Theology and the Silence of God

I drew on a lot of theological scholarship for this sermon that reflects on the themes of silence and the suffering of God. Fretheim speaks about how God is ‘affected in the deepest possible way’ by the people of Israel and yet such grief does not overwhelm or break ‘God’s faithfulness and gracious purposes’.[1] He also has a helpful discussion on God’s power, saying that ‘God can be driven away….as a result of what people do’.[2] Younger makes a similar connection, speaking about how Judges 11 highlights how sin cannot be hidden from God though God might hide because of sin.[3] Fretheim notes how the absence of God is commonly linked to people’s sin.[4] He also talks about how the breakdown in relationship affects God, there is grief and suffering involved as well as faithfulness and love.[5]

When humans choose destructive decisions, the reader learns through this story that God will not necessarily intervene and ‘compromise the exercise of this freedom’.[6] McCann argues that Yahweh does not intervene because he does not normally violate human freedom.[7] Yahweh works with humans, allows them to make choices, and then always acts ‘aiming for the best in every situation’ but having to allow the ‘less than good’ to sometimes happen.[8] Yahweh will even work with humans when they make deeply flawed sinful choices.[9] Cundall talks about the ‘patience of a long-suffering God’ and reminds his readers that God is still patient with us and our often weak faith.[10]

My theological framework is quite visible in this sermon. For instance, when I describe God as a God who feels and is moved, I am reacting against the Greco-platonic model of God that has dominated the Christian imagination.[11] I also emphasize the freedom God gives people to make choices. This was something I struggled with; in my sermon I chose to look at the silence of God and the freedom people have to make terrible decisions. I could be downplaying God’s power. Evans argues that Judges 11, particularly the account of the land and the battle, reminds the reader that God is in control.[12] This tension is a reminder that a preacher cannot say everything about God in one sermon and we make interpretative choices.

References

[1] Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, 111.

[2] Ibid., 72.

[3] Jr., Judges and Ruth, 245.

[4] Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, 65.

[5] Ibid., 109-26.

[6] Richard G. Bowman, “Narrative Criticism: Human Purpose in Conflict with Divine Presence ” in Judges & Method : New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 39.

[7] McCann, Judges, 86., Also see: Joel S. Burnett, Where Is God? : Divine Absence in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 176.

[8] Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, 75.

[9] Bernard P. Robinson, “The Story of Jephthah and His Daughter: Then and Now,” Biblica 85, no. 3 (2004): 347.

[10] Cundall and Morris, Judges: An Introduction and Commentary, 140.

[11] The history of this type of interpretation can be found in: Mark Sheridan, Language for God in Patristic Tradition : Wrestling with Biblical Anthropomorphism (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), Book, 44.

[12] Evans, Judges and Ruth, 131.

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