Voices, Human and Divine

The central metaphor of Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book, Theology of the Old Testament (1997 Fortress Press) is a court room drama. Testimonies from the scriptures of Israel are heard in support of God, but voice is also given to opposing viewpoints. He makes clear the theological tensions that existed in Israel over issues like the meaning of suffering, the causes of evil, and the mystery and ambiguity of God. Similar differing viewpoints exist today. There was a striking BBC/WGBH television drama called God On Trial, which portrayed a courtroom case in which a group of concentration camp prisoners put God on trial for the terrible suffering of the Holocaust. Many of the arguments for and against God from the Book of Job and others in the Bible were presented passionately. There was nothing intellectually detached about that debate.

The Bible speaks with different voices on many contemporary questions. The central task for Christians is to discern which are the human voices in the Bible and which Is God’s voice. Which are the voices bound by the customs and limits of their time, and which is God’s enduring voice? Just because the Bible says it is God’s voice does not make it necessarily so (remember Jesus: “You have heard it said … but I say to you”). We have faced similar questions before over slavery and the equality of women, and now we face the issue of the equality of gays and lesbians and transgendered people. There are Biblical texts against freedom for slaves, against women, and against homosexuals, but set against these is the clear voice of Jesus calling us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love even our enemies. Obedience to the word of God is not a matter of selecting texts which reinforce our prejudices, but rather is obedience to the living Word, the compassionate presence of the Spirit of Christ who dwells within us and calls us to the high road of love.

(Thanks to Mark Burrows for inspiring these thoughts at a presentation he recently made at Second Congregational Church, Attleboro.)

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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2 Responses to Voices, Human and Divine

  1. very good. Barth would like it if I understand Barth.

    • John Fisk says:

      Michael, your comment about Barth, who is definitely not easy reading, prompts me to try to clarify my own theological thinking about the Word of God. Barth says that the Word is God himself. “The Word of God is God Himself in Holy Scripture. For the God who once spoke as the Lord to Moses and the prophets, the evangelists and the apostles, now speaks through their written word as the same Lord to His Church. Scripture is holy and the Word of God as by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church the witness of God’s revelation.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol.Ib p.505). When God spoke to the prophets and apostles they wrote down what they heard and understood of the meaning of God’s involvement in the world. So we call scripture, “the Word,” because it witnesses to God speaking in these ways. But the Word is God speaking, not a proof text document. Scripture becomes the Word for us today as the Holy Spirit speaks to us and brings scripture alive in our lives and the life of the church, and as we are obedient to the living Word in faith and trust. The Word expresses itself most completely in human form in Jesus Christ, who is “God with us; God beside us; and decisively, God for us” (Karl Barth, God In Action, p. 17). This understanding of the Word as a dynamic presence makes much more sense than the notion that the literal text is inerrant or infallible. The literal text is not God. We hear the Word of God through scripture as we listen to the witness of the prophets and apostles, especially as they witness to Jesus Christ, and as we listen to the witness of the Spirit in our world today through the sciences and arts, and through our own experiences, and the teachings and tradition of the Church.

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