12 September 2007

Digging up from Comments...

My dear Christopher and I had a discussion on a patristic quote below from St. Cyril in which I posited a distinction that I think it helpful and meaningful. I used it again tonight in teaching the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers. I offer it here for consideration.

It is the difference between speaking phenomenologically and speaking theologically. It's really the diff between sight and faith.

To speak phenomenologically is to confess the truth as it appears to us. For example, "the sun rises." Well, not actually we know. But that's what it looks like to us. Similarly, to describe the events of Joseph's life phenomenologically, we'd say:

Joseph's jealous brothers betrayed him, sold him as a slave, handed him over to gross injustice.

That would be true as far as it goes. There's nothing there that's not factual, but it doesn't exhaust, doesn't begin to exhaust the truth. The truth, the theological truth, which Joseph himself confesses is this:

"God sent me before you to preserve life... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive many survivors. It was not you who sent me here, but God." (Gen 45:5,7,8)

The very essence of our Lord's cross is captured then in this distinction. Phenomenologically, our Lord was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, renounced by His own people, suffered under Pontius Pilate and made to suffer an utterly unjust death. That's what we see. But faith, seeing theologically, sees that what we meant for evil, God meant for good, for the saving of many lives alive.

And St. Paul invites us to step out with this distinction even in our own lives. To know and believe that whatever injustice, hatred, persecution we experience in this life, that through it all "God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him." Romans 8:28

We can live our lives on the phenomenological perspective - and I suspect we'll end up bitter, angry, disillusioned and despairing. Or we live our lives from the theological perspective - and we'll end up a peace that nothing in this world can shake, a peace rooted securely in the God who is expert at the "great reversal" to whom be the glory forever and ever!


Rev. Charles Lehmann said...

In the Prayer of Mannaseh, Mannaseh calls Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sinless and says that unlike himself, they do not need repentance.

For this reason the CPH Bible Study on Romans by Charles Gieschen is very critical of this prayer and contrasts it with Paul's approach in Romans.

As I read the prayer, I see it as simple phenomenological speech. Manasseh is so aware of his sin that when he looks at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he sees their faith... credited to them as righteousness.

Specifically, the prayer says:

οὐκ ἔθου μετάνοιαν δικαίοις, τῷ Αβρααμ καὶ Ισαακ καὶ Ιακωβ τοῖς οὐχ ἡμαρτηκόσιν σοι, ἀλλ̓ ἔθου μετάνοιαν ἐμοὶ τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ

"You have not appointed repentance to the justified, to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who have not sinned against you, but you have appointed repentance to me, the one who has sinned."

This seems to be very similar to the language of Jesus Himself.

"οὐκ ἐλήλυθα καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν." Luke 5:32

"I have not come to call the justified but the sinners into repentance."

Manasseh is so steeped in awareness of His sin that he is confessing in his own way that he is the chief of sinners. He seeks forgiveness and so he repents.

He looks to his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he sees the justification he longs for.

If you read the prayer literally, in terms of literal historical truth, then Dr. Gieschen is right. But if you recognize that Manasseh is in the depths of despair, seeking the Lord's mercy, you can easily affirm it.

Mr. & Mrs. Traylor said...

I have to admit that I was in the dark, I had never heard the word "phenomenalogial" before. It was very interesting to read about " Phenomenology of Religion " in encyclopidia and
" phenomenon" in the dictionary.
With a better understanding, I think I can understand how we see our Lord Jesus through the life of Joseph. At the preschool level, which is where our Lord wants me to be, we focus on the tender loving care Joseph recieved from his father when he gave him the coat of many colors, we look at the sibling rivalry and what gealousy is. Topics appropriate for those of us who are three and four years old. We talk about how God lifted Joseph up out of the well, like He lifted Jesus up out of the tomb. We talk about God providing Joseph with His ability to still love his brothers because he forgave them and wanted to feed them as Jesus Christ wants to feed us.
He wants us to realize who we are and what we've done. He wants us to know we have a log in our eye, not a speck and only He has the ability to get it out for us through His washing of us in Holy baptism. He wants us to realize who He is and what He is doing in Holy Communion, that He is not dead, He is alive and we can come to Him because He is full of mercy and grace,able to provide for us in even better a more wonderful way than He provided for Joseph. There will be a day when after our funeral our brothers will lower us into a pit, walking away thinking us to be dead. But no, God will send His angels to gather from the four winds those who indure to the end. We bear His mark, we are born again and will lifted up to be with the Father The Son and the Holy Ghost in kingdom of God forever, where there is no need for sun or moon, wher He is the only Light.

Mr. & Mrs. Traylor said...

For the record, I had never the Prayer of Manasseh or for that matter even of him before reading your message. My little grandson is taking his afternoon nap, a great time for me to sit and learn something new from you today.

The hospitals are full of people who are praying today. Some folks are repenting, and some folks are praising God in the same way Manasseh prayed. The Jews are praying, the Hindu praying, the Islam praying, the Buddist praying all thinking, " There's power in prayer "... like what they say and do is going to manifest a miracle.
I believe the power belongs to Jesus Christ and without Him there is no power at all.
The times I've been in the hospital to witness the actions of people there has been very educational, some folks don't even pray at all. It seems they don't believe in God's miracles. I do.
Pastor Goetz was telling us in Sunday School last week about about the time when God proved Himself to Elijah and the false prophets of baal. Wow ...was a wonderous event ! No one had ever seen anything like that ever happen before ! God can do amazing things like open the windows of heaven and poor out a blessing like He did that day as the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench ! Wow that gives me goose bumps just thinking about it ! I would have sure fell on my face ! Infact that's just what I did the first time I watched the movie " Jesus of Nazareth ", What a absolutely marvelous gthing for God to have done for us, to come down from heaven to prove His love for us like He chose to do through Jesus our Lord. It's difficult at times to really comprehend how remarkable God really is. I mean like the day He spoke to the wind and it became calm and the day He walked on water, the prayers of the people were not flowery or pious. The desciples were honestly afraid and their prayers were short and direct like children saying " HELP ! COME QUICKLY I NEED YOU !" I remember giving birth to one of my children, there was nothing to take the pain away it kept coming until finally all I could think to do was to yell out " GOD HELP ME !!!!!!!!!" and he did, our Tiffany was born and the pain was gone. Indeed our Lord truely is Phenomenal !

OOOOps Thanks for listening, I get a little too windy sometimes. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

"For example, 'the sun rises.' Well, not actually we know."

I'm not so sure that we know that, either. ;)

Your geocentric friend,

William Weedon said...

Ha! Aaron, I was just WAITING for that one.

William Weedon said...

P.S. You are not the only geocentric friend I have!!!

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

It's the difference between "looking at the beam" and "looking along the beam towards its source," I think.

William Weedon said...


That's a beautiful way of putting it. Thank you! Baby yet?