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This is a 3 Part Story

Part 1: How Much I Hate Change.

I have control issues. And when you like to be in control, you don’t like change. Why? Because when you change things on me, it’s harder for me to make sure I know everything. And knowledge is power.

My wife is supremely creative. And when you like to create, you change things. Why? I don’t know, I ask God that question every day. Creation, by definition, makes something new. And new things, by definition, are different than the old things. And so, to create is to change the status quo.

Part 2: How Much Kings & Pharaohs Hate Change.

After reading Brueggemann’s brilliant Journey to the Common Good a few years ago, I realized the same pattern emerges in the Hebrew Bible. A pattern that painfully reveals that monarchical Israel has become oppressive Egypt. People in power, like, say, Egyptian Pharaohs, and Israelite Kings, will always be afraid of change and will always privilege the status quo. Why? Because the status quo is “how things are” and when you’re in charge, you tend to like to keep things “how things are.”

Part 3: How Much God Loves Change.

And so God, creative as God is, seems to thrive on change. To change landscapes, oceans, hearts, possibilities, and alternatives. This cannot help but clash with those in power. As the prophets can attest. And so, the creative God is also the liberating God.

Here are some passages from Isaiah and then Brueggemann that have shaped my thinking:

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:19

“The practice of exploitation, fear and suffering produces a decisive moment in human history. This dramatic turn away from aggressive centralized power and a food monopoly features a fresh divine resolve for an alternative possibility.” – Brueggemann on the Exodus in Journey to the Common Good

“The royal-temple ideology, embodied in royal claims of legitimacy, asserted and imagined that it was an indispensable vehicle for God’s way and blessing in the world. . . The painful experience of [exile] made clear the inadequacy of . . . the royal-temple ideology.” – Brueggemann on the Exile in A Commentary on Jeremiah

“His ministry evoked a passion and an energy that had disappeared in the old helplessness. Both his adherents and his enemies sensed the same thing: An unmanaged newness was coming, and it created a future quite different from the one that royal domination intended to permit.” – Brueggmann on Jesus in Prophetic Imagination

This blog was originally posted in March 2016.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

16 Comments

  • “See, I am doing a new thing!”

    Why is it that those in power (or wanting to be in power) love to quote this verse (along with the ‘new wineskins’ one) and yet seem to think that the “new thing” must mean that they will continue to hold power?

  • “See, I am doing a new thing!”

    Why is it that those in power (or wanting to be in power) love to quote this verse (along with the ‘new wineskins’ one) and yet seem to think that the “new thing” must mean that they will continue to hold power?

  • Gary says:

    My mind’s wandering and wondering a bit this morning. For whatever reason, this sentence caught my mind: “I realized the same pattern emerges in the … Bible.”

    In some ways, I think this is the archetypal sentence of how people create transference of meaning between ancient Sacred writing and their lives and the world around them.

    I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Hofstadter’s notion of “isomorphisms” as presented in his Pulitzer-prize winning Gödel Escher, and Bach. Here’s a bit on the key chapter: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/10416

    Hofstadter’s been influential among those who think about consciousness (mind), the material world (both brains and computing), variety, and paradox.

    I haven’t given this enough thought but I think isomorphisms can help us consider why there are so many interpretations and why a “literal meaning” is a bit meaningless.

    Conceptions of God and “does God exist?” questions for me are less interesting in ancient Greek, Medieval Western, and modernistically Anglo-American philosophical assumptions and more interesting recent work in converging fields such as cognitive sciences. To make this Byas post on Brueggemann and change intersect with other recent posts on certainty and or how anyone comes to know God exists, this is where my mind goes. This post might seem unrelated to other recent topics, but I suggest an undercurrent’s connection.

    “God” may love change, but for me to think about such, I’m more thinking about an eternal golden braid or a strange loop in contemporary ways of thinking than am giving thought to anything foundationally atop what to me are rather simple ways of thinking about thinking.

    Considering thinking about it from a perspective of the study of myths, or thinking about it from the perspective of philosophies other than analytical, or thinking about it from a perspective of the study of cognition, I personally just interact with the constructs of religion in ways that seem to correspond to the ways that few believers do. In fact, what I do is probably anti-thetical to their notions of belief.

    Yet perhaps, it seems that the change that God loves isn’t one to be flatly conceived. It can spring up. It can go unperceived. Says second Isaiah. It can beg for eyes that see. Says Jesus.

  • Gary says:

    My mind’s wandering and wondering a bit this morning. For whatever reason, this sentence caught my mind: “I realized the same pattern emerges in the … Bible.”

    In some ways, I think this is the archetypal sentence of how people create transference of meaning between ancient Sacred writing and their lives and the world around them.

    I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Hofstadter’s notion of “isomorphisms” as presented in his Pulitzer-prize winning Gödel Escher, and Bach. Here’s a bit on the key chapter: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/10416

    Hofstadter’s been influential among those who think about consciousness (mind), the material world (both brains and computing), variety, and paradox.

    I haven’t given this enough thought but I think isomorphisms can help us consider why there are so many interpretations and why a “literal meaning” is a bit meaningless.

    Conceptions of God and “does God exist?” questions for me are less interesting in ancient Greek, Medieval Western, and modernistically Anglo-American philosophical assumptions and more interesting recent work in converging fields such as cognitive sciences. To make this Byas post on Brueggemann and change intersect with other recent posts on certainty and or how anyone comes to know God exists, this is where my mind goes. This post might seem unrelated to other recent topics, but I suggest an undercurrent’s connection.

    “God” may love change, but for me to think about such, I’m more thinking about an eternal golden braid or a strange loop in contemporary ways of thinking than am giving thought to anything foundationally atop what to me are rather simple ways of thinking about thinking.

    Considering thinking about it from a perspective of the study of myths, or thinking about it from the perspective of philosophies other than analytical, or thinking about it from a perspective of the study of cognition, I personally just interact with the constructs of religion in ways that seem to correspond to the ways that few believers do. In fact, what I do is probably anti-thetical to their notions of belief.

    Yet perhaps, it seems that the change that God loves isn’t one to be flatly conceived. It can spring up. It can go unperceived. Says second Isaiah. It can beg for eyes that see. Says Jesus.

  • newenglandsun says:

    Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, when we are not the ones changing, we are also pulling him down to our level. When we refuse to change to his image, we say that God is now made in man’s image and we worship ourselves and not God.

  • newenglandsun says:

    Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, when we are not the ones changing, we are also pulling him down to our level. When we refuse to change to his image, we say that God is now made in man’s image and we worship ourselves and not God.

  • Tim says:

    Brilliant. Spot-on.

  • Tim says:

    Brilliant. Spot-on.

  • Benjamin says:

    I’ve just recently finished reading Brueggeman’s “Spirituality in the Psalms” where he makes this point in the following words:
    “…we dare to suggest that creation faith, a sure sense of God’s orderliness, is not always high and noble faith. Sometimes it is void of such pure motive and serves only to celebrate the status quo, the happy but inequitable way life is presently arranged. In using these psalms, we must be alert to the slippery ways creation faith easily becomes social conservatism, which basks in our own well-offness.”
    Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 20.

  • Benjamin says:

    I’ve just recently finished reading Brueggeman’s “Spirituality in the Psalms” where he makes this point in the following words:
    “…we dare to suggest that creation faith, a sure sense of God’s orderliness, is not always high and noble faith. Sometimes it is void of such pure motive and serves only to celebrate the status quo, the happy but inequitable way life is presently arranged. In using these psalms, we must be alert to the slippery ways creation faith easily becomes social conservatism, which basks in our own well-offness.”
    Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 20.

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