Was It Done by God Or By Humans?

Was It Done by God Or By Humans? September 28, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMThat is one of the most important questions Greg Boyd asks in his The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I don’t think many notice and fewer both to investigate, but Boyd does.

Alongside his theories of redemptive withdrawal and divine accommodation, Boyd takes the issue of humans vs. divine, divine vs. humans up into the principle of Dual Speech. Here’s what he means:

It concerns the curious fact that biblical authors frequently depict God engaging in acts of violence that their own narratives and/or the broader canon make clear God merely allowed. I will refer to this as Scripture’s “dual speech pattern.” I will argue that by acknowledging that God merely allowed the actions they elsewhere ascribe directly to God, these OT authors confirm both that God merely withdraws protection when he brings about judgments and that their violent depictions of God are divine accommodations to their own fallen and culturally conditioned hearts and minds. 

This dual speech pattern, in other words, works like this: in one context it is said of God but in another it is said to be the work of humans. If, as will become clear in the chp, in the ANE all things go back to the king, then all things go back to God. This is not so much a dismissal of divine sovereignty, though it surely puts a dent in some constructions of divine sovereignty, as it is a way of explaining why biblical authors speak as they do.

Hence:

It is rooted in the fact that ancient Israelites generally conceived of Yahweh’s relationship to his creation along the lines of an ANE king’s relationship to his kingdom (e.g., Exod 15:18; Judg 8:23; Pss 44:4, 47:1-9,146:6-10; Isa 6:5; Jer 7:6-10). The most significant aspect of this relationship as it concerns Scripture’s dual way of speaking is that the authority and even the personality of ANE kings were generally viewed as being inextricably wrapped up with their courts, to the point that the king’s courtly entourage could sometimes be spoken of as an extension of the king himself.

Which leads then to actions of divine violence, the warrior king ideology of the texts. Are they of God? Or is this a manner of speaking in the ANE, that is, also a way of divine accommodation to that world’s way of speaking? (Boyd says the second.)

That is, these ascriptions of violence to God are actually describing the acts of violent agents who are nevertheless in line with God’s sovereign purposes.

And the most important aspect of this “ideology of kingship” in the ANE, according to Walton, was “the concept of divine sponsorship,” whereby the king was specially chosen and anointed by the chief national deity. The relationship between the chief national god and the people was primarily centered upon, and was mediated through, the king.

Hence, some have argued that the first person singular employed throughout the Psalms is the voice of the king speaking on behalf of the nation.

This works both ways, remember:

Similar to what we find throughout the OT once Yahweh accommodated this institution (l Samuel 8), ANE people generally believed that when their nation was victorious in battles and prospered, it was in large part due to the fact that the king’s behavior pleased their national god. Conversely, when their nation suffered, it was assumed that this was, at least in part, because the king’s behavior had displeased their god.

Don’t forget this sounds very much like all ANE kingships and theories of how their gods relate to their kings:

Still, it remains the case that once Yahweh granted the Israelites rebellious demand for a king, the relationships between him and the king as well as between the king and the people from then on bears a strong resemblance to what we find among other ANE people.

Thus, divine accommodation needs to be considered:

Most importantly for our purposes, when Israel appropriated the institution of kingship, they also appropriated the ANE concept of the nation as a king-centered corporate personality that went along with it.

Again, it works both ways and this is where I believe Boyd makes his most forceful point or at least the point that deserves careful consideration:

We have said that the behavior of kings has positive or negative ramifications for their kingdoms, but it could to some extent also work the other way around. The misbehavior of certain subjects of a king, especially those within his administration, could in some cases be understood to reflect poorly on the king himself.

Overall, then, these are the two big ideas:

When we consider the conception of Yahweh as king over his creation in light of this conception of a nation’s king-centered corporate solidarity, we are arguably provided with a conceptual and grammatical explanation as to why certain biblical authors sometimes speak as though Yahweh was in some sense behind everything that comes to pass, as when the roll of dice, chance accidents, infertility, miscarriages, infirmities, disabilities, weather patterns, and other contingent events are attributed to him. And it also likely accounts for why Yahweh, the king of creation, is sometimes simultaneously spoken of both as engaging in, but also as merely allowing, the same behavior. As the King who is, in some sense, in solidarity with his creation, all that comes to pass does so under his authority and thus can be spoken of as his doing. But given the conceptual framework we have discussed, we ought not to interpret such language in a divinely deterministic fashion.

He considers a number of passages, like the exodus and the exile and the suffering servant, and comes to this conclusion:

To my way of thinking, the wealth of passages that simultaneously ascribe the same violent or otherwise immoral actions to God and to other agents strongly confirms that the OT’s violent portraits of God are divine accommodations and that the way God actually brings judgment on people is by withdrawing his protective presence.

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