You and your family have recently moved to Florida — so what brings you back to Tyndale House?
I’m here all week for the Tyndale Fellowship Conference, an opportunity for Christian Bible scholars from around the world to share papers and get to know each other.
I’m currently serving as secretary of the Old Testament study group.
You recently published your first book — tell me more.
I’ve been researching books of the Bible where God either isn’t mentioned at all or doesn’t explicitly speak or act — Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther (or the Megilloth as they’re collectively known). In particular I’ve been looking at how influential the idea of the “absence of God” has been in the way we read them. That really started as a result of the so-called Death of God movement, which began after the Second World War, when people were questioning how a war like that could have happened, and even if there is a God at all. But the writers of the Old Testament weren’t asking “Does God exist?”. So when we approach the Bible with this question, we have to remember that we’re trying to fashion an answer to something the text isn’t addressing. We have freedom to ask these sorts of modern questions, but it’s also good to consider questions that arise directly from the passages, such as “Why does God at times seem distant?”
What should the Church learn from the Megilloth?
One feature, particularly found in Lamentations, is the practice of lament, and the benefit we can derive from lament. We have a biblical precedent that indicates we should be lamenting, but we’re rarely doing that. Back in the 1980s the theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote about this, but today I’m not sure many people even know how to lament, and the Church is all the poorer for that.