Thursday, January 08, 2009

Is Biblical faith frustrated with God?

John Hobbins suggests that "someone who is not on occasion perfectly aggravated by what God does and does not do, is bereft of biblical faith." I'm not 100% convinced by his argument. It's true that the Bible often expresses confusion and consternation at God's actions. But I think it does offer a real explanation. Not in the opaque determinations of God's divine wisdom, but in the rebelliousness of humanity and the resultant rift between us and God.

I found this particularly studying Ecclesiastes recently. It seems to me that while the author is resigned to life being fleeting and frustrating, he holds hope of a final reconciliation. I know the experience of—at some of my lowest moments—simply wondering if God's really got it together. But it's seeing people persevere through those moments, because of God's kindness in holding on to them when they'd rather reject him, that I would call evidence of "biblical faith".


John Hobbins said...


What a fine blog you have. I think you hit on a very important point. Let me put it this way. A psalmist, a prophet, Job - they can lash out at God and accuse God of terrible things because they have faith and because they have hope, not because they don't.

I'm not so sure about Qohelet, however. He seems to be a very unhopeful person. But he still chooses God. You will discover in your pastoral ministry if you haven't already people like Qohelet. They don't have much good to say about God but they still choose God and keep his commandments.

All the best, Russ. You are a great example of fides quarens intellectum. Faith seeking understanding.

Russ said...

Hi John,

Thanks so much for posting a comment/response. I appreciate it. Forgive me for not posting a comment directly to your post but it seemed most of your respondants knew you already.

I linked to your article because it was so helpfully provocative. But my post didn't highlight what I found helpful.

As you observe, we are thoroughly unhelpful to people (and unfaithful to the text) if we portray faith as a blind optimism or a submission incapable of asking for explanations. Biblical faith struggles with how life is. It knows that right acts are not always met with reward nor injustice punished. And it struggles to accept that situation because it contradicts what they believe—indeed, what they trust—is true about God. They hold him to be good, just and faithful. (Tenets that are not always present in Ugaritic epic literature.)

I guess I'd still question your reading of Qohelet, though. As he stands within the Hebrew canon, Qohelet's observations that life is fleeting and work frustrated are not features of God's intended creation but a consequence of the curse. If that is the framework he's writing in (and it seems reasonable to presume that's how whoever compiled the canon perceived his writings) then he is not disparaging God's work but observing the limitations of humanity's capacity in the world. A capacity limited by the curse that was punishment for disobedience.

It's Qohelet's undefended assertion of a future reckoning (Eccl 3:17, 8:12-13, 12:14) that makes me suggest he's still hopeful, despite the evidence. He seems to think it's worth obeying God. Given his description of the world, that seems optimistic faith to me.

Apologies for such a long response. Being an engineer in a previous life means I'm still finding my literary (particularly blogging) voice.

Thanks again John. I had already been blessed by previous posts of yours and pray that your ministries will bring glory to Christ on the day of his return.