Thursday 23 July 2009

Stacy R. Obenhaus on the Creation Faith of the Psalmists

Stacy R. Obenhaus, ‘The Creation Faith of the Psalmists’, Trinity Journal 21:2 (2000), 131-42.

Obenhaus explores the function of creation theology in the psalms.

1. The rhetoric of creation
By rhetoric, Obenhaus means the language and imagery used by the psalmists when they write of creation. Some psalms (e.g., 19, 104) provide an extended and straightforward development of the theme of creation. Creation is portrayed as an act of God’s speech (33:6, 9), or as formed by God’s hands (8:3; 33:7; 95:5), or as the outcome of a battle (74:13-14; 89:9-11; cf. 29:10; 106:6-7). In all cases, the story of creation is told confessionally, to express faith in God, and the telling serves to emphasise the vertical dimension in the relationship between God and humankind.

2. Important thematic unity
Creation is portrayed as a result of God’s direct action rather than a cosmic accident (e.g., 90:2; 102:26-27; 104:5; 146:6). But creation ‘functions in a subsidiary role, along with or in support of another, more central theological point’ (135) – such as salvation, for instance, where ‘the act of Creation… [in, e.g., Psalms 135 and 136] is… remembered in conjunction with God’s saving action in history’ (135).

3. Representative functions of creation theology
A common function of creation theology is to demonstrate ‘the basis for the believer’s confidence in God’s saving or redemptive power’ (136) (e.g., Ps. 95:6-7; 121:1-3). It also has the function of ‘motivating God to act on behalf of the believer or the community in the present’ (137) (e.g., Ps. 74:2, 10, 12-17; 89; 90; 102). In some psalms, creation serves as ‘a warrant for maintaining a certain social order’ (136) (e.g., Ps. 89:3-4, 19-37 – where ‘God’s continued faithfulness in maintaining the created order will be paralleled by God’s continued faithfulness in maintaining the rule of a Davidic dynasty’, 138).

4. From orientation to new orientation
Walter Brueggemann suggests that the psalms can be classified in terms of the realities of human life, in the categories of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Creation faith is primarily found in psalms of orientation (e.g., 8; 333; 104; 145) ‘with their expression of confidence in the reliable orderliness of God’s world and God’s faithfulness in maintaining that order’ (139). But Obenhaus argues that creation faith functions in the other categories too (e.g., in the disorientation of Psalm 74 and the new orientation of Psalm 146).

5. Conclusions
Creation serves ‘in a variety of functions and occurs within a broad range of psalm types. In short, creation is not only a fundamental theological motif in Israel’s faith, but is a pervasive and versatile motif as it is confessed in the Psalms’ (140). This suggests that creation theology ‘may have had a more central place in Israel’s worship than one might think’ (141).

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