God acts both as judge sentencing Israel to judgment and then turns to become a fellow sufferer with the people God’s mourning means the death is real; “Judgment is not salvation, but it is the necessary prerequisite for the salvation of the people. Death is necessary for such a people before life is possible again.” (p. 137) Funeral laments of God for other peoples mean that God’s compassion extends to all, not just Israel
God’s Self-Giving No explicit atonement theory in OT, but there are hints that point in that direction With the Exodus, it is clear that the people need forgiveness God provides for the sacrificial system Forgiveness not dependent on sacrifice (2 Sam. 12:13) Sacrifice efficacious because the blood shed is life (Lev. 17:11) All life belongs to God, so God is the source of the sacrifice; forgiveness is costly to God David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan said to David, “Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.” For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.
God’s Self-Giving God bears the sins of the people (Isa. 43:23- 24), but will not do so endlessly (Josh. 24:19) “By holding back on the judgment they deserve, and carrying their sins on his own shoulders, God chooses the road of suffering- for.” (p. 140) Many texts speak of God’s long-suffering patience with the people in terms of divine restraint Isa. 48:9 Ezek. 20:21-22 Ps. 78:38 God’s restraint ultimately bursts forth in creative energy best imaged as birth (Isa. 42:14) You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, so that I may not cut you off. But the children rebelled against me; they did not follow my statutes, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live; they profaned my sabbaths. Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. But I withheld my hand, and acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath. For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.
God’s Self-Giving On Hosea 11:8 “The unchanging salvific will of God for her people, rooted in love, needs to be at the center of any consideration of this passage….there is no conflict or change whatsoever in God with respect to this goal. At the same time, Israel’s unfaithfulness persists….Given the concern for the divine name, and hence the future of Israel and world, there appears to be nothing left to do but to take off the divine restraints and let the judgment burst forth upon the people. Yet, what happens is that Israel is to be visited, not with full destruction, but with an intermediate judgmental response (Hos. 11:10-11).” (p. 143) How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
Divine Humiliation Story of the capture of the ark of the covenant in 1 Sam. 4-6 Presence of God closely tied to the ark Capture of the ark is as if God has been held in captivity Is. 42:14 portrays God as entering deeply the experience of Israel’s suffering and death Israel is not able to repent God gave birth to the people at the Exodus (Deut. 32:18) Now God enters into labor to bring about a new birth and new life after judgment (Isa. 42:15-16) For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.
Divine Humiliation “Here suffering and new creation are intimately interconnected, and the image used suggests that new creation can come into being in no other way. Any birthing of a new order can come about only through what God does, and God can accomplish such a creative act only by way of a via dolorosa.” (p. 147)
Bibliography Brueggemann, Walter(2003). Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. The Book of Common Prayer (1979). The Seabury Press. Fretheim, Terence E. (1984). The Suffering of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Slide design template. Microsoft Office Online. http://office.microsoft.com/en- us/templates/CT011377381033.aspx (18 Sep. 2005)http://office.microsoft.com/en- us/templates/CT011377381033.aspx