Monday, January 4, 2010

Wrapping Up Job

It has been a shamefully long time since I posted anything here. I could list any number of excuses, but the fact of the matter is that I forgot how much I need this time. The format serves me well (whether it helps you at all is another question altogether, but I hope it does). So here I am, concluding my thoughts on Job.

Chapter 41 is an extension of the argument found in chapter 40, in which God uses examples from nature to show just how little Job understands about being in control. As the creators of Bible footnotes everywhere insist on pointing out, many scholars try to explain away the leviathan as little more than a crocodile. I guess it could be that simple, but I don't think so. I prefer to call the leviathan a leviathan and take the description at face value.

But for me Chapter 42 is the real treat. Job's response should humble anyone not named "God":

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

I'm guilty of doing this just about every day. Sometimes I think Christians fall in love with the Bible simply because it allows us to feel like we're holding a paginated, leather-bound version of God in our hands. It's comforting and empowering to believe that God has revealed His truth to us in exhaustive fashion—what idiots we can be.

The Bible is God's message to us, not an unabridged owner's manual. And it's not as though anyone really understands the Bible completely either. We can study it and grasp its truth to give us ample wisdom for all that we do and experience . . . but no man's Bible knowledge is without its problems and limitations.

Yet I can go months on end feeling as though I get it, I don't need the Bible, and I understand God perfectly well enough to go about my daily routine without trampling all over His plans and desires for me.

Job realized how limited his understanding was, repented, prayed on his friends behalf, and received all sorts of wonderful gifts from the Lord. Just on the other side of his sufferings and grumblings was a mountain of blessings. I wonder how much of that I've missed because I've been lost in my own darkened stream of consciousness?

Not too much, I hope.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Verse of the Moment: Ecc. 5:18

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Ecclesiastes 5:18 (NIV)

It's always hard to know which verses in Ecclesiastes to embrace wholeheartedly and which to scrutinize more critically as the logical conclusions of life without eternity in view.

I think this passage qualifies as both. Ecclesiastes is saturated with wisdom, exposing the folly of reveling in this world in ignorance of the end that is sure to come. Very few lights of hope glimmer on the surface of this book of poetry, but this verse appears to be one of them. To enjoy life and be satisfied in what you do . . . that is good and proper. But it isn't all there is.

Don't just live for today. Don't just live this day as though it could be your last. Live this day as though it were meant for life beyond the sun. Live this day for eternity as though it is one building block in the kingdom of Christ. That is your lot.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Verse of the Moment: 1 Chr. 16:9

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful acts. 1 Chronicles 16:9

Sometimes I'm afraid to give God credit publicly for anything, because it's not the smart or fashionable thing to do, bringing God into the conversation. I'm hesitant to tell anyone that He has granted me some small grace by providing a paycheck or bringing me home safely from a trip. Was it really God who made that happen? Would my friends take me seriously if I said that?

But I'm perhaps even more wary of telling people what I know He's done for me without a shadow of a doubt. He sent His Son to die for me and save me from my sins. Can't I at least tell people about that? Can't you?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Verse of the Moment: 1 Cor. 1:17

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." 1 Corinthians 1:17

How interesting that Paul was glad to have not done something inherently good because it allowed him to escape the glorification of his personality? He earnestly feared becoming the face of his ministry and becoming the object of worship.

The cliché goes, "don't blame the messenger," but Paul was afraid people would praise the messenger. He was happy to detach his name from the baptism of the saints so they would know they were baptized into the family of Christ and not the family of Paul.

Yet how quick am I to take credit for the small things I do? How much do I long to hear my name associated with anything recognized as significant for the cause of Christ? Maybe not so I can receive glory, but at least my share of the pie. I need to trust in God to provide all I need, not the cult of personality within the Christian culture. I hope I can remember that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hakuna Matata

You might not realize it, but you probably do know at least a little bit of Swahili. The phrase made popular by The Lion King, "Hakuna Matata," is really the Swahili way to say, "There are no worries." Job 39 carries a similar vibe to the sentiment espoused by Timon and Pumbaa in the Disney cartoon: Hey, we're animals; what do we have to worry about?

So what's the point, here? This isn't one of those chapters where the logical conclusion hits you over the head with a sledge hammer. Here are some gut reactions that might come to us naturally:

  • The animals listed here don't have to worry, so why should Job? I really don't think God would ask Job to take solace in the carefree nature of the wild kingdom after losing his family, his possessions, and his health. "Sorry about your kids and the hideous boils, but hey, ostriches are fast." Not exactly a bright side there.
  • God cares for the animals, so He'll certainly care for Job. True, but not the point here. The tone of the previous chapter had been the folly of claiming to empathize with or comprehend God. We can't put ourselves in His position. We can't grasp the why behind His actions. We can't even pinpoint His actions. To segue into "Don't worry, I'll take care of you," would be a complete non sequitor at this point.
  • God cares for things you can't, so you don't have to worry about them. Again, this is true, but it doesn't follow from what the general direction of the text. God isn't asking Job to leave his worries to God (although he should); He's correcting Job's skewed view of just how superior God is, how small Job is, and how silly it is for Job or anyone to give their opinions of what God should do.
  • God does have to care for the animals' tiniest needs, and He equips them with their most intricate features. Man has no idea what it's like to truly provide care on the level God provides it. I put this one last, because that's how I read this passage.
God's response to Job here reminds me of a speech a parent might give to a child (or even to an adult who doesn't have kids). Until you become a mom or a dad, you have no idea what it's like to love and care for a baby, a child, a teenager. Actions and inaction that seem completely ridiculous or unfair to our children are motivated by a love that is deep and inexplicable. If we could explain to our kids the pain we feel when they suffer or the extent to which we care, they still wouldn't get it.

I think, though, Job got it. At least he finally understood he couldn't get it. Got it?

Friday, June 19, 2009

God: You Don't Know

A) I don't have any excuses for going over a month without seriously dwelling on God's Word. But that's what I've done.

B) Nobody knows what it's like to be God.

I think that (point B) is the key of this passage. I can see people taking Job Chapter 38 to be God's chastisement to Job for asking God questions (You have no right to ask Why?). I can see people understanding it to be God's statement of distance (You aren't on my level, so you can't expect me to relate to you). But neither of those adequately reflect the words or the essence of the passage or other revelations God has made about Himself.

No, the point seems to be that humans like Job & friends (and us) have no clue what it is like to stand in God's place or to wield God's power. So when we go beyond asking God "Why?" and venture into the land of making conclusions about God's motivations and reasoning . . . we're publicizing our idiocy.

We don't know what it's like, and we should never have the arrogance to conclude why God has done anything, unless He has spelled it out clearly in His Word. Even then, we shouldn't claim to comprehend the magnitude of God's actions, only gratefully awed that He would include us in His explanation and in His plan of grace.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Done yet, Elihu?

I'm a bit anxious to resume this study and even more ready to be done with Elihu. So I'm plowing through Job 35–37 today. The problem with his advice to Job is mostly the general spirit in which he gives it, although he makes some major factual missteps, too.

The best way to summarize Elihu's arrogance is his statement about himself in Chapter 36: "One perfect in knowledge is with you." Seems a bit off for him to be chastising Job's pride when he's calling himself Mr. Perfect Smartypants. But he's guilty of more than just spiritual snobbery; Elihu is acting as God's PR agent.

There are those who blaspheme God. There are those who defend God against all criticism. Both parties fail to know God as He truly is, usually because of one of two mistakes. They either expect Him to behave as a human constrained by time, space, and social standards of general politeness or they dismiss Him as so completely separate and distant from humanity that no part of Him needs to make any sense to us whatsoever. Whatever explanation will satisfy our preconceived notions about God—be you skeptic or believer—that's the one toward which we will happily gravitate.

A) God doesn't need a PR agency. I'm not saying we shouldn't defend our faith, but I do think we should be less defensive about it, particularly when it's an older, wiser brother or sister with whom we disagree. Instead of feeling responsible for making everyone align with our views on everything, it's not a bad idea to listen and think every once in awhile.

B) Just because God doesn't answer doesn't mean He don't care. Garth Brooks taught me that, and it's true. Elihu criticized Job for longing for an answer from God, arguing that God doesn't relate to us on that level; that's probably because Elihu didn't relate to God on that level. For all his ramblings about the power of God, he missed the love of God completely.

That would truly be a shame. God, I recognize your power, I can't fathom your immensity, and I'm not nearly grateful enough for your love. I can't wait to read your response to man's rants and raves.