Tuesday, April 27, 2004

St. Groucho's God

Open theism appeals to passages like the dialogues between God and Adam (Gen 3:8-13), Abraham (Gen 18:22-33), Jonah (3:10-4:11), and Moses (Num 22:9-35), to show that man is a genuine negotiating partner with God in the governance of the universe. The future is wide open. Open theism has chided classical theism for treating these passages as anthropomorphic. Open theism has chided classical theism for its "platonic" doctrine of God.

But instead of looking to St. Augustine, St. Anselm, or St. Thomas for our answers, perhaps we should turn to that most sorely ignored Doctor of the Church—St. Groucho.

Because most of our Bible scholarship over the past 2000 years has been a Gentile affair, I often wonder if the average Gentile scholar isn't tone deaf to the satirical side of Scripture. The Bible is, after all, a Jewish book, with a streak of Jewish humor. Indeed, one could imagine Woody Allen turning the Book of Jonah into a screenplay.

Open theism offers a terribly starchy and straight-laced interpretation of these debates. But if Groucho Marx were dramatizing our dialogues, what tone of voice would he assume? Abraham would play straight-man to Yahweh's stand-up comic. And it's not the comedian, but the straight-man, who's never in on the joke.

Satan is the ultimate straight-man. No one's a bigger buffoon than Old Nick in the Book of Job. The Devil is a trickster who tries to pull a practical joke on the Almighty. But the prank backfires as the Devil becomes the butt of his own bad joke when Yahweh and Job are both vindicated. Like Yahweh, the reader is in on the gag from the start. That's the source of dramatic tension.

Like the straight-man, the open theist never gets the punch-line. (And you notice that an open theist never runs to Job 1-2 for his prooftext).

Maybe someone would object that the passages in question are far too serious for such levity. Ah, but this overlooks the whole genre of black humor, which is a Jewish specialty. No one is more serious than the satirist. That's what makes irony ironic.

Some subjects are too deadly serious to be told with a straight-face. That's why Dante's Inferno is full of gallows humor. Without a little comic relief, it would be unbearable. The Purgatorio and Paradiso drag because they're so humorless. So next time we read the Devil or Adam, Abraham, Jonah or Moses dickering with the Divine, let us listen with the intonations of St. Groucho whispering in our ears.

2 comments:

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