5 February 2014

Interacting with God

Brueggemann3For my thesis, I’ve been looking long and hard at Psalm 8. It contains a fascinating verse which does not enjoy the attention that it ought to do.

Yet you have made him (man, or humanity) a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:5 ESV)

The concept of the glory with which humans have been crowned receives woefully little attention. In terms of popular theology, the idea of humanity’s glory is generally blasted off the map by the idea that it is God alone who matters. Or, even that it is Christ alone who matters. But, I’m pleased to say, humanity matters to God. And in Christ we see this truth’s astonishing demonstration.

In reflecting on the testimony of the Old Testament in this area, Walter Brueggemann (Theology of the Old Testament, 457) gets good (as he does in many, many places):

The human person, in this tradition, is assigned an extraordinary role of authority and entitlement, not only in the service of God, but even over against God. There is indeed a second side to the covenantal, transactional quality of this relationship, which tilts the God-human encounter toward human initiative.

[I]t will be evident that I have set up in dialectical fashion a profound tension in this relationship, a tension that is, I believe, reflective of the text and derivative from Israel’s own disputatious relationship with Yahweh. As humankind deals with Yahweh’s sovereignty, obedience is the proper order of the day. As humankind deals with Yahweh’s fidelity moving toward pathos, humankind is authorized to freedom and initiative.

There is a profound tension in this relationship, for dealing with Yahweh’s sovereignty and fidelity does not permit compartmentalization. I fear that in practice we incline to compartmentalization, being excessively scrupulous in some areas of command (such as money or sexuality) and completely autonomous in other spheres of life (such as money or sexuality).

In a footnote here Brueggemann expands upon his hitting of this particular nail on the head, striking it more firmly:

The practical outcome of this compartmentalization in the contemporary church is that so-called conservatives tend to take careful account of the most rigorous claims of the Bible concerning sexuality, and are indifferent to what the Bible says about economics. Mutatis mutandis, so-called liberals relish what the Bible says in demanding ways about economics, but tread lightly around what the Bible says about sexuality.

Brueggemann concludes:

In this relationship, however, as in any serious, demanding, intimate relationship, matters are more troubled and complex than such a sorting out might indicate. The human person, like Israel, is invited, expected, and insistently urged to engage in a genuine interaction that is variously self-asserting and self-abandoning, yielding and initiative-taking. As this tradition of testimony does not envision human persons who are arrogantly autonomous, so it does not envision human beings who are endlessly and fearfully deferential to Yahweh.

A Christianity that functions on a level of fearful deference to God is not a Christianity in which the truth of the Creator’s love for human beings has come to the surface. A Christianity that compartmentalizes its interaction with God has not confronted the truth of the breadth of God’s calling.