The suffering of god
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The Suffering of God. Who Is This Old Testament God?. The Suffering of God – Session 2. God in Old Testament Theology*. Opening Prayer – Proper 21 (BCP).

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The Suffering of God

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The suffering of god

The Suffering of God

Who Is This Old Testament God?

The suffering of god session 2

The Suffering of God – Session 2

God in Old Testament Theology*

*Titles & Subtitles for all slides are from THE SUFFERING OF GOD

Opening prayer proper 21 bcp

Opening Prayer – Proper 21 (BCP)

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God in old testament theology

God in Old Testament Theology

A Metaphoric Shift

A metaphoric shift

A Metaphoric Shift

  • Failure to consider the range of biblical metaphors for God leads to imbalance in our understanding of God

  • Major shift occurred in the 1960’s

    • Honest to God by J. A. T. Robinson

    • Women’s movement

    • Black Theology

    • Liberation Theology

  • Tended to reject images of God that validated control or oppression of others

  • Began to focus on God as Liberator

A metaphoric shift1

A Metaphoric Shift

  • Cultural changes behind the shift

    • Experience of WWI & WWII in conjunction with the image of God as Warrior

    • Scientific research led many to question God’s sphere of activity

  • Traditional divine attributes came under discussion

    • Divine eternity

    • Temporality

    • Freedom

    • Immutability

    • Foreknowledge

    • Impassibility

    • Omnipotence

    • Aseity

    • Immateriality

    • Immanence-transcendence

A metaphoric shift2

A Metaphoric Shift

  • Fretheim’s criteria for weighing metaphors for God

    • Should meet the needs of and match our shared experience as human beings

    • Be intelligible and coherent

    • Should reflect the biblical witness

Convergence pluralism

Convergence & Pluralism

  • Biblical images for God don’t always match previous scholarly work on theology

    • Today’s theologians are doing their own exegesis

    • Certain biblical themes, such as divine repentance and anthropomorphic images, appear infrequently, in theological references like commentaries

  • Recent theological work

    • Reaffirmed most traditional Christian views of God

    • Introduced a variety of “new” images for God

Convergence pluralism1

Convergence & Pluralism

  • Canonical viewpoint of the church needs to embrace the variety of images for God found in the Bible

    • Ultimately the source of many denominational differences

    • “Pluralism has been canonized.” (p. 19)

  • Efforts to limit the canonicity of Biblical materials to a certain subset threaten to undercut theological development in response to future challenges



  • Movement away from a “God who acts in history” to a more complex God and world in relationship

  • OT theologies

    • Systematic, addressing various attributes of God (Approach of Eichrodt)

    • Historic, based on historical developments in understanding God (Approach of Gerhard von Rad)

    • Claus Westermann blends these 2 approaches (God & humans live in a history in which God acts to save and bless)



  • When “history” is applied to God, this implies “change and contingency for God” (p. 23)

  • Theological emphasis on “story” needs to recognize the interdependent nature of story with certain concepts that are key to interpreting the story

    • Ex. – Exodus story only meaningful if certain revelations to Moses are accepted

      • God is the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob

      • God has heard the cry of his people

      • God will be with Moses

Story and generalization

Story and Generalization

  • How should we determine the generalizations underlying the story?

    • Pay attention to the generalizations that biblical authors disclose in telling the story

    • Take note of “truth-claims” made by an author that constrain the interpretation of a story

Story and generalization1

Story and Generalization

“It is not enough to say that God is the one who saves and blesses in these stories; what is crucial is the kind of God who is understood to be saving and blessing. A capricious God can save and bless. Even an impersonal God could engage in such activities….It is the truth-claims that Israel makes regarding the kind of God who was active in its life that provide a crucial interpretive clue to the story, and insist that it be read in a certain way, delimiting possibilities of meaning.” (p. 24)

Story and generalization2

Story and Generalization

  • “Historical recitals” have been highlighted as key to understanding the Old Testament

    • Read Deut. 26:5-9

    • Multiple variations of this material are found throughout the OT

    • Important, but we need more information, if we are to have a balanced picture of the story

  • “Confessional statements” provide a critical lens for understanding the OT story

    • Read Exodus 34:6-7

    • Often appear near the “historical recital”

    • Found in different genres within scripture

    • An example of Israelite abstract thinking

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Story and generalization3

Story and Generalization

  • These creedal statements should receive more attention than the “historical recital” since other OT texts suggest that the Israelites will forget their history (Jer. 23:7)

  • Creedal statements of the kind of God Israel worships function even if the story about God and Israel is suspended

  • “God’s story continues” (p. 27)

    • Lam. 3:21-33

    • This kind of God carries hope for the future

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,”

Story and generalization4

Story and Generalization

  • “Confessional statement” of Ex. 34 is presented as revelation

  • Appears in the situation of the story of the golden calf incident

  • “It could be said that it is the way that God does not act, in response to human sin, that is as revealing of his nature as the more spectacular salvific events.” (p. 28)

Story and generalization5

Story and Generalization

  • “The God who saves and blesses is always faithful, loving, gracious, and righteous.” (p. 28)

  • This two-pronged confession (historical & creedal) indicates that even the OT authors subscribed to a “canon within the canon” view

  • Understanding the diversity within the canon depends on certain key confessions of unity

The ot god contemporary issues

The OT God & Contemporary Issues

Who caused his glorious arm to march at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of the LORD gave them rest. Thus you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name. Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The yearning of your heart and your compassion? They are withheld from me. For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is you name.

  • Impact of Liberation Theology on OT theology

  • Search for images of God as Liberator is beginning to take account of the complex interaction of biblical images of God (pp. 29-30)

    • God raises up the poor and gives strength to the king (1 Sam. 2:1-10)

    • God is comforter and warrior (Is. 63:12-16)

  • Images come out of a cultural context and then act to shape the culture after having been applied to God

The ot god contemporary issues1

The OT God & Contemporary Issues

  • Within the biblical text one can see development with respect to slavery and women’s issues (Ex. 20-23 & Deut. 10 &15)

  • Certain images for God rise to prominence in the context of certain situations

    • God as Liberator in the Exodus

    • Israel as God’s spouse when Hosea is called to oppose the fertility cults

The ot god contemporary issues2

The OT God & Contemporary Issues

  • Church can reach balanced view of God

    • Giving proper attention to neglected images for God

    • Understanding the OT’s use of certain metaphors with specific settings

The ot god contemporary issues3

The OT God & Contemporary Issues

  • Fretheim’s recommendations for working with OT metaphors for God

    • Determine the central metaphors

      • “That which provides for the most fundamental continuity through the centuries is not the story of ever-lapsing Israel, nor the heritage of faith which is always being reformulated; it is the history of a certain kind of God who will always, come what may, execute justice and love the sojourner (Deut. 10:18). God’s salvific will is never diminished; God’s righteousness is never compromised; God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (p. 31)

    • Pay close attention to what images for God say about God and the faith community



  • The Book of Common Prayer (1979). The Seabury Press.

  • Fretheim, Terence E. (1984). The Suffering of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

  • Slide design template. Microsoft Office Online. (18 Sep. 2005)

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