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30 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, No. 2 TO AN IMPOTENT GOD: IMAGES OF DIVINE IMPOTENCE IN HEBREW SCRIPTURE by G. Tom Milazzo Dr. Milazzo has a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Emory University. He is the author of The Protest and the Silence: Suffering, Death, and Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1991) and numerous articles on the problem of suffering and death in Hebrew scripture as well as apocalyptic and wisdom literature. For Matt D. Balkovic1 Whatever ideas ahout and attitudes toward death the Israelites held, such ideas and attitudes stood in some crucial relationship to what they believed about life; and that in turn was related to other spheres ofinterest until. . . these were ultimately connected to a way of understanding god. 2 'In his encounter with the limits of human existence, Matt has taught me more about human perseverance, courage, and determination than anyone I have known. I offer this to him as a small token of my gratitude for all he has shown me and for the friendship he has extended to me. 2Lou H. Silberman, "Death in the Hebrew Bible," in Perspectives on Death, ed. Liston O. Mills (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969), p. 14. In this 'paper the word god intentionally appears only in lower case, and the third person neuter pronoun is used with reference to god. The use of the third person neuter for god is certainly problematic. The third person neuter is used here in part to avoid anthropomorphism and in part to preserve a sense of inclusive language. However, the primary reason for using the third person neuter pronoun is the desire to maintain the profound sense ofambiguity, complexity, and elusiveness which surround and fill the biblical experience of god. Further the word YHWH is sexually ambiguous. While it is clearly third person singular in form, we do not know if it is third person masculine, feminine, or neuter. Further, the use of the word god with an upper-case g implies that in fuct there is and was only one god. The word god in this context refers both to a unique being (there is but one god) and to a proper name. Yet in Hebrew To an Impotent God We must all die. Like water spilled upon the ground which cannot be gathered up, even god cannot lift up the life (of one who has died).3 31 "If one begins with the concept of an almighty god," wrote Christoph Barth, "next to which there is no other which can rival [its] power, [then by definition] one understands the power of death as god's own power ... good and bad, life and death, heaven and hell, are simply both aspects of the one godhead."4 Within the context of Hebrew Scripture, the god of life and the god of death are, in the final analysis, one and the same. The god whose presence upon the primal waters gives life5 and the god whose bitter hand extinguishes the breath of life are one. The encounter between this god and this people from the first, then, is deeply problematic -precisely because the presence ofgod remains profoundly ambiguous, uncertain, and unpredictable. Which face ofgod will one encounter in the darkness? The one which takes life, or the one which nurtures it? scripture, from Genesis on, it is clear that this god, referred to by the verb form YHWH, is not the only god which exists. Moreover, the name of the god ofAbraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not known. Use of the capital g implies that the name of god is known, that god's name is God. Such is not the case. Until god steps out of the darkness and unveils its face, neither god's name nor god's identity can be known. Use of the lower-case g preserves this sense of uncertainty, mystery, and ambiguity. /" 32 Sam 14:14; The Hebrew reads: rzJ~~ C'i:t~l;) l{~:-l{"~ 1~i;;)l$~l{" "~l:l i1~'~ C'''mu C:~;1~ n"~J n'c-'~ This passage offers some interesting problems, not the least of which is the Hebrew rzJ~~ C'i:t"l;) l{~:-l{"~. The NRSV (New...


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