A few days ago I read a major part of the Bible book 1 Samuel. In the second chapter we get reasonably well acquainted with Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Pinehas. This trio was responsible for the sanctuary services in Silo. It would be quite an understatement to say the Eli was unsuccessful in the coaching of his two sons. Hophni and Pinehas ignored the rules for their sacred duties in the temple, and, in general, behaved immorally. Eli tried to correct his sons, but they ‘did not listen to their father’s rebuke’. Then follows a statement which sounds rather strange in our ears. We are told of the reason why the two men remained so rebellious: ‘For it was the Lord’s will to put them to death’ (1 Samuel 2:25). We must perform some considerable exegetical gymnastics to make these words palatable. The problem is in the word ‘for’, which suggests a causal relationship: God had already decided to kill these two men and for that reason they remained disobedient. It would seem as if their own will was overruled and that we find here some kind of predestination: It was God’s will that they would not listen to father Eli.
I thought of this text when one day later finding a few paragraphs in a book that I am currently reading. The book is written by Dr. Jan Muis, a theology professor at the Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam. It deals with our way of speaking about God. The first part of this book deals with such questions as the nature of our God-talk and how we use our human languages when we want to say something about God. On page 124 I found a few sentences which I have clearly marked. It seemed to me that they also touched upon the question how we may read such text as 1 Samuel 2:25 (and many other difficult texts). I quote: ‘Believers may make true statements about God on the basis of the fact that he addresses us and reveals himself. Apart from his addressing us and his revelation we cannot say anything meaningful about God. This means that revelation is not only the basis for Christian God-talk, but also marks the border for our speaking and thinking about him.’ And a little further: ‘When we speak to God and about God, we must always remember this limit to the revelation: we can easily go too far in our God-talk and say more than is possible on the basis of revelation and faith.’
In other words: We should not expect that we can find an answer to all our burning questions and find a clear explanation for all Bible texts. There is a line we should not attempt to cross. This is no reason for complaint but for halting before that line and admit our human limitations. I hope to finish the book by prof. Muis in the next few days. I can recommend it to all who have a theological interest and want to speak ‘as a believer’ about God.
But this week there was also another book I find it hard to lay down. I found it a few days ago in the bookshop of the Free University in Amsterdam. I had an appointment with someone at the university, and when I enter that building it is as if a magnet pulls me to the bookshop, to the left of the entrance of the main building. The book I saw (and bought) is a biography of Harry Kuitert—the (originally) Christian Reformed theologian who would become highly controversial. It is fascinating to read about his gradual theological development. In the first 200 pages there is much in which I recognize myself. I have a feeling that I will return to this book in one of my blogs in the near future!