Friday, 5 December 2008

Walter Brueggemann - Faith at the Nullpunkt

Walter Brueggeman is an Old Testament scholar. One of the things he writes about is the eschatological (i.e. to do with the “last things”: judgment, the new heavens and the new earth etc.) hope we find in the writings of the Old Testament. He says that for Israel, eschatology comes in at the point where it seems like God's promises to Israel have failed, after Jerusalem has fallen and Israel has been taken into exile due to their sin. For Israel, this is the point at which it's hardest to see how what God has promised can ever come to pass, and Brueggeman says that here, Israel has two tasks: to relinquish what has gone, to acknowledge what God has ended; and to receive the gift of hope that he inexplicably and unnecessarily offers to them. Israel is caught between the end of the old and the beginning of the new, and it's in this context that their eschatological hope emerges.

Brueggeman identifies five things that we see at this nullpunkt, this turning point in Israel's history, where they are caught between exile and homecoming; chaos and new creation; complaint and praise:

  1. The turn from exile to homecoming is lyrical, imaginative, and exuberant. Israel is expectant, but it doesn't know exactly what the future redemption will look like. Their hope isn't reasonable, controlled or precise, but wildly exuberant and creative.
  2. Israel’s imaginative exuberance about the future it will receive from Yahweh is informed and shaped by Israel’s memory of his previous generosity and fidelity. The images of exodus, creation, the promised land all shape how Israel thinks about its future.
  3. This way of imagining the hoped-for future, that transposes remembered miracles into anticipated miracles requires a way of thinking that is open to a myriad of images, figures, and metaphors. No single image is adequate because reducing hope to only one image would turn lyrical expectation into description and prediction, something Israel will not and cannot do.
  4. Israel won't and can't give a precise definition of what they are hoping for, but at the same time insists that their hope is about real life in the real world. Because their hope is for the real world, to hope doesn't mean simply to wait around until God acts, but to live in a countercultural way that challenges and subverts their existing sociopolitical situation.
  5. Israel's hope is theocentric, Yahweh-centric. It isn't something they can bring about themselves, but something which they hope and trust that God will do.
This isn't just an interesting perspective on Old Testament eschatology, though - it relates to us, to the Church. As the people of God, caught in many ways between death and resurrection, between Jesus' ascension and his return, Israel can offer a model for us in imagining God's promised future, the kingdom of God.


Fiona said...

This is really good. Is there a specific book that has more detailed stuff on this?


Marika said...

The article I based that post on was in “The end of the world and the ends of God,” ed John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker, which has an interesting mixture of articles on eschatology by scientists, psychologists, biblical scholars etc. You could maybe try getting hold of more Brueggeman - he's supposed to be quite good, generally, though I'm not sure how much he's written about eschatology generally.