Disturbing Divine Behaviour: Troubling Old Testament Images of G-d

Eric Seibert, Fortress, 2009, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        ‘The Israelites found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And the LORD told Moses to kill the man; all the people were to stone him. (Nu 15:32-36) A rather stiff penalty for gathering sticks on the Sabbath

        Seibert looks at stories in the common scriptures (=Old Testament) that show G-d as a hostile, tyrannical being: patriarchal, genocidal (the Canaanites, the Amalakites; Joshua 6-11, Genesis 22, 1 Samuel 15); there is tension in using the bible as a resource for peacemaking when G-d’s actions are an obstacle in this regard (p 7). Seibert develops a framework that allows the careful reader to reject certain common scripture portrayals as unworthy of G-d without recording the passages in which they reside as theologically useless’ (p 12).

        Seibert provides two appendices: how to deal with Jesus’ comments about end time divine violence, and the inspiration and authority of scriptures (pp 243-261). The bile is not a flat book; there are glaring differences of level of religious awareness. He develops two notions: a dual hermeneutic (‘to resist harmful aspects of a text while appreciating those aspects that are helpful (p 212), and the textual G-d (the difference between the textual G-d and the actual G-d, p 170). ‘All portrayals of G-d should be brought into conversation with the G-d Jesus reveals…. This is not a cheap reductionism but careful complementarian probing.

        A wonderful book for peace theology.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.