Monday, September 05, 2005

Rouse yourself, Lord!

A word that appears with unusual frequency in Isaiah 40-48 is 'yr: "to awake; to rouse." The verb is always predicated of God, that God will rouse Himself or Cyrus, the Persion king, to come to the rescue of Israel. The word sometimes has the overtone of suggesting that bad things are happening to Israel because God is asleep or preoccupied and so not paying attention to what is happening with His people. It is perhaps an image that is a bit uncomfortable for us, but in this case, I wonder if we aren't the ones unconsciously adopting a more pagan image of and impassible God.

Nearly 20 years ago now, the Jewish Biblical scholar Jon Levenson published his excellent study Creation and the Persistence of Evil. I highly recommend the book. The principal argument is that we moderns tend to misread Biblical texts in which God is seen as embattled with the forces of evil because we think in philosophical terms about God rather than in relational terms. In other words, the experience of the believer is that sometimes God isn't listening or is choosing not to do anything in a given situation. We are perfectly within the tradition to rouse ourselves to shout for God's attention rather than trying to square our suffering with an image of a timeless and unchanging philosophical 'first principle' or 'ground of being'.

Certainly as we pray for the survivers and the dead from the hurricane, we should be wary of any argument that says that such dreadful destruction is anything willed positively by an impassive god; rather, God hates evil and promises to rescue those who call upon Him. Let us do our part in praying for the people of the Gulf Coast and pray that God will rouse Himself an come to their aid.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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