Saturday, 4 October 2008

It is all too common for Christians to attempt to do justice to the scriptural narrative by listening to it, learning from it, and attempting to extract a way of viewing the world from it. But the narrative itself is asking us to approach it in a much more radical way. It is inviting us to wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it, and contest it—not as an end in itself, but as a means of approaching its life-transforming truth, a truth that dwells within and yet beyond the words.

This is from Pete Rollins' website, and resonates in a tangential way with the thinking I'm doing this week. I've been writing essays, at last, or at least, doing the research for one, and it's on the difficult metaphor of Woman Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16 and 23. It might be tempting to chuck out these difficult passages, as irrelevant, distant, unhelpful, dangerous, perpetuating patriarchal assumptions about women's sexuality that are fundamentally wrong ... however. The passages are there, in the text that is the foundational story of the people of God, and we cannot simply ignore it. 
So, taking its invitation to 'wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it and contest it,' what sort of truth (small t) might I be moving towards? 
well, at the moment, I am interested in the argument of Daniel Smith-Christopher that there are socio-political as well as gendered forces working towards the development and use of the metaphor. I am trying to decide what to do with the feminist argument, which responds / reacts to the very unhelpful interpretation of these passages as legitimising the abuse of wives by husbands because God punishes 'his' 'wife' as much as they respond / react to the image and language themselves. There's no doubt it is very violent language, graphic imagery - God strips or has her stripped Jerusalem, because she has prostituted herself to other cities and idols. There's the interesting use of the verb that means to act as prostitute, which is not used for that literal purpose, more as firstly a metaphor for an adulterous wife, who as 'acted as a prostitute', which is to say, engaged in illicit sexual activity (sex with someone not her husband, bringing shame to either husband or father, depending on which one 'owns' her). Then the verb undergoes another transformation and refers to men prostituting themselves - nothing to do with literal sexual activity but with worshipping gods other than God/YHWH. 
and there's also Ezekiel himself and his disdain for Jerusalem, and his anger at being exiled, at the leaders of Jerusalem acting in such a way as to invite God to stop protecting them and allow their city and their nation and their people to be overrun by foreign powers as punishment for their rejection of God. 
and it's one thing to do this work myself, and understand all that lies behind the metaphor, but how do we help those without the theology degrees to understand, to find something useful in the metaphor, or at least to be able to know why they are dismissing it as unhelpful ??? there's so much in the bible that forms a picture of a very violent God, and this is one of those portrayals of God that is so foreign to our, well to my, understanding, my encounters with the Sacred. How do we live with this picture - because the wishy washy lovely God that people paint as an alternative doesn't cut it either. God is justified in God's anger at Jerusalem. They have betrayed God, and perhaps Ezekiel is trying to paint a picture of God in terms the exiles would understand - that of a husband cuckolded, deceived, shamed?? 
What I am really wondering is how God would tell the story ...

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