Julie Shoshana Pfau, a graduate student in religion at Emory University, and David R. Blumenthal, who teaches and writes on constructive Jewish theology, medieval Judaism, Jewish mysticism, and holocaust studies, discuss “How can you relate to an abusive God in a positive way?” at CrossCurrents:
In 1993, I published my post-shoah theology entitled Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Westminster John Knox). The book did not have the impact on Jewish and Christian theologians, on psychotherapists, or on holocaust survivors that it should have had. The reasons for this are complicated and I have tried to explain them elsewhere. However, the book has been read very steadily by survivors of child abuse and occasional doctoral students from whom I receive a steady stream of letters. The exchange below is a very good example and I am grateful to Julie Pfau for her willingness to publish these letters, as well as for her forthrightness in expressing herself. While I did the initial editing, Julie had an equal voice in what appears here and she is truly a co-author. I am also grateful to Catherine Madsen, the co-editor of this issue of Cross Currents, for her support of this project.
There are several advantages to the letter genre for doing theology. First, both authors can allow their doubts to surface and their thoughts to evolve. Second, letters follow the natural associative power of the mind, covering more than one topic and doing this in a non-logical order. This enables readers to follow one strand, while letting another go unattended. Third, the letter genre allows the authors to leave some matters unresolved. True theology is in the questions, not in the answers. Finally, in good correspondence, the issues are sharply drawn and it is the reader who must hear both sides and decide which line of thinking rings truer.
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Tuesday, May 23, 2000
In “Confronting the Character of God: Text and Praxis” you address the issue that I have the most difficulty with regarding Facing the Abusing God but I still don’t understand. You say that the covenant means we are to alternate protest with acceptance. And in “Theodicy: Dissonance in Theory and Praxis” you suggest that Farley’s unwillingness to worship the abusive God is rooted in “the prior commitment to the total goodness of God” and go on to suggest that the objection to the theology of abuse comes from a prejudgment that God is omnibenevolent because we need God to be this way. It is this issue that I want to address because I don’t agree.
The problem isn’t an unwillingness to consider God as evil or abusive. I have done so countless times. I even wrote an entire paper in college going through all the reasons why that was the only answer to the question of suffering. So I don’t have a prior commitment to thinking of God as good. I have a prior commitment to not worshiping that which is evil. I don’t believe the issue can be so easily relegated to a psychological need to depend on a good God. The problem is, once it is determined that God is abusive and evil, why would we worship and praise Him? It is one thing to acknowledge that a person is abusive and to say it is wrong and then to move on without dwelling on it. It is another thing to worship someone who is abusive. To worship and praise evil is destructive — to the self and to the world. The only thing that could ethically be done in relation to an abusive God is protest. The argument that God has flaws as well as strengths, like people, doesn’t work at all on this level. True, we all have flaws and we don’t reject others for being imperfect. But the kind of flaws we are talking about go far beyond the norm. Abuse is such a grievous flaw that it negates any good qualities. To continue with a positive relationship in the absence of repentance and change can only taint oneself…
Read more here.