Squaring Theological Circles, the Hermeneutics of Orthodoxy, and the God that Made it all Possible

I recently stumbled upon an additional reason to think that the God of theism (i.e., the omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient god) is a distinct god from Yahweh.

Here is what I have found:

Joshua 24: “[Yahweh] is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.”

There seems to be many verses that pose a problem for orthodox conceptions of God in the bible. How are these theological circles squared in the minds of orthodox Christians? In this case, how can this verse be squared with the notion that God will forgive our transgressions if we are repentant? There are several moves that a person can make to accomplish this conceptual feat, and the following move (which I think would be most popular) can serve as a study of the hermeneutical practices of orthodoxy:

Someone could say that the text means precisely that God will forgive our transgressions if we are repentant. This, however, is the epitome’ of eisegesis. There is not evidence within this text that that is what the author intended to say. Interpreting the text in this way is to insert meaning that is foreign to the text itself from other books or texts within the bible. Some individuals, however, see no problem at all with this practice. For them, it is “letting scripture interpret itself.” For them, there is only one author to the text: God. I have described this process elsewhere as doctrinal eisegesis. The doctrine of inerrancy causes the holder of that doctrine to insert meaning that preserves the inerrancy of the text itself.

Assuming that there really is something problematic about this practice, this hermeneutical process prevents one from encountering the text in a way that does not conform to the presuppositions one has about the text. The Reality of the text is lost in the reality produced the reader’s presuppositions. I am positive that I do things like this all the time, yet I cannot see it. Is it not amazing that we as human beings have the capacity to so radically shape the way we understand what we encounter?

And now for the sketchy part of the post: making inferences about the “is” to the “character” of the Divine. On second thought, why do I see this as sketchy? The problem of evil is precisely a problem that results from making this sort of inference. Perhaps, then, there is a way to understand things about the Divine from the “is.” Let’s see if this is possible with the hermeneutical practices of orthodoxy (and everyone else).

What the above example points out is that for us, the presuppositions that we bring to a text matter. (I am included in the “we.” I am sure that I have probably been guilty of heretical eisegesis.) Our presuppositions matter not only when we encounter a text, but also when we encounter people, places, and, arguably, even the Divine Itself. What does this mean about the Divine? What sort of Entity would “make” such a creature?

(A Parenthetical Puzzle: There is a confusing tension here: Who or what is God? Is the Divine a being? A thing that is “tacked on” to our ontology? Or is the Divine Being Itself? Or is the Divine simultaneously a Being and Being Itself? Perhaps it matter not, for if God is the later two, then we must speak metaphorically about God anyway to speak about God at all. Or does it matter?)

God “made” us in God’s own image. (The subsequent exploration of this idea is not exegesis, but utilizing the text as a spring board for further talk about the Divine. The idea for this blog is partly due to this practice.) This, perhaps, is related to idea that hermeneutical lenses essentially create the worlds in which we live. Indeed, our hermeneutical lens is inextricably linked to our epistemic practices and our epistemic practices are linked inextricably to our ontology.

We are, in this sense, creators. For what is it to create if it is not to have the power to add or remove things from being? More accurately, it seems that some are more creative than others. Insofar as one do not see the connection between hermeneutical lenses, epistemic practices, and ontology one is more creature than creator. In other words, if one does not detect the “invisible” framework (i.e., the cultural presuppositions, values, and ontologies) that one was raised in, then one cannot question it, replace it, or embrace it. Perhaps this is related to that oft quoted Socratic statement: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And yet, we are not ultimate creators. This, perhaps, is another kind of sin: to take our selves too seriously in our creative capacity. Perhaps this is why death and fruit are the signs of genuine seekers of the Divine. If my attempt to seek God does not challenge me and does not make me uncomfortable, then perhaps I am not seeking God at all. Instead, I am merely continuing to create my own world. I am attempting to become the ultimate creator: God Itself. To truly embark on a journey to the Divine is recognize both the freedom to create and the imperative to destroy the world that I have created, for the world that I have made, unlike the world of the Divine, is not Good. Moreover, the journey to the Divine is to aid in the construction of a new world, whose architect is the Divine Itself.

The death of our own world is no doubt a painful process. First, the outer edges of our world must go: the abstract beliefs which have little effect on our life and little affective value in our hearts. Next, the earth on which we stand: the foundational epistemic assumptions that keep us comforted and grounded in something other than the Divine. Further closer to us still are people around us: they are removed from our ontology qua beings of hatred and qua beings that are trusted too much or mistrusted entirely. Finally, at last, the self becomes the target of destruction, the most painful step of deconstructing our world. The very hopes and desires that constitute our identity are to be tossed away. Even as I type these words, I shudder to think what that means for my life. It indeed seems like death.

BUT the fruit of the death of my own world is the More that I am looking for. The peace that surpasses all understanding is the More that I am looking for. The eternal Life of knowing the Divine is the More that I am looking for. The perfect Love that drives out all fear is the More that I am looking for. I want to make my home in the More. From there, I want to join the unending effort of making a new world, of bringing heaven here. These ideals, however, must remain open to the More Itself, for if they do not, they will shrink back into the mundane constructions of mortal beings, imperfect and incapable of creating the world of the Divine.

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