The Door That Only Pain Will Open

51Kg8ENizPLEvery once in a while I start reading a book where the journey is so rich and impactful, I start dreading the final chapter.

That happened when I read Walter Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary. It happened again recently when I read Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Professor Ellen F. Davis.

If you don’t know Ellen Davis, she is the Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.

Besides being a highly respected biblical scholar, Dr. Davis is a wise pastoral guide. She shepherds the reader through some of the most familiar biblical texts and doesn’t dodge the tougher ones. In fact, she tackles some of the most troubling texts. Case in point is her chapter on YHWH’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Her book is a strong argument for why we need more female scholars engaged in biblical and theological studies. The addition of female scholars doesn’t negate what men have done, but rather builds on their work and enhances it. This book gives solid evidence that we need both perspectives to begin unleashing more of the Bible’s life-giving power.

Davis divides her book into five sections.

  1. Pain and Praise
  2. The Cost of Love
  3. The Art of Living Well
  4. Habits of the Heart
  5. Torah of the Earth

In each section, she takes up different Old Testament texts (from Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah), episodes (“The Burning Bush,” “The Binding of Isaac”), and entire books (Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes).

As I’ve read, I’ve been stunned by her insights. I’ve wept over the tenderness of God’s heart for us. Each chapter took me deeper into the text and stirred a greater love in my heart for God and a hunger to know the God of the Old Testament better.

It is hard to choose one excerpt from so many eye-opening and heartening statements. But here’s one that I found especially powerful in her chapter on the book of Job.

The book of Job is about human pain; it is also about theology, the work of speaking about God. In the last chapter, God takes the friends to task, saying, ‘You have not spoken accurately about me, as has my servant Job’ (42:7). Here God is pointing obliquely to what is so remarkable about this book. It shows us a person in the sharpest imaginable pain, yet speaking accurately about God.

Job gives us immeasurably more than a theology of suffering. It gives us the theology of a sufferer. In it we hear authoritative speech about God that comes from lips taut with anguish. From this book above all others in scripture we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority.

The sufferer who keeps looking for God has, in the end, privileged knowledge. The one who complains to God, pleads with God, rails at God, does not let God off the hook for a minute—she is at last admitted to a mystery. She passes through a door that only pain will open, and is thus qualified to speak of God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to acquaint yourself with her book.

To hear more from her directly, Professor Davis will be Pete Enns’ podcast guest today (Monday, July 31) to discuss the practical value on the Old Testament—exactly what this book is about.

About carolyncustisjames
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5 Responses to The Door That Only Pain Will Open

  1. Your post is so timely..Christianity today recently interviewed Joni Eareckson Tada on her 50 years in a wheelchair. As I read the interview, I heard her express many of the same themes expressed in your post.. She truly is qualified to speak in a way that most of us cannot.


    • Thanks for mentioning Joni and the CT article. Her whole ministry was birthed and is shaped by her suffering. A lot of us have learned from her. Back in 2006 when we lost my husband’s brother Kelly in a climbing accident on Mount Hood, we found the people who knew grief from their own stories and reached out to us spoke a different language. They just knew how to enter into the grief because they’d been there before.


  2. dorothygreco says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’d read pretty much anything you suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

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