For a few years, a group of friends and acquaintances have been playing theological volleyball it seems, arguing the same points about the Cross, biblical interpretation, open theism, and the attributes of God. We’ve shared meals together, Skype chats, Google Hangouts, email exchanges, long, drawn out Facebook “conversations,” but I just feel like I needed return to writing and reading about theology again. I guess this is the best way since I hadn’t blogged in forever, but here goes, really briefly.
Team Zeus, the group of theologians who wish to prioritize Greek metaphysics over special revelation such as the Prophets argues that our understanding of divind abandonment is wrong. Jesus is not saying that God has forsaken the Christ on the Cross, it’s just a cry of pain and despair. Furthermore, our interlocutors continue to suggest that God is both immaterial and equally omnipresent at ever place in the world. Divine abandonment they have even suggest in their poems and continuous conversations online is also a not very pastoral approach to theology. We wouldn’t want a depressed person to learn that God has left them to deal with their emotional bouts, do we? That’s not nice, it’s not politically correct, I mean pastoral.
What to make of all of this? Is divine abandonment an offensive theology that doesn’t give people hope? In the words of Rosa Parks, I say, Nah homey. Not in the least. I refuse to be moved by my former and current position I once held defending God’s freedom to move. My pushback against the priority of Greek metaphysics in the reading of Scripture isn’t some personal vendetta against a few Church Fathers after Clement of Alexandria; it’s about, as I have maintained about the freedom of YHWH as God has revealed to us. Team Zeus does not the idea of God moving from place to place, and they also don’t like the idea that God has a glorious presence that was with the Hebrew prophets and priests in the tabernacle and who enlivened the very anatomy of the Messiah (John 1). For Team Zeus, every tribe and nation gets a participation trophy and a piece of God’s presence. And in some sense, it is true, to co-opt Clement of Alexandria, God is like a river and pours out many streams. Rivers, however, must have a particular spring or bank with which they start to feed into these streams. For Christians, we must not look the Greek mythology or categories, but to the prophets. It is there that the prophets pray to God not to abandon them, for example such as in Nehemiah (chapter 1, verse 9); Is Nehemiah ignorant of the one true God? Is he being disingenuous? In either case, if we go with Team Zeus, we have no reason to trust Nehemiah’s testimony, do we? God chose out of mercy not to abandon the Israelites, but God was fully capable of doing so. But then in chapter 9, verse 28, Nehemiah describe the events of the exile as divine abandonment. What do we make of this?
One can even see in the words of Ezekiel that God took up God’s Shekinah presence, the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and left Jerusalem. King Saul was once filled with the Holy Spirit, and was a man who desired justice (1st Samuel 11) just as the God who chose him did, but what happened? Saul was disobedient and God’s Spirit left him (“Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul.” 1st Samuel 16:14). In each case, we see God is on the move. If a person doesn’t want to play by God’s rules, fine. God wipes off the dust off of God’s feet and leaves. Only in the context of divine mobility we see taught by the Hebrew prophets can we understand the fullness of Jesus’ cry of divine abandonment. Elvis has left the building; The Shekinah Glory has left the Temple (Jesus’ body) at the Cross. The Divine-Person, the Second Person in the Trinity now has the fullest experience of being human, that is experiencing the curse of Death. That is before breaking it, and remaining victorious over the Powers.
Lastly, I want to address the “pastoral” issue of divine abandonment. Now, one member of TZ suggests that we cannot tell a depressed person that God abandons people, for this would be offensive and not very hopeful. First of all, this is a TERRIBLE, condescending view of people who are suffering from depression. No one one whose read Scripture correctly would suggest God abandons people because of their emotions. No, in each and every case, God leave because of people’s moral choices. God’s being is not determined by how we feel. Such an emotional argument based on experience is very manipulative, and might I add, down right suspicious. The god of the Greek metaphysicians is a snowflake who couldn’t stand up to the passionate God of the prophets. The God we learn of in Scripture is incredibly free and mobile. The defense of divine mobility is a pastoral theology because God is free to move up and down, from heaven to earth, and back again; to the lowest rungs on the social ladder to the highest. God is free to be with humanity when we experience the most misery with victims and God is free to be with those who experience the joy of liberation and holiness. All of this is because of the freedom God chose on Golgotha.