“Historians have provided thorough and irrefutable documentation that the century just lived through (the twentieth) has been the most murderous on record.”[1]  This violence is in some way attributable to our lost sense of living in covenant community.  Covenant is the premise of Creation; Creation is the context of covenant.  Simply put, all of life is relational which can only be sustained in covenant.  Let us examine this premise further.

The distinctive Christian doctrine of Trinity lays the foundation for understanding all of reality as covenantal and relational.

Trinity understands God as three-personed: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God in community, each ‘person’ in active communion with the others.  We are given an understanding of God that is most emphatically personal and interpersonal.  God is nothing if not personal.  If God is revealed as personal, the only way that God can be known is in personal response.[2]

The very character and nature of God testified to in Scripture is dialogical.  God initiates dialogue, calls out, and speaks into being.  This calling out and speaking enables and invites response from both the larger Creation and from humanity.  Again, God is relational.

As a dialogical Person, God is not merely transcendent but imminent within our world.  The “pathos” of God is intimately engaged in our world.  Not only does God act, but can be acted upon.  There are several ways that this is true, not least of which is prayer.  Most profoundly, this is seen through the drama of the crucifixion in which the Father and the Son both suffer.  The Son dies and the Father experiences Son-less-ness.  God’s commitment to covenant ultimately leads to the cross.  True dialogue requires risk and the potential for both dialogical partners to be changed.

As may be obvious, dialogue is not one-sided.  Israel, human persons, the nations, andCeation ultimately are invited into this divine dialogue.  “Praise-thanks and lament-complaint bespeaks of Israel as a fully engaged dialogic partner who plays a role vis-à-vis YHWH in which a profound drama of fidelity and infidelity is regularly performed.”[3]

Israel, and by extension other persons, is called into genuine relatedness in which open and honest communication might occur.  This is primarily done through covenant.  First, God loves Israel.  God brings into being this nation as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” set apart for God’s purposes (doing).  YHWH is committed to Israel.  Thus, YHWH chooses Israel, though not because of any particular strength, value, or individual quality that sets it apart.

In response to God loving, choosing, and setting God’s heart upon them, Israel is called and even commanded to love God alone and to live in obedient faithfulness to YHWH.  Both God’s wrath and grace must be understood in terms of its connection with covenant.  Israel is called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, to hear and obey (do justice), and to be holy as YHWH is holy.  In other words, Israel is continuously called (whether from fidelity or infidelity on their part) to reflect God’s character and nature back in the world through sustained communion with the Lover.  Even in the midst of exile, death, and destruction, Israel dares to trust and hope in this God of covenant fidelity.

The second of God’s dialogical partners is humanity.  Humanity is entirely dependent upon God.  They are creatures and God is Creator and the creature must remember this connection.  Because God is sovereign, humanity is called to live obediently toward YHWH.  Yet, God allows freedom in the human person because God is not coercive.  This allows a genuine response, even in the form of complaint, from the human agents.  Brueggemann says it thus, “What full humanness requires and expects in this tradition, moreover, is the courage to assert and the confidence to yield.”[4]  As such, humanity is called to act in three ways: listening (obedience), discerning (“response to hidden generosity of God”), and trusting (in God’s faithfulness).  Likewise, humanity is enabled to bring complaint, petition, and thanksgiving before God.  This full confidence in YHWH leads to praise and hope.  Again, it is a life lived in “glad obedience, trustful freedom, and venturesome relatedness.”[5]

The nations are also a dialogical partner with YHWH.  Four nations stand out in this partnership in Israel’s testimony: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.  A typical pattern emerges in these relationships.  First, God covenants with all creation and all nations through Noah.  As such, YHWH makes a claim on all nations, not only Israel.  God commands the nations.  The nations respond but eventually overstep their boundaries of power, lacking mercy.  Finally, God responds in wrath toward those nations that fail to live by the covenant (living justly).  However, God also promises to deliver and restore them, if they turn from their wickedness.

Creation is the final dialogical partner with YHWH.  YHWH blesses creation to provide an abundance that provides and sustains life.  However, creation is “relinquished to the power of chaos and curse when human agents, charged with the well-being of creation, renege on their caretaking responsibility.”[6]  Yet, YHWH’s does not allow death and destruction to be the last word in the conversation with those dialogical partners.  Instead, God restores creation to life-giving, life-blessing, and life-sustaining potential.

“To speak of ‘the structures of covenant life’ can be a helpful way to speak of the law.  The language of structure catches up the theme of creation; the ordering of community is in tune with God’s ordering of the cosmos.  Just as the law and structures, more generally, were an integral part of God’s work in creation (Gen 1:28; 2:15-17), so God, in giving the law to Israel, provides structure for society.  The law is good, a gracious divine gift, and is given for the sake of a well-ordered community.”[7]

 

Bibliography

Birch, Bruce C. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005.


 

[1] Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005, 9.

[2] Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005, 45.

[3] Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, 13.

[4] Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, 65.

[5] Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, 90.

[6] Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, 166.

[7] Birch, Bruce C.. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005, 127.

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Comments
  1. AMANDA says:

    NO GOOD COMES FROM COVENANTS.

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