It is the time of year when I am letting go of summer and grasping for the fall semester. Thus I debate whether to blog about the theological reading I did last night or the canning of cucumbers I did today. I am in a pickle, but wait – maybe they can be integrated if I am clever enough!
The issue that has had biblical scholars and Bible readers in a pickle for the last 1800 years was addressed in the fall issue of Direction, the MB journal. Most of the articles were related in some way to a recent publication entitled, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God by Eric Siebert. Simply put, he seeks to solve the problem described in the title by proposing that the God portrayed in the text of the OT is not necessarily the same as the actual God that is ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. Some articles are basically supportive while others think his proposal is ridiculous.
I am not an OT scholar but I have also wrestled with this issue and have not yet come to a satisfactory conclusion. Although I am uncomfortable with his comparison of the “textual God” and the “actual God,” I do agree with Siebert that the ultimate revelation of what God is like is Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels. Thus all Scripture must be interpreted through a Christo-centric lens. This does not solve all the problems for me in reading the “texts of terror” in the OT but it is my starting point.
Perhaps the most insightful point for me came from Derek Suderman, who wondered whether we are asking the wrong question. “While historical questions helpfully inform our interpretation of Scripture, our primary hermeneutical task lies in seeking divine revelation through interpreting biblical documents rather than the critique of biblical characters or events through historical reconstruction.”
Waldemar Janzen also has some very helpful points to consider when reading texts that describe God: 1) God transcends our cognitive grasp of reality and retains an irreducible mystery. 2) Revelation is given to us in signs in a person-specific, context-related way. 3) All speech/language of God is metaphorical and thus all characterizations of God in both Testaments are anthropomorphic to some extent.
Making pickles is really not that difficult. Stick them in a jar with some dill, onion, garlic and a grape leaf and then pour over some boiling salt water. But they will only be ready to eat in a few weeks after the flavors have had a chance to permeate the cucumbers. I think good biblical interpretation is a bit like that too. It takes time. The Holy Spirit uses both history and community to help us discern the truth of Scripture, but we are in such a rush. Why do we have to have all the answers today? Maybe it is not all that bad to be in a bit of a pickle with our hermeneutical problems for a while.