Where Has Yahweh Gone?

In the most recent volume of Horizens in Biblical Theology, an article by James Metzger came out entitled “Where Has Yahweh Gone?: Reclaiming Unsavory Images of God in New Testament Studies.” Using the Parable of the Reticent Friend (Luke 11:5-13) and the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), Metzger shows how interpreters often begin by assuming an omnibenevolent, just, compassionate deity is the subject of such parables before asking how this imagery affects our understanding of God. There is nothing inherently wrong with this hermeneutical activity, but what Metzger demonstrates is how new hermeneutical options will present themselves if we do not assume that all divine imagery will be flattering. This is nothing new for Old Testament studies, but Metzger feels that the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible in all his unflattering glory is often lost to the omnibenevolent, just, compassionate deity of the New Testament. He proposes that the recovery of unflattering divine imagery in the New Testament would be advantageous for reasons he goes on to explain. It is particularly a paragraph from the conclusion that I would like to highlight here:

For persons in the Jewish and Christian traditions, these unsavory portraits of God are a salient feature of these inheritances, one which cannot so easily be dubbed the Bible’s “minority report” on God and sloughed off, for they suffuse the pages of both testaments. While most ignore or even condemn them as unfit for enlightened, progressive faith communities committed to justice, tolerance, and dignity for all, I believe we possess an invaluable resource that remains largely untapped but nevertheless might assist us in giving voice to the truly tragic in human existence as well as to our evolving conceptions of ourselves and our world in a post-Darwin, post-Holocaust age. Indeed, for many a personal encounter with chronic pain or disability and/or extended reflection upon the magnitude and variety of gratuitous suffering prohibits belief in the idealized deity of traditional and quasi-theisms so that the only remaining options are to expand metaphors for God or simply to drop god-talk altogether. For those for whom traditional portrayals do not resonate, God may be conceived as both friend and fiend; as a generative, benevolent presence as well as a capricious, savage, hostile force; as one who orders and sustains (Gen 1:1-2:4b) but also as one who nurtures (even celebrates) the chaotic and destructive in creation (Job 38-41). Experienced both as powers that bear down upon and sustain, as both creative and destructive, God may be one we have to learn how to love–if such love can be mustered at all.

No doubt many will take issue with some of Metzger’s more provocative views, but I believe that he makes some very sound hermeneutical observations that people of faith can consider and implement. I recommend the article for those interested in hermeneutics, in New Testament/Biblical theology (particularly marginalized conceptions of God), and in the intersection of science and faith.


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