Eugene Peterson gave a series of lectures at Regent College in 1999 titled, "Eat This Book." The second lecture invites one to consider the link between form and content – the content is in the form. Pressing for an understanding of the Scriptures as narrative, story, Peterson suggests the form invites us to both consider and enter the grand story of God. Thus, the content, a new reality in relationship to the God of the Universe, may be understood and experienced in the form, the story of God in the Scriptures.
I was at once struck by the similarity between what Peterson suggests and how Brian McLaren weaves the same ideas in, The Story We Find Ourselves In. Helping a person see the possibilities requires them to understand their location in the story otherwise, the Scriptures likely devolve into a religious informational book along the lines of an encyclopedia. Nothing more than drafted moralisms come from such a "controlling" use of the Scriptures. In this way, God hides even in the Scriptures. And, God does not hide in the Scriptures
The Old Testament reading for the Third Sunday in Advent came from
Zephaniah 3. The backdrop to the third chapter left me reflecting on
the meaning of the name "Zephaniah" – "the Lord hides." Jesus told the religious leaders in his day to search the Scriptures for there they think they find life and yet they "testify of me." The Scriptures hid the Messiah. The Scriptures reveal the Messiah.
Ominous descriptions of judgment haunt the first two chapters of Zephaniah. No one escapes the watchful eye of God. He witnesses Jew and Gentile, small and great, rich and poor chasing after all but God. They do not find him in the stars – he is hidden. Yet, they could find him in the stars for he is not hidden.
Our notions of judgment and justice often require visible action. We often refer to images in Scripture for our alertness to judgment. Floods and rainbows remind us of the story of Noah and his family boarding the big boat – Ark. The word plagues conjures images of the Exodus, if not Charlton Heston.
What if we looked at these events through the lens of the form (the name of Zephaniah) and found the content (the Lord hides)? Is it possible the consequences of the curse of sin implies God is actively at work holding back the natural results of rebellion? So, man exerts himself, follows his eagerness to be king, gives into his passions and whims and the results would lead to unending misery and yet God holds the consequences at bay out of his great mercy. At what point would the letting go mean the coming of all those things announced as impending judgment. What if when God hides, judgment comes? What if "the Lord hides" and lets us go our own way? Would the results be a form of judgment? Would it result in the kind of things described by the prophets?
I am not arguing for a new way to read the Scriptures as if to suggest these pronouncements were not exactly what God intended. I am simply left to wonder if there is not a case for the withholding of presence as a means of judgment and if that act could help us anticipate Advent all the more.
If the people would be carted off to Babylon and experience exile, there is little doubt they would sense the "the Lord hides." Any talk of things changing would surely provoke a hopefulness. The fulfillment of the "revealing" of the promise would certainly mean singing, shouting, praising and exulting. Rather than exploiting everything around us for our own benefit we would realize God had been for us though we thought him to be hidden. As we see his work to fulfill his promise we cannot contain the celebration. We cannot let our joy be hidden. In that moment, Zephaniah seems to suggest God will take great pleasure in our excitement.
What will your celebration of Advent bring? Will your joy be hidden?
1 comment on “The Dialectic of Advent … Hiding and Not Hiding …”
There is no doubt that the modern Western version of judgement as the condemnation and casting away (as we all too often do in our own prison systems) does not line up with the “judgement” we see in the scriptures. Personally, I think you see repeatedly the use of judgement as that which reforms and redeems in the scriptures. There is no doubt that the exile was God hiding and it was reformative for the children of Israel. Our misunderstanding of suffering (not realizing that this is perhaps the most spiritually forming thing we do) causes us to fear judgement rather than see it as that which repairs shalome and continues the process of new creation within us. As N.T. Wright would say, it is God setting things back aright.