The Naughty Baptist

Thoughts on a theology of hopelessness

I appreciate Kat Armas, and enjoy following her on social media. She does not know me at all, and (as far as I recall) we've never directly interacted. I saw a link to one of her posts today (via Karen Gonzalez) and wanted to comment on it.

The post is "I'm Embracing a Theology of Hopelessness and I Think You Should, Too." A lot of it resonates with me. I have felt a long time that there is far too much triumphalism in evangelical churches (which is my background).

Here's a key paragraph:

Many narratives in Scripture highlight the notion of desperation, how hopelessness leads to seemingly “questionable” acts in which the marginalized not only do courageous things, but they do so in ways that might make modern day Christians feel uneasy. This can be seen in the ways that characters in the Bible act as “tricksters” who struggle for their own liberation and the liberation of their people by essentially “messing with” the systems of power.

This is unquestionably true. There are a lot of stories in Scripture that make people (especially privileged ones like me) uncomfortable. And often God uses these actions for good, and people are liberated.

She gives three examples, and two of them, I feel, do not say what she implies they do. I'm open to being wrong here, and she has done more thinking on this than me. This is just my attempt to put down my thoughts as they stand now.

Her contention is that, in each of the three examples she gives, "whether it be trickery, lying, or deceit, God blesses the outcome, proving that God is always and consistently on the side of the oppressed." I agree with the statement that "God is always and consistently on the side of the oppressed." This is something the white, American Church seriously needs to be reminded of. However, the idea that it's as simple as God "blessing" what seem to be sinful actions that I'm having issue with. I feel it's too simplistic.

The idea that "Jacob cheating his way to an inheritance" was a sign of his trying to overcome oppression is, I think, patently wrong. He was greedy, and the repercussions of his actions were both swift and long-lasting.

Her inclusion of Tamar, though, is not as simple. Tamar was trying to keep her family line alive when she was moved to disguise herself in order to become pregnate by her father-in-law Judah. He had undeniably failed to live up to his responsibilities to her. But it's not as simple as Kat states: "This act of trickery leads Judah to declare that Tamar “is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah,” he says." That's not exactly what happened, and does not tell the entire story.

Tamar was desperate, but she was not stupid. She kept his signet, cord, and staff which she later used to prove that he was the father of her child. If she had not done this, Judah would have had her killed. It was at that point that he said she was more righteous than he was. He had been caught in his sin, both of getting her pregnant and sleeping with a prostitute (or so he thought), but also of not caring for her. But this is where we cannot overlook the full impact of this event, as the repercussions are left out of Kat's post. To be fair, they weren't the point of what she was trying to say. However, I feel it's important to include them and, when we do, we see a much fuller picture than "God blessed her deception."

Who was Judah? Among other things, he's the guy in Genesis 37 who said, basically, "Why kill Joseph when we can sell him and make some money?" (Gen 37:26-27). We do not know how many years are between the events of chapters 37 and 38, but in the Bible they follow hard on one another. I think there's a reason for this. Namely, the guilt over how he treated his brother, then his treatment of Tamar, were used by God to change Judah.

As the story of Joseph unfolds, we see Judah speaking up a few times. In Genesis 43:8-9 he is telling Jacob that, if they do not return from Egypt with Benjamin, "then let me bear the blame forever." We see that he is true to his word in the next chapter, where in 44:33 (after quite the speech) he tells Joseph (who he still does not recognize) "please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers."

This is quite the change from the guy who said "let's sell our brother," and who ignored, had sex with, and tried to kill his daughter-in-law. And I think that's why we have this strange story in Genesis: To show how God used it to (among other things) change Judah.

The story of Tamar is one of desperation, yes. But I do not think our response can be, "see, God honors trickery as long as the end justifies it." I think it is what Judah meant for evil, God used for good.

All that said, Kat also includes Esther's hiding of her identity, which resulted in all her people being saved. And... she's right. It's undeniable that Esther lied, at the very least by omission. And I cannot see this as anything other than desperation, survival by any means necessary. And I don't hear too many people condemning her for it. I mean sure, there's always someone, but she did what she had to do.

This is why I can't dismiss what Kat says out of hand. Because clearly, while I disagree somewhat, she's not really that wrong. Especially in that statement, "God is always and consistently on the side of the oppressed." I just see a lot more complexity to how God uses these things.