Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"In the Whirlwind"

I received from the library today my hot-off-the-presses copy of my teacher Robert Burt's new book, In the Whirlwind:  God and Humanity in Conflict   I'm really looking forward to it.  Here's some blurb-age:

God deserves obedience simply because he’s God—or does he? Inspired by a passion for biblical as well as constitutional scholarship, in this bold exploration Yale Law Professor Robert A. Burt conceptualizes the political theory of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. God’s authority as expressed in these accounts is not a given. It is no less inherently problematic and in need of justification than the legitimacy of secular government.

In recounting the rich narratives of key biblical figures—from Adam and Eve to Noah, Cain, Abraham, Moses, Job, and Jesus—In the Whirlwind paints a surprising picture of the ambivalent, mutually dependent relationship between God and his peoples. Taking the Hebrew and Christian Bibles as a unified whole, Burt traces God’s relationship with humanity as it evolves from complete harmony at the outset to continual struggle. In almost every case, God insists on unconditional obedience, while humanity withholds submission and holds God accountable for his promises.

Contemporary political theory aims for perfect justice. The Bible, Burt shows, does not make this assumption. Justice in the biblical account is an imperfect process grounded in human—and divine—limitation. Burt suggests that we consider the lessons of this tension as we try to negotiate the power struggles within secular governments, and also the conflicts roiling our public and private lives.


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I confess to finding it hard to understand how God could be in a "dependent" relationship with any created thing. I mean that quite literally: it makes no sense.

Some math I have found persuasive:

God + the universe =/= more than God.

Posted by: Matthew Polaris | Apr 2, 2012 2:55:01 PM

Matthew Polaris,

That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that the Bible doesn't *depict* a "mutually dependent relationship between God and his peoples." An omnipotent God could certainly have wiped out the indigenous peoples of Israel and teleported the Jews out of Egypt to replace them. And the God of the Old Testament has a very emotional relationship with the Jews that the God of philosophy couldn't possibly have.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 2, 2012 5:28:37 PM

Can you give an example where the OT depicts God as dependent on Israel (or some subset thereof)?

Posted by: Anonsters | Apr 2, 2012 6:52:45 PM

"Since therefore God is outside the whole order of creation, and all creatures are ordered to Him, it is manifest that creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea, inasmuch as creatures are referred to Him." ST, q. 13, a. 7.

Posted by: Matthew Polaris | Apr 3, 2012 9:12:14 AM