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Never said there weren’t tensions. I just think it is often a cop-out for people who don’t want to do the real work, or who want to avoid conflict. There are hard-to-understand things that can be described as tensions. Like when God repents in Exodus 33(?). Like, how does God change His mind? And yet, Inspired scripture declares that He does. Or, maybe even PJ’s favorite… Christ defeating death by dying (which I would see more as irony or contrarianism than tension…but I’m okay with tension for that sort of thing).
The problem with this illustration is that it assumes all tensions in scripture are a case of one position just being wrong and the person that holds it stupid and lazy. While that does happen it is not necessarily the case, and one would argue that controversy doesn't equate to tension. The Jews were not wrong to assume the messiah would triumph for example, but it sure didn't happen the way they thought it would. I also don't think that just because someone holds that a tension exists that it automatically does, or that people who see tensions (or if they're atheists "contradictions") in everything are as clever as they think they are.
However, I think it's more useful to discuss what appear to be real tensions, be they in the text or human understanding. There may be fewer of them than some think, but they have and in some cases do exist. This is one of the reasons I brought up Job. It is often seen as a highly contradictory book because the compiler seemed to miss what the whole poetic part was on about and write some completely different story to bracket it. Is his message that righteous people are blessed or that righteous people may not be blessed or that blessings are not tied to righteousness? Some scholars are perplexed by the assertion that Job is righteous at all, because he doesn't act like it.
However, what is helpful about this text as an example is that it's ultimately the work of the compiler (via inspiration of course). So he had to be aware of how it looked, and he seemed to think it worked as a unit, regardless of how contradictory it appeared on the surface. And in that case one has to ask what he was saying with all that tension. I think the answer wasn't really available until centuries after the book was written, and some of those answers are deliberately withheld.
James Gibbons said:
I have a niece who insists that cars run on maple syrup (true story). I hold that cars run on gasoline. The brethren suggest that we should take a balanced approach to this disagreement, recognizing the divine tension between the two views. I respect this position. And I agree that, in the name of balance and tension, we should mix gasoline and maple syrup, half and half, but in grace, I agree that ALL of the mixture should be used in my niece’s car. Sweet thing that she is.
But, I guess I see it more as a literary thing than a Theological thing. There is no contradiction in God. But as He reveals Himself to man, we see “tension…irony…contradiction…paradox,” because He is unlike us, and yet we are created to be like Him … ie. in His image.
This is why I went to theology of the cross. It turned out that the whole point of everything showed that things were accomplished in bass-ackward fashion. Victory through defeat, comfort through suffering, joy through pain, power through serving, gospel through law. All are strong tensions. They are not merely tensions in our understanding, but an inversion of the normal order of things.
Fantabulous...if that is a word.
Even if one can "reconcile" two statements of tension in Scripture, I'm not sure it dismantles the reality that two statements of tension actually exist in the text as is. Of course we want to theologically or philosophically think about this. God can change his mind. God cannot change his mind. So we speak of anthropomorphisms, or we conclude a more open theist view of God. But the tension actually literally (and literarily) exists in Scripture.
God's a scandalous God. Aslan is no tame lion. God cannot lie, but he sends a lying spirit into enemy camp. God cannot die, but God-in-the-flesh dies. God knows all, yet God-in-the-flesh knew not all. God is perfect and never taken by surprise, yet God pours emotion out and has regrets over sin. God's kingdom has absolutely come, yet God's kingdom has absolutely not come. God commands an everlasting covenant and then God makes it clear that everlasting covenant has changed (I'm thinking the practise of circumcision). And we could go on.
I look at the cross, which is somehow found "in Scripture", and it speaks of a scandalous God, one who offers a feast of wrestling with how he outworks. The cross is explained somewhat in Scripture, but not every fully. We are still left asking why with regards to certain aspects. Sure, it's tension in us. But that tension is caused in us because we drank the scandalous, yet beautiful, truth of the gospel, which Scripture testifies to.
James this is a frame of immesurable insight. The problem rests not with God nor the revelation of himself but with us. In typical human narcissistic arrogance we blame God. He is assigned foreigner status and not us. He must adjust to us and not us to him. He is conflicted and contrdictory hence, accused of revealing himself in such a manner in his Word because our enlightenment is so keen we can and may identify his shortcomings in his Word. This is the residue of their misguided poetry about God.
But, I guess I see it more as a literary thing than a Theological thing. There is no contradiction in God. But as He reveals Himself to man, we see “tension…irony…contradiction…paradox,” because He is unlike us, and yet we are to be like Him … ie. in His image.
I don't blame God. I am moved by the reality that Aslan is no tame lion. He must not adjust to us, but in his grace he lovingly adjusts to us.
Again, we can theo-philosophically ponder things outside the text of Scripture. But the question, again, was - Does tension exist in Scripture?
Can God die? Well, let's answer that with the tension of yes and no, since Scripture (and Scripture alone?) answers that yes and no.
Let's deal with things outside Scripture, then that is also good. But the question was what does Scripture present to us. When dealing with Scripture, we start with Scripture.
ScottL said - Can God die? Well, let's answer that with the tension of yes and no, since Scripture (and Scripture alone?) answers that yes and no.
This "tension" is resolved by the early church. A Divine Person died. Though the Person who died has a human nature, He is not a human person, but a Divine Person. And since the Divine Person is God, to claim a Divine Person died is to claim God died.
Thank you for succinctly demonstrating the harmony of God's truth.
I must second that.
Alex Guggenheim said:
Thank you for succinctly demonstrating the harmony of God's truth.
The question in the OP is simply this - Does tension exist in Scripture?
If we want to talk about tension in God, then I'm very much fine to answer that no tension exists in God. But the question is what does Scripture present? Since Scripture does not reveal all about God, nor does it reveal fully about every issue touched upon. Or, an even greater thesis to recognise is Scripture is not God, but God is God. Scripture is a very great and sufficient revelation of God, but no one would ever assert it presents a FULL revelation and answers every question-tension that might exist.
And, of course, God does reveal outside of Scripture. The list is very robust with tradition, creation, reasonable use of our intellectual capacities, experience, body of Christ, etc. But these things stand outside the text. They are connected to the text, but still stand outside the text. So utilising any of these moves us outside the framework of what Jason has asked about the Scripture text.
So everything Damian asserted, I would agree with. But that is more theo-philosophical grappling springing out from our reflection upon the Scripture text, but still moving outside of the text alone. Again, it's very solid stuff. But I don't believe it ultimately and only engages with the question of the OP - Does tension exist in Scripture?
And, I love how Damian also noted the mystery of this thing. I concur fully. I still am flabbergasted by the reality of the cross. What is this that our God would give the life of his eternal Son?! The TEXT presents a mystery or tension. But Scripture does not express the theo-philosophical contemplations of latter years and our own time. Again, those are good and helpful. But those assertions above come from engaging with God's revelation springing out from the text, but not simply dealing with the text as is.
I believe there is a difference here.
But Scott, if I create a standard by what you're saying, how can I say anything except quoting chapter and verse? If I am asked, "Who is Jesus?" am I simply to say, "Read John's gospel." If you ask about "tensions" and limit me to chapter and verse, than no explanation can be offered. Is that a biblical procedure? Well Christ often spoke in parables to confuse the crowd. Then in private he explained his doctrine to His disciples. Peter tells us that Paul often spoke things hard (dysnoētos) to understand (the root of which is - to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding - in other words, not impossible to understand, rather, hard, requiring thought. Notice it was the "ignorant" who twisted scripture - amathēs and astēriktos).
The dictionary defines "tension" as - 1.) the act of stretching or straining. 2.) the state of being stretched or strained.
So does the Scripture stretch and strain? Of course. There are many difficult things in Scripture. But being struck by awe does not mean it is in some sense unintelligible. The command is for understanding ( 1 Cor 14:20.) All three of the of the theologians I mentioned back up their understanding of Christ from Scripture. They are not simply "theo-philosophical contemplations" but they are using their understanding, as is right and proper for Christians (Prov 25:2.)
One other point. One of the most noticeable features regarding the major dogmas of the Christian faith (the Trinity and Christology) is that they are among the most philosophical in the sense that they draw heavily on precise and often quite technical metaphysical terminology. Even if the point they make is strictly determined by the biblical text, the language is often borrowed from secular (i.e., Greco-Roman), conceptual “toolboxes.” And why not? After all, I'm sure you would agree no one can communicate apart from some particular cultural-linguistic environment, not even the biblical writers! So the crucial question is never whether some doctrine sounds philosophical or technical, but whether it arises from Scripture or some other source.
It's very difficult to understand what you're saying Scott. You lack the perspicuity of Scripture ;-)