Theodicy in the Psalms

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In Psalms evil is usually existential and victim-orientated. Suffering is not a theoretical problem but an experienced reality. Consequently, two aspects of the modern so-called theodicy problem are in focus. (1) The role of the God of the petitioner: How does God engage with evil? What does God do to overcome it? Beside this practical aspect we can detect a more theoretical question: (2) Is suffering intelligible, or must evil, in its root and essence, remain irrational and mysterious? Characteristically, the experience of God’s passivity does not introduce a theoretical denial of God’s existence, but rather leads the sufferer into deep existential and religious tribulations. At heart of the psalmists’ tribulations lies not the theoretical doubt about God’s existence, but the practical experience of God’s temporary inactivity in this world. – God is absent, hiding etc. The tendency is not to blame the victim, but to fault the deity himself for this suffering. Experiences of being (unexplainably) abandoned by God belong to the historical and theological core of the Book of Psalms. Since experiences of the deity’s absence and of the irrationality of evil have formed many of the life situations mirrored in the psalms, the psalmists are not preoccupied with defending God and God’s rule. Rather, they accuse God himself. And contrary to what is often assumed as part of the agenda in much modern theological and philosophical debate these same experiences lead to a more dynamic notion of God. The YHWH of the psalms cannot be captured by traditional philosophical categories, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. The same is of course true of much of the theology of the Bible as a whole. Those categories, and many similar ones, e.g. ‘monism’, ‘pancausality’, do not help us to appreciate the theological panorama of YHWH’s role in human suffering. The power of YHWH, as is especially clear from the Book of Psalms, does not consist of his static omnipotence, but of his constant fight to defeat evil. – In the psalms, YHWH has no monopoly on power. Thus, our understanding of the terms ‘might’, ‘rule’, ‘power’ and so forth must, in the context of the psalms, be shaped by their expressive language of prayer and praise: divine power is revealed in the exaltation of God, in petition to God, in the cry to God, and in the hope for God. In the Book of Psalms, YHWH is the name of the God ‘from whom one expects everything good and to whom one turns in all tribulations’ (M. Luther). In contrast to the theodices from the Enlightenment up to the present time, the personal existential experiences of God by the individual and by the community in the psalms is not separated from the intellectual reflection. Nor is the articulation of both pain and hope absent in the psalms, as it is in the majority of those types of theodices. Thus ‘the just(ified) God’ is not sought within some sphere of experience outside the primary religious domain of experience. In this domain divine power and rule cannot easily be transformed into a principle or into an attribute, from which it is possible to draw certain conclusions, because God is the prima causa of the entire world process.


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Titel på värdpublikationTheodicy in the World of the Bible
RedaktörerAntti Laato, Johannes C. de Moor
FörlagBrill Academic Publishers
ISBN (tryckt)90-04-13275-9
StatusPublished - 2003
Peer review utfördNej