If the great theme of the Bible is one of blessing, it can’t be denied that sin, or curse, and redemption is an important sub-theme. The God who is Consummator is also Redeemer and Deliverer. So how should this theme fit into the canonical narrative that Soulen is proposing as an alternative to the traditional one?
Soulen notes that
the primeval history (Gen 1-11) knows nothing of a single catastrophic fall that introduces a major turning point into the biblical story. On the contrary…the central theme of the primeval history and of Genesis as a whole is the continuity, resilience, and growth of God’s work as the Consummator of creation. Nevertheless, the creation sagas are nothing if not utterly unsentimental about the seriousness of human sin and dreadful weight of the divine curse. The creation sagas trace the human family’s readiness to receive God’s blessing through a series of social pairs: male and female (Gen 2-3), brother and brother (Gen 4), comrade and comrade (Gen 11). In each case, the result is distressingly negative. (p. 142)
Seen in this light, Soulen understands sin to be the refusal to receive God’s blessing as mediated through the other. This can refer to the divine Other, as in Adam and Eve’s failure to trust God as the source of their fullness, or it can refer to the human other, as in Cain’s refusal to accept blessing through his brother Abel. Instead of receiving God’s blessing “through economies of difference and mutual dependence” (p. 143), we try to secure our own blessing on our own terms. “Sin assaults the link that joins blessing and otherness. Sin seeks blessing apart from its source in the divine Other and apart from life with the human other” (p. 144).
When humanity rejects the divinely ordained economy of mutual dependence, it invites the divine curse. In the story of the Exodus we learn of Egypt’s rejection of the mutually beneficial relationship it had established with the family of Jacob, turning instead to exploitation. In turn, God’s curse falls upon the Egyptians and God delivers the people that would become Israel. But lest this seem to be just national egoism on Israel’s part, the Scriptures speak just as if not more often of God’s judgment on Israel. “Like the nations, Israel is prone to forget that God’s covenant is the only trustworthy source of benediction for Israel and for creation” (p. 146).
As we saw with blessing, redemption is ultimately oriented to the advent of God’s eschatological shalom. Both persecution by the nations and Israel’s own sin “threat[en] God’s intentions to bring Israel to final consummation” (p. 147). The Scriptures are ambivalent about whether this means simply judgment of the nations and vindication for Israel, or whether it means a restoration and final fulfillment of the economy of mutual blessing God always intended. This is a question Soulen returns to when considering the meaning of Jesus in the next chapter.
For the time being, the key point is that redemption or deliverance is for the sake of consummation. In the Pentateuch, the story of deliverance is framed by stories of God’s blessing (in Genesis and Deuteronomy). There are hints in the Exodus story itself that Israel will be blessed in the company of the nations (Moses delivered by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in Pharaoh’s house, Moses’ marriage into a gentile household, and the “mixed crowd” that escapes Egypt with the Hebrews). The institution of the Jubilee is another instance of redemption (forgiveness of debts) for the sake of blessing (a restored relationship with land and community), and the Scriptures’ eschatological hope is not just for deliverance from evil, but for the positive blessings of life and wholeness.
[L]iberation from the powers that destroy is a matter of utmost urgency precisely because these powers threaten to cut off the human family from the arena in which God’s blessings are bestowed. The antithesis of sin and redemption is misunderstood if it is torn from its context in God’s work as Consummator and from the economies of mutual blessing that God establishes and sustains. (p. 52)
It should be clear at this point that from this perspective redemption does not mean erasing the distinction between Jew and Gentile, as the church has maintained for most of its history. Rather it means forging a new community in which Jew and Gentile exist in a relationship of mutual blessing without ceasing to be Jew and Gentile.