Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 7:17-26
v. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little...

One doesn't have to read much of the Old Testament before one is face to face with a serious problem: the violence that seems sanctioned, if not demanded, by God. This mostly has to do with Israel's conquest of the promised land, a conquest that dispossessed, if not completely destroyed, those already present there.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests three "popular" ways to deal with this violence. First, you can simply ignore it, pretend it isn't there. Second, you can say that the Israelites were simply wrong and that it was not God who commanded the violence at all. Later on they come to acknowledge this as their understanding of God grows. Third, you can say that it is God himself who develops over time, eventually controlling the violence within himself, giving it up as a way to be in relationship with his people. All three have their advantages and disadvantages.

Brueggemann himself comes down on the side of letting the texts be the texts and the struggle be the struggle. We have to wrestle "that deep in God's history and deep in God's character are powerful residues of violence that are not readily overcome" (Reverberations of Faith, p. 226). Perhaps the Christian story is that they are finally overcome in the cross. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach as well.

So I don't really know what to do with the violence of the Bible and God's implication in it. I do firmly believe that God now calls us to be people of peace, that those days of using violence to work out our relationships with other people are over. I believe the roots of this stance are in the biblical prophets and in Jesus of Nazareth.

And I do know that we all must look at our own violent sides. We live in a society saturated by violence. I'm not just talking about violence on our streets, but in our entertainment. One has to try hard not to be entertained by violence in our world. Somehow we need to come to grips with that and make conscious decisions for peace in all aspects of our lives. This too is part of the Lenten journey.

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