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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Terrorism and the Terror of God

One of my tests of a book is whether I want to go back and re-read it. Lee Griffith's The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God passes that test. I am not sure why but I think it has something to do with the way he undertakes the theological task.

Griffiths sets out his theological agenda and method in the Preface. 
... consideration of the terror that people inflict on one another necessarily entails a consideration of faith. Karl Barth once called on believers to read Bible and newspaper side by side. An understanding of current events sheds new light on the hermeneutical context from which the reader approaches the biblical text., but more importantly the juxtaposition of newspaper and Bible makes more readily apparent the manner in which the biblical word demythologises our contemporary ideologies and social and political circumstances. A reading of Barth's Church Dogmatics reveals that Barth added a dialogue with church history into the mix of newspaper and Bible. The encounter with the biblical word is less individual than communal. It is within the community - both the living communion of saints as well as the host of witnesses that have gone before us - that we come to understand our own idiosyncratic readings of Scripture and faith ... (p.xiii)
This method makes for a richness of discussion that continually pulls against any simple ideological positioning and rush to judgment of the obvious "badies" or uncritical accounts of those who we might have expected to see as obvious candidates for uncritical approval. Griffith's discussion of the abolitionist movement is a particularly good example of the discriminating complexity of his assessment of the differing strands of that movement.


Particularly challenging and likely to be counter-intuitive to many both Christians and atheists alike is his reading of the book of Revelation. He opens his discussion with the observation that there is general agreement that the author of the book of Revelation was a criminal and goes from there. If John was not well loved by the Roman empire he observes the book of Revelation indicates that the feeling was mutual.

Griffith makes the important point that while there is much violence in Revelation we need to be clear as to the perpetrator of the violence, Babylon, the Beast and the dragon. God's weapons are the truth of God's word and the blood of the slain lamb. The other theme he highlights is that it is not a book about the end of the world it is about re-creation and a new heaven and new earth. The terror of God he notes is the resurrection. ... the resurrection is terror to all who assume that death and bloodshed will have the final word.(Publisher's Interview)

The author does not remain detached in a theoretical vein. The theology becomes personal and passionate at this particular point when he draws to our attention the two best sermons that he has ever heard preached on the book of Revelation. The first was an address by the lawyer/theologian/activist William Stringfellow on the defeat of the saints.
His meditation on the defeat of the saints was a renunciation of all triumphalism, be it academic, ecclesiastical, economic, political or military,  It was a reminder that the saints are not raptured out of terror and into victory. It was a reminder that Easter is preceded by the cross, that God's cause is not served by the righteous who are triumphant but by the faithful who re defeated.(p.216)
 The second sermon took the form of the recitation of a text by a wino in a ramshackle soup kitchen in Washington DC. The story is worth reading in its entirety but I cannot forebear to quote from the account. Late at night in the kitchen open to provide warmth for the homeless following the death by hypothermia and the funeral of North Carolina one of the regular visitors to the kitchen.

Scott Wright one of the members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence who ran the kitchen asked if people wanted to recite some poems or have some readings. An old wino, Cool Breeze, asked for a reading from the Bible, "The Revelation to Saint John, chapter twenty-one, verses one through seven".

Scott read, and right from the very first word, Cool Breeze recited alon: "Then I was a new heaven and a new earth ... " Coo, Breeze - his words were slurred but there was no mistaking it. It was Revelation 21, the word of God spoken in a way I had never quite heard before or since. " ... and God himself will we with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more ... See, I am making all things new."


Well, for reasons I do not understand, that was one of several conversion experiences in my life. What was it? Was it the words of promise spoken in a ramshackle setting? Was it the conjoining of voices? The voice of Scott a man of gentle faith and nonviolence, with the rough and slurred voice of Cool Breeze, also a man of faith  who had been brought low by the great society as surely asby his bottle? Or was it simply fatigue that left me open to hearing the versus of Scripture in my guts as well as my ears? I do not know.


But this I do know. As day broke and Scott and I left the kitchen I knew it to be absolutely true - there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And we are going to be there. O we may be transformed. We may not have our finery and fancy attitudes, but we're going to be there. ... And that no-good old wino Cool Breeze he's gong to be there too. Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. (pp217-8)





 

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