Day: January 31, 2011

the all-purpose theological trump card (ii)

Late last week I dared to suggest that we can make too much of the story of Israel — particularly if we imagine that it can unravel every theological tangle.

Understandably, I was pinned in the comments for failing to specify how and where this might happen. So I’m going to try to make good my negligence.

Before I do, though, let me give just two examples of how and where I find the story of Israel theologically illuminating.

To begin with, I feel it sheds light on many details of exegesis — especially in the Gospels.

For instance, I was recently reading about how to understand the request we make in the Lord’s prayer for God to give us our ‘daily bread’. Commentators apparently argue over how best to translate the word behind ‘daily’.

It can get quite involved. But, as Halden has recently argued, the debate is thoroughly recast when we pay the probable reference to God’s provision of manna in the desert:

When Jesus then instructs his disciples to pray for “our daily bread” ought we not … realize that in calling his followers to pray in this way Jesus is calling us back into the desert with Israel. Out of the security of land, possessions, cultural production and into a life of sojourning in which we, once again, are given to depend, quite literally on God for the essentials of survival?

Likewise, I find that proper attention to the story of Israel puts a whole new spin on some classical bigger picture problems.

Take the problem of evil, for example. Rather than an abstract equation to be balanced, the goodness and all-powerfulness of God collides with the evil reality of evil in Israel’s concrete historical experience.

In the face of evil, the Old Testament points relentlessly forward to the (eschatological) future instead of backward in the manner typical of theodicy (e.g., to human free will or an angelic rebellion).

This response gathers momentum as it bounces around what Richard Hays calls ‘the prophetic sounding chamber’ of Israel’s exile. A momentum thoroughly alien to the environment of an air-conditioned tutorial room…