Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week Four: How do the themes of creation and justice relate in wisdom literature?

             The themes of creation and justice are so interconnected in wisdom literature that I find it difficult to decipher where one ends and the other begins. It seems impossible to articulate a sapiential theology of justice without creation and vice versa. Creation and justice share a reciprocal relationship that creates a theological circle of sorts, and I find it fascinating to stand in the center of this circle and ponder its significance. Perdue explains that “justice is understood in the wisdom texts as a righteous order established by Yahweh at creation and maintained by divine oversight” (58). This sapiential theology of justice is directly related to the sages’ theology of creation, which asserts that creation is a reflection of God (Perdue 9). Since God is revealed in creation, and God is a God of justice, it is only logical that creation is also a revelation of justice (58). It is important to note that the sages did not understand creation as an event that happened in the past, but rather as a process still taking place today (Perdue 58). Perdue explains that the sages viewed creation as “a continuous action in shaping a world of bounty” (58). Here, it is clear that the sapiential understanding of creation was one of abundance, so this would also carry into the sages’ theology of justice. Yet it is also important to remember that the sages’ view of God’s providence and abundance is rooted in creation and the concept that in creation, God provided and maintains everything needed for human survival (Perdue 9). Since this theology of providence is linked to creation, it makes sense that it would also be linked to justice. These connections and relationships make perfect sense, but sometimes I find myself feeling lost and overwhelmed in the midst of what seems like a theological maze!
                The theology of justice rooted in creation also profoundly impacts the sages’ view of and reaction to poverty. Proverbs 22.2 says, “The rich and the poor have this in common; the LORD is the maker of them all” (NRSV). This concept was the basis of the sages’ belief that the poor had the “right to exist and have their needs met” (Perdue 61). Since justice is reflected in creation, and since God created both the rich and the poor, living justly requires God’s people to treat the weak and poor members of society with respect. Proverbs 14.31 says that “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him” (NRSV). Just as creation is a reflection of God, the people whom God has created— both rich and poor— reflect God’s self and deserve honor and respect. In treating the poor well, God’s people treat God well and are rewarded. Up until this point, I am thrilled with the sapiential theology of creation and justice as it relates to poverty. However, as we discussed in class, though the sages argue for equality in creation, they do not extend this argument to equality in society (Prov 22.7). As God’s created ones, all people deserve respect, but this equality does not necessitate economic or social equality. The sages’ equality seems to apply only to human dignity, which is a critical aspect of equality, but I struggle with equality stopping there. In class as we discussed this, I did not have much to say because to me, the concept of Proverbs “making a case for the status quo” (Brenneman) is downright disturbing. I appreciate the sages’ theology of justice that protects the human dignity of every individual, but I find it difficult to stop there. For me, believing that every individual is created equally by God, and therefore a reflection of God, necessitates actions toward equality in every other area of life— economic and social included.

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