Walter Brueggemann  


On the Primary Tension of Old Testament Faith

"The traditions of Israel's faith are in interaction between the full assertion of common theology, which is relentlessly contractual, and the protest [and pain] against it...."

"There is a restlessness in Israel that seeks to move through and beyond or against the common theology, and that restlessness is articulated in Israel's practice of lament.. Israel's lament is a way of protesting against the common theology. The lament in Israel is a way of asserting that the structure cannot always be legitimated and that the pain needs also to be embraced. This pain, when brought to public speech, impinges upon every structure and serves to question the legitimacy of the structure."

"In risking this form of speech, the conventional distribution of power is called into question. It is no longer placidly assumed that God has all the power and the covenant partner must simply submit...."

"In the risk there emerges a new mode of faith between Yahweh and Israel....One never knows, until the bold act is done, whether one has gone too far. Any new speech of this kind that is boldly probing may be the probe that goes too far and evokes the rage of the legitimated one under attack. The regular experience of Israel, however, is that in the moment of honest risk, Israel characteristically discovers that the speech is not only not resisted, but it is taken seriously in a way that permits a newness."

"In the public utterance of such pain, both parties emerge with freshness. Obedience turns out to be not blind, submissiveness required by common theology. It is rather a bold protest against a legitimacy that has grown illegitimate because it does not seriously take into account the suffering reality of the partner. Where the reality of suffering is not dealt with, legitimate structure is made illegitimate when the voice of pain assumes enough authority to be heard."

"Old Testament theology, as distinct from sociological, literary, or historical analysis, must assume some realism in the text - that the poets and narrators in Israel do, in fact, speak the mind of God. God's mind is not closed on this question, because God in Israel must decide about the practice of contractual theology and the embrace of pain that permits and requires life outside the contract...."

"So far as Christian extrapolations are concerned, the challenge of pain-embrace to structure legitimacy is presented in the symbol of the cross; but symbols can be misused. The cross is claimed to disclose God's true character as the source out of which new life comes, and yet the language and claims of a theology of the cross are now used to justify a theology of imperial exploitation that ruthlessly condemns pain and sees competence as the stuff of humanness. Such theology, when not criticized and corrected, lacks compassion toward those who are not capable of effective function. In our contemporary values, therefore, just as in the faith of ancient Israel, there is a moving back and forth between the assertion of common theology and the anguish about it, an anguish that protests against it."

"The laments are not widely used among us, not printed in most hymnals, not legitimated in our theology. Many Christians think the laments are superseded by some christological claim. We have in practice reneged on the bold break made in Israel's protest against the common theology. Unwittingly, by silencing the break of embraced pain, we have embraced the uncritical faith of structure legitimization. Much biblical faith, as commonly held, has in fact become a support for the status quo by using a theological mode that understands God primarily in the categories of structure legitimization. Such a move is reflected in both liturgical use, where the laments have largely fallen out of the repertoire, and in popular theology as reflected in the catechisms, to say nothing of popular proclamation."

from Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme, and Text, pp. 18-9, 21.