In Dr. Efird’s class we are examining how the nation of Israel attempted to make sense of its existence through their Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”). From the time of Abraham to the exile into Babylon their theology was (what has been termed) Deuteronomic. In essence, this theology boils down to the understanding that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. If you want to do well, then be good and righteous. If you are wicked and unrighteous then you will not be well. However, Israel, upon being hauled into captivity, could not explain Theodicy (God’s fairness, justice and goodness) by these means. Bad things happen to good people and bad people appeared to get the good things in life. Thus it is that, during the Babylonian captivity, Israel developed a different theology to explain what was happening to them; it is known as the Wisdom Movement. The movement began with writings such as Proverbs and spread into longer stories using hyperbole, parables, allegory, and fables which expressed God’s providence in a practical manner (Job, Ruth, Jonah, and Ester, etc.). Finally, after the exile, Israel formed another type of thought in an attempt to explain life and the circumstances in which the nation found itself. Apocalyptic Literature (like, Daniel 7 – 12), with the use of symbols, imagery, numbers and colors, used a two-pronged approach to rationalize things – dualism, a war between good and evil and; “the two-age motif,” where sometimes good is winning and other times evil depending on which ever “age” was up. In Apocalyptic literature, God’s agent must intervene in order to end persecution.
In Dr. Copeland’s class we are processing how our practice affects our beliefs which, in turn, affect our practice; and I carry over to this class the conversation concerning Israel from the previous. Is it really as simple as Israel attempting to explain Theodicy in their evolution of literature or is it, in and of itself, the providence of God that their thinking develops? Asked a different way: Is it an end in itself that Israel goes from simple Deuteronomic theology to a more complicated Apocalyptic literature in an attempt to explain their suffering, or is it a means to an end where God is preparing the nation for the arrival of Christ as He reveals Himself more and more to the nation? As Israel practices being a nation – through suffering – it affects their beliefs, which affect their practice (specifically their writing style and thought process).
Karl Barth (one of the characters we are studying in Contemporary Theology) taught a “dialectical theology,’ where there was a “conversation” if you will; a kind of give and take between the “wholly otherness” of God and the humanness of humanity (for example, in the Person of Christ). What if there is a “conversation” going on with the historical/critical method which examines the literature, and another type of theology where an organic union with Christ is developed by means of the Scriptures? What if there is a “give and take” – a critical, yet spiritually discerning dialect which has been developing through the New Covenant (as the writings of Israel did through the Old)? This is, in essence, what Barth practiced and believed.
In Jeremy’s class we are talking about the “Upside-Down Kingdom” that Jesus institutes. The Kingdom (of God/Heaven) is characterized by a “New Creation” where God’s “empire” breaks in upon the present paradigm announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ’s victory over the enemy. If we can agree that paradigms are shifting presently, how much of a stretch is to imagine that each stage in Israel’s writings were paradigm shifts, as it were? Like “birth pangs,” the paradigms are becoming more violent, and as the time draws nearer, the evolution of God’s exposure becomes more and more visible – from a small nation to all humanity; from Moses to Christ; from humanity to God Himself. The Kingdom has been turning things upside down since Israel began to change its thinking from “if you want good stuff then be good” to “completing in my body the sufferings of Christ” (Col. 1:24).