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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Faith in the Face of Empire – Where Are You, God?

I have been reading and blogging my way through Mitri Raheb’s book Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes[i].   In the previous chapter Raheb asked four questions that help shape his hermeneutic – one of which was “Where are you, God?”

It is a question found repeated in various ways throughout the scriptures – in both the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament and the Christian New Testament as well.  From the cries of the descendents of Abraham as they suffered under the slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt to Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  The question is a central question to faith in Palestine.

This is not to say that the questioner believes God to be non-existent or absent.  The question, instead invites the hidden God to intervene.

Raheb contrasts the God of Palestine to the gods of Empire. The gods of empire are showy, loud, and visible in the shrines built by conquering armies in every new territory.   The expanding reach of empire is a sign of their claim to omnipresence.  Their victorious armies are a symbol of their omnipotence.  But the God of Palestine is different.  He was not found in huge expansive empires, but in a narrow tract of land with few natural resources.  He was not loud and showy demanding shrines and temples in far flung corners – in fact he was somewhat resistant to having a temple built for him at all.  The strength of the God of Palestine was not seen in conquering armies. 

In fact, time and again, the people of this God were defeated and captured, and taken away into slavery and exile, where their captors asked the question again:

As with a deadly wound in my body,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42: 10 (NRSV)

What is uniquely revealed of the God of Palestine is that he is always there – even in defeat and despair and exile.  He has not fled.  He has not abandoned his people.  He maintains solidarity with them.  Raheb finds this most fully demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus – the God/Man  - the high priest who is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses and struggles for he has endured them with us (Hebrews 4: 15) (Raheb, 87).

Those who have this God with them are able to rebuild and restart again and again.  Defeat at the hands of Empire is not an ultimate defeat. 

For Raheb, there is no critique of Empire without God.  No other state, power, organization, or people group can help. Politicians bicker and argue, but only God comes to the help of his people.  “Seeing God on the other side of the empire queries and challenges the morality of the empire, which is a key link in weakening it (Raheb, 85).”

Previous Chapters:
Chapter 1 – Longview of History 
Chapter 4 – Omphaloskepsis  
Chapter 6 – Four Questions

[i] Raheb, Mitri, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2014.

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