Wednesday, August 8, 2012

OT as Tragedy

Terrence Fretheim articulates a certain cringing amongst OT scholars when their beloved testament is handled by preachers. Growing up in Pentecostal circles means I've heard my fair share of sermons ranging from rooted in to tangential to an OT text, so I have an inkling into what Fretheim is talking about.

Allow me a generalisation when I say that the problem (or at least one of them) as I see it is that the OT is usually read positively rather than tragically. If the story of Moses is the story of a hero, it is the story of a tragic hero who is refused entry into the Promised Land. Even the exodus from Egypt becomes an ironic tragedy as King Solomon becomes a sort of "neo-Pharaoh" and his kingdom an oppressive, indulgent empire. Exodus turns to exile, with God's people judged and scattered. There are voices of hope, but these are always spoken in the midst of crisis and despair, construing a time and world beyond that of the text. There is joyous liturgy, but as the prophets warn, the people's liturgical ecstasy was in stark contradiction to their on-the-ground injustice, and this would not go unpunished. The beautiful Psalms were sung with gusto, but God didn't want to hear them.

I'd like to think this isn't a (mis)reading by a biased Christian, though I am just that. Rather, the text itself -- if it's okay to still talk like that -- at least allows for (and perhaps even calls for) a tragic reading. As a biased Christian, it will come as no surprise that I think the NT should therefore be read as a comedy. Of course the comedy doesn't de-legitimise the tragedy, but neither does it giving direct meaning or purpose to all of it. The OT doesn't only point to Christ like a signpost would. He is also found as the text stares into the abyss of injustice and anguish. His absence creates, in retrospect, a Christ-haunted world crying out for newness, desperate for an end to the cycles of tragedy that seem to constitute and fate Israel's story.

Into this tragedy steps Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaims the comedy of the kingdom that he has enjoyed from the beginning with the Father and which is coming to earth as in heaven.

No comments:

Post a Comment