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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Basic Question

Elihu goes on in Job 34, and his diatribe poses two questions (both of which have come up before in this study) I have to mull over for a bit.
  1. Is God responsible for everything that happens in this world?
  2. Why does God do anything?
If you believe God is sovereign (which I do) it's pretty darn difficult to answer "no" to number 1. To some extent, Elihu came to that conclusion as well. His theology amounts to this: sin is the responsibility of the perpetrator alone; everything else is God's doing. In other words, all beings in possession of a fully functioning will are responsible for their own actions. Events that can't be claimed by mortal willful beings belong to God.

The big problem with that philosophy is that we willful sinners didn't just wander into existence. God created us, equipped us with wills, and all along had the full knowledge of what would happen and the power to stop it. To call anything that has happened in the history of time "out of God's hands" is, in my opinion, even more blasphemous than to hold God responsible.

And I love the fact that Job raises the issue . . . or, to live out this little theological conclusion, I love that God raises the issue for us.

That leads us to question #2, a question much more difficult to answer. Especially if you find it difficult to say, "I don't know." Even worse, I don't know that we can know. Elihu would say that God brings pain into this world to correct and/or punish the ungodly. Job did his best to try to disabuse him of that belief. If we are to believe the Word of God, I think we have to side with Job on this one.

There are things about God, a person who goes to great lengths to make Himself known to us, that we just can't know. The question of "Why?" is one of those things. Even when something bad happens, and we find out that because of that thing something good happened, that doesn't explain why God did it, allowed it, planned it, or whatever. It explains why we can be happier about the bad thing. But our own feelings and God's divine motivation are not identical.

So God doesn't revolve around my contentment? It's the crown jewel of obvious statements, yet it just might be the hardest truth to accept in the history of mankind.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beware the Wise Man

It's been way too long, and I'm sorry. But here we are, Job 33, yet another example of just how dangerously close to the truth utter foolishness can come. Job was done talking. His friends were done trying, except for one. Elihu was determined to stay on mission. He was determined to verbally batter Job into submission. The only thing Elihu cared about was Job's repentance.

Well, maybe he cared about more than that. Maybe, like so many well intentioned friends dispensing counsel to beleaguered sufferers everywhere, Elihu cared for his friend's soul. Maybe he wanted to do the right thing. Maybe love drove him to say what he said. But I don't think so.

Elihu's so-called wisdom (I mean, for real, he called everything he was saying wisdom) was more likely motivated by selfishness and a false sense of security. Job's assertions—that his pain had nothing to do with any sin of his own—would force Elihu to accept things about God that he just couldn't believe. Would God really allow the righteous to suffer? Surely not. Would God turn silently away from His beloved child's tormented cries? Impossible. Would God afford affluence to the wicked and permit devastation to the good? Inconceivable. Those things just don't mesh with God's good and holy nature.

So Elihu laid it out plain and simple for Job: God isn't being silent. He's speaking through your pain. Your wounds and  your loss are His words. And if you're lucky, there's an angel somewhere pleading for you to have a second chance. All you have to do is admit that you were wrong.

Elihu made that self-righteous argument as if it were coming straight from the lips of the Almighty. He wasn't done. He goes on for five more chapters. Maybe that's what makes this so hard to keep going through. Maybe I'll just skip it.

But no. Job had to endure it. I can't complain. I just hope I can avoid being the one forcing someone into repentance when my own is long overdue.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fountain of Youth

You really have to love a speech that begins with the statement, "I am young in years, and you are old." I mean . . . wow. Can you imagine a scenario in which that greeting would fall on welcoming ears? Apparently Elihu could when he began speaking in Job 32

The sad admission I need to make is that the first time I really sat down and read all the way through Job was in my freshman year of college. My immediate reaction to Elihu's speech was, "Finally! Somebody with a brain is talking!" I was so glad to see someone moved by the Spirit to look at the situation honestly and boldly. Here he was, a young voice serving as the embodiment of wisdom with the courage to deliver His divinely appointed message!

It was quite awhile before I realized what a self-righteous jerkwad Elihu (and I) really was.

Elihu professed a fundamental assumption that for Job to be right, God had to be wrong. And for so many of us in countless similar situations, we arrive at the same conclusion when addressing someone else's behavior or disposition. We might say it, we might think it, but somehow we arrive at the conclusion, "God must be right, so you must be wrong." But that isn't what we really mean.

Our stubborn hearts actually stand on a much more arrogant belief. We don't say it. We don't even think it. But deep down our fountain of so-called righteous rage spews up from a well of pride. The conclusion we are really coming to is, "I must be right, so you must be wrong." Because I know. I know about God, and you don't. My conclusions are from the Spirit. God put it on my heart. Well, here's a warning from one corrupt heart to another:

Don't ever blame God for the fact that you're a prick. That's on you.

There are some warning signs from Elihu's discourse that we all should look out for. Repeatedly telling people to listen to what you know: bad sign. Claiming your opinion comes from the breath of the Almighty: a tad risky. Warning people you are full of words: Proverbs 10:19 sheds some light on your heart. Lips moving: a red flag should go up. Saying that you are impartial and unflattering for the sake of escaping divine judgment: better make sure you're not just being a jackass.

And now that I look at my word count, I'm just going to stop here be silent.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mr, Perfect?

Women have their Proverbs 31, the chapter in the Bible that defines the so-called ideal woman (though some would call her the "shyeah, good luck" woman). She's the gold standard, Princess Di meets Martha Stewart meets Mother Teresa. I'm not gonna touch that topic . . . well, maybe I'll just graze it and say that I think it's more about prioritizing meaningful qualities over superficial ones than it is about setting a standard for women to live up to.

But the male counterpart to that passage is Job 31. Suffice it to say that this final statement from Job made his old friends shut up. (Of course, that gave his younger compadre the chance to deliver the sermon he'd been sitting on, but that's tomorrow's adventure.)

This chapter is one that the average guy (and his above- and below-average friends) can't get very far into without feeling convicted. You know, like the first verse. But that first verse is a winner. So helpful. So self-explanatory. So . . . let's move on and save the lurid descriptions for the saints and sinners alike who make their money off that kinda thing.

So Job was pure. He was honest. He was just. He was merciful. He was compassionate. He was generous. He controlled his tongue. He was kind and respectful to his enemies. He was hospitable. He trusted in God, not his possessions. He regarded the wonders of nature as the work of God, not gods in and of themselves. He was accountable. 

And if Job had any law to tell him that all this was the right way to be, we have absolutely no record of it. In all likelihood, Job was pre-10 Commandments. He was pre-Law (and possibly pre-Med). Yet, Job knew more about right and wrong than most Christians, myself embarrassingly included. And here's my favorite part: Job's explanation why he carried himself this way. 

I have heard and read a lot of talk about the proper motivation for a believer to do good works. Notions like, You shouldn't do it for personal gain, or God doesn't want us to obey to avoid punishment, or, Doing good is only good if you do it because you want to do it. I've always thought those arguments were baloney, and it seems like Job agrees. In verse 23, he stated it pretty simply:

"For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things."

Job knew, or at least he believed, that if he didn't obey God, God would mess him up something serious. Why? There is ample evidence that Job witnessed many an evil person enjoying their punishment-free lifestyle. But Job believed in consequences that were neither immediate nor readily apparent. He believed in a holy God, and that was enough to stop him from sinning.

It begs the question (serious, on its knees, groveling interrogatively): When I sin over and over and over again, can I really claim to believe in a holy God? And the converse, if I believe in a holy God, can I continue doing things I know (with infinitely more overtly communicated detail in God's Word than Job ever received) are wrong?

No. I don't think I can. 

So, step 1: believe in and fear God. Repeat every moment of every day. Unrealistic? I don't think so.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Real? Really?

I don't know how real this is consistently managing to be, but I'll consider this post to be my reality check. Here's just a little nugget of reality:

I have gone a few days without spending meaningful time in the Word of God. I've read the next chapters in Job a couple of times, but I have just not had the motivation to really dwell on the meaning therein. Maybe it's Satan trying to stop me. Maybe it's just me being me. Honestly, I've come to the conclusion I don't really care what the cause is. I just know what the effect has been . . . and that's a lesser me than what I should, could, and would have been had I given God anything close to His due attention. So . . . this is my attempt.

Job, chapters 29 and 30. This is a really sad pair of chapters, because chapter 29 is a reminiscence about the way life used to be for Job. The long and short of it is, Job was a stud. Job was the man. Job was everything Sinatra said he wanted to find himself to be when he woke up in that city that never sleeps. The higher ups all loved him. The down-and-outs loved him, too. He was the Ferris Bueller of his time, and they all thought he was a righteous dude. And he was. His only mistake was thinking it would always be that way.

Because chapter 30 is Job's lament of his current state: he was the fermented dung buried beneath the muck, lying below the dirt in which was rooted the grass that was flattened under the very bottom of the totem pole. Reading the two chapters in succession just leaves me very, very sad.

But I guess if there is a light shining through the gloom of Job's dichotomous experience, maybe it's the simple fact that in God's eyes, His relationship with Job didn't change when everything else in Job's life did. Even when Job wasn't feeling a single warm fuzzy toward God, God loved him eternally. 

I've never really seen my life turned upside down before. It's usually swelling and ebbing tidal shifts of emotion and varying levels of satisfaction. But I do know that I need God at every moment. I wish I would act like it more often. It heartens me to know that He is a constant despite my inconsistencies. It also makes me feel ashamed at the same time.

Oh, how I need Him.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Real Job

This is a lot closer to what the real Job sounded like. In chapters 27 and 28, Job continues his most lengthy proclamation by far. It's really something, and I'd recommend reading it through in its entirety . . . but it's just too much to dwell on deeply in one sitting (at least for someone with the attention span of a . . . ha, I love parentheses).

But in these two chapters, I really felt Job returning to the man he was before he lost everything. He was by no means the same, but the despair seems to have diminished from a raging inferno of pain to a quiet acceptance. Job came through believing not only that he was righteous but also that his allegiance to God was worth it.

This segment of Job's message builds in a steady crescendo from his version of the penalty awaiting the wicked to his appraisal of the value of wisdom. He paints a masterpiece of word pictures to describe the elaborate extravagance of wisdom, but he sums it up with this simple description of its nature:

"The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding."

It really makes all the commentary I could provide seem like rambling. So I'll just ponder it for a moment and go to bed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whispers and Thunder

Job chapter 26 begins in similar fashion to the beginning of Job's other rebuttals: he sarcastically tells his friends they give rotten counsel.

But then Job goes into describe how unfathomable the power of God is, and it's one of the more beautiful passages of Scripture (although it does contain some references to near-Eastern mythology involving the slaughter of Rahab the serpent worthy of Jethro-Tullian rhapsodies . . . but I digress).

I included the above picture because of its title: "The Last Sunset of August 2007 - with lightning," which seemed to suit Job's description of God. He shows His power in nature in a way that should leave our jaws unhinged. But we so often talk about Him as if He's law or math or a Mr. Wizard experiment.

God is God. And in case you haven't noticed, His power is beyond our comprehension.

One thing I love (in a sarcastic kind of way) about science is how people throw around the term scientific fact. The great scientific minds (the real ones, not the ones I refer to as great in pitiful irony) will tell you that certainty is the stuff of fools. Too often scientists set their powers of observation above the grandeur of the wonders they observe. When they do that, their pride allows them to accept as fact things that are far beyond their comprehension or their limited scope of observation. They see very small fragments of the picture and proclaim, "Eureka!" when the full story would make them pee their pants and scream, "Eek."

Which is why I love (sans sarcasm) lightning. Scientists have a hard time studying lightning. They can't bottle it (hence the cliché). They can't recreate it. And when they try to study it up close, their equipment gets fried, or they die. Naturally, then, determining what goes on in a lightning bolt includes a fair amount of guesswork. I like lightning because it is a humbler, a truly awe-striking phenomenon. You can study it, but few people live to tell the stories of how they underestimated it during their lab work.

Job has a lot of respect for God, and it's very real. That gives me a lot of respect for Job. I'll end without any attempt at deep revelations, just a quote that really makes me think:

How faint the whisper we hear of [God]. Who then can understand the thunder of His power?—Job 26:14

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Short and Salty

Job chapter 25 isn't long, but it has all the potential to start an incredibly long discussion. That's because B. S. (Bildad the Shuhite) offers up a tiny nugget of false humility that I've heard echoing off the vaulted ceilings of churches and chapels all my life (particularly in prayers, for some reason). It's also a very popular theme in Oswald Chambers's writing.

I'm not saying I don't believe in the depravity of man; I do. And I'm not saying I disapprove of Ozzie Chambers; I don't. But I do think people take depravity too far in a couple of directions.

The first mistake we make is ignoring the past—God created us in His image. Obviously that's been corrupted, but it hasn't been lost. So when people say mankind is nothing but a bunch of worthless, dried up, pieces of decaying flesh, I think they're missing the fact that God loves us.

The other mistake is to abandon the future. Bildad asked the rhetorical question, "How can a man be righteous before God?" It's a good question, yet it has had an answer to some extent ever since God accepted Abel's sacrifice (Jesus called Abel righteous) or at the very latest when He credited Abraham's belief as righteousness. Why? Because Abel sacrificed by faith. Abraham followed by faith. By faith, a man could be righteous before God. Praise Him for that.

But there's a third mistake as well, and that's the depravity shield. Sometimes, people like Bildad proclaim the utter worthlessness of all mankind in an attempt to establish their own righteousness, thereby shielding themselves from the "depraved" label. Doesn't work like that. The so-called humble are quite often guilty of the most dangerous kind of judgmental arrogance.

And I think I may have just committed a bit of that brand myself. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Kinds of Justice

From what I can tell, Job classifies the wicked into three categories in chapter 24: the oppresive indifferent, the secretive evil, and the mighty pagan. I'll tackle them (figuratively of course, it's getting late) in reverse order.

The rulers of this world finally got their due, Job reasoned, in that they are finally brought low by the relentless gravity of death. Whatever power, whatever prestige they may have amassed throughout life, it vanished when they died.

The middle group of sinners is ostensibly the worst. They're the ones who know they're doing wrong and therefore do it beneath the safe cover of darkness. They're the murderers, theives, thugs, and adulterers, the Ten-Commandment breakers (or the breakers of the five commandments everybody knows). But these evildoers, Job claims, get what's coming to them. These are the people who inherit the judgments of plagues and pestilence and ruin all Job's friends love so much. 

But the first group is different. These people are identified most by the plight of their victims. Sure, there are those who falsify their property lines and run away with stolen goods, maybe shortchange the needy here and there. But the bulk of the passage describing them (vv. 2–12) focuses on the needy, the homeless, the hungry, the dying. Their oppressors aren't identified by name, and I think that's Job's point. The people most responsible for their suffering are never charged with any crime. When does God call them out? By Job's count, never.

So here I am, reading this. And I feel called out. I'm not so sure I'm doing anything to help these people, and I very well may be contributing to a system that prolongs their need. I'd say it's time for me to be convicted about that. It's time to do something, not to clear my name, but to help people in need.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Could Job Stay Gold?

The first thing I thought of when I read Job 23 was Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Okay, honestly, my first thought was the clip from The Outsiders of Ralph Macchio quoting it. I wasn't sure why, but I thought the poem would apply here. After reading it, there's no doubt in my mind that it does.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

The reference to Eden caught my attention, as did the painful nods to the the immutable presence of death and imperfection in the natural world after innocent and glorious beginnings. The most obvious connection is the golden thread woven through both; Frost mourned the loss of all that was golden while Job believed God's holy fire was purifying him of everything but gold. And I think they're both talking about the same thing.

Existence in this world can be excruciating. But it is corrupted with death and imperfection—so even though God created it and has ultimate influence and sovereignty over it, He remains entirely distinct from it to the point that His existence is empirically undetectable. And so, like a brain deprived of oxygen, all life separated from God is doomed to certain death.

God's holiness is both Job's lament and his praise. He knows that, although he can't see God, God can see him and will ultimately vindicate him. And God's separation from all living (aka dying) things provokes Frost's mournful song, but it also assures us of the hope we have in Christ.

For when God entered the world, He endured death, conquered it, forged an unbreakable bond between those who believe and the Holy God who loves them . . . and by the power of that connection we are assured a place with Him where there is no death and no imperfection. We will come forth as gold not, as Job had suggested in his case, because we have never strayed, but because the one in whom we place our trust has imputed His perfect righteousness to us.

Frost is right. The traces of perfection and glory we see with our eyes are but the last remnants of fragile, fading innocence. Nothing gold can stay.

But Job is right as well . . . by the Word of God, that which is worthy and holy and beautiful and powerful that has been implanted within us by our Holy Creator, that will endure forever. We will come forth as gold.

I really, truly love this chapter.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It's almost too easy to come up with parallels between any Bible passage about money and today's economy, hence the title of this entry on Job 22. Maybe today's passage is of particular relevance because we're living in a time when people are especially keen to make judgments about all things fiscal—the markets, the stimulus packages, government spending, crooked CEO bonuses . . . every dollar spent by every person in America is suddenly under scrutiny. You can't buy a pack of juicy fruit these days without a cashier or fellow shopper raising an eyebrow as if to say, "Really? In this economy? Shouldn't you be sticking with something more conservative, like spearmint?"

People love holding other people to certain standards to which they themselves only pretend to adhere. Or sometimes, we simply consider ourselves and other common people to be exempt. It's this Common Exemption that allows a woman to think her best friend is beautiful while calling Julia Roberts ugly. The Common Exemption empowers us to praise our children for their soccer skills one day and to yell, "Hey, Jeter, you suck!" the next. It's this Common Exception that lets someone who cheats on their taxes still get angry about executives getting bailout money.

And with that attitude, we can certainly empathize with Eliphaz. He made a strong argument about man's inability to assist God as if God were in need of our assistance. He then resumed the chorus bemoaning Job's sinfulness, although Eliphaz was the first to single out a particular sin that may have caused his downfall. Eliphaz called Job greedy and indifferent to the needs of others. That was why God punished him, and if he renounced his greed and pride and all-around wickedness, God would forgive Job.

We know from reading the text, however, that Eliphaz was dead wrong. That, to me, makes this particular batch of counsel the steamiest pile of horse crap I've sniffed so far in this book.

There are three things, in my book, about which you should very rarely confront another person (or even subtly refer to in casual conversation with any tone of negativity or judgment), and even then the matter should be approached with the utmost caution and sensitivity:

Their kids
Their marriage
Their money

Never make negative comments about someone else's child. If you have kids, such criticism serves as an official invitation for your own kids to be insulted. If you think your kids are perfect, ask around and be disabused of that delusion at once. If you don't have kids, you better be trained pretty darned well (and be willing to help) before you even begin to dole out the advice—and it had better be delivered with convincing humility as well.

Same goes for the marriage commentary. Do it with discretion and in humility or prepare to have your own relationship (or lack of one) verbally and imaginatively skewered.

But money . . . oh, money is the trickiest of all, because we're so very artful at disguising our judgment, hiding it neatly behind a smile and an all-too-polite, "Ooh, nice shoes!" The truth is, we can all find something to critique about anyone if we try. They're too rich. They're too poor. They flaunt it. They're cheap. They make rotten investment decisions. They brag too much about their donations. They don't give at all . . . at least I've never heard them talk about it. They're so very pleased with themselves. They'll never be satisfied.

Best bet? Talk about the weather, and move on to the next chapter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Allow Me to Retort

My response to Zophar was nowhere near as biting, as clever, as—dare I say it—inspired as Job's was in chapter 21. But reading it doesn't leave me jealous.

It leaves me wondering how they left this passage in the Bible.

I'm not questioning the chapter's place in the canon. I'm just wondering how a group of God-fearing men would allow an argument so seemingly damaging to their faith to survive for so flippin' long. I mean, the ancient nation of Israel wasn't exactly founded on 1st Amendment rights like Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press. and Freedom of Speech. So allow me to restate Job's rant and then tell me if you would have kept it among your sacred scrolls had you had a vote in the Bible Hall of Fame.

Okay, I already know what you're gonna say, so shut up and let me finish. After that you can mock all you want.

If I were depending on you losers to improve my lot in life, it would go without saying that I'd have to wait awhile. But my beef isn't with mere mortals. Look at me, take it all in fellas. When you hear what I have to say, you can look all shocked again. I know I am.

You know wicked people? Yeah, turns out they don't suffer as much as you think they do. Their kids don't die like mine did. Their livestock is doing fine and spitting out calves and is not being wiped out by pestilence. Their homes are still standing. Their kids are still playing. Their bulls and cows are just reproducing away while I sit here and suffer. This being righteous thing is not all it's cracked up to be—and I'm beginning to understand the significance of the phrase "wicked awesome." 

Their lives can be pretty darn good, and when they die, their bodies are protected in beautiful tombs that are a lot more decked out than this hole I've wound up in, surrounded by you idiots. What is the point in serving God if this is the reward? God answers prayer? REALLY?!? Because I don't recall praying for this crap. Did you?

You talk about all this awful stuff that happens to evil people, but I'm not seeing it. Oh, and I love the part about, "His kids will inherit his evil." So what? He won't have to live to see that, what difference does it make? Why can't the evil guy himself get punished? Your theories about what happens to the wicked . . . maybe you should run those by God next time you're instructing Him on how to run the universe.

Because here's how I see it: one guy has a great life; another guy's life absolutely sucks; and they bury them both together. So go ahead and tell me what difference being good and living well really make. I'm sure you're gonna tell me I've got all this wrong, because in your sheltered little church world you have it all figured out. But if you ask around to people who actually know these so-called sinners, you'll find out you're dead wrong. Evil people live it up, they die in peace, and they rest in peace.

How do you expect to make me feel better with your ridiculous crap?

Now let me remind you how the book started out: "In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil."

As far as I'm concerned, it took a whole lot of faith to preserve this book. You have to be really in love with God to want to accept that an upright and blameless man can be brought to this kind of exasperation in the blink of an eye. I don't think this message could have endured if the people who carried it along didn't believe with all their hearts that there was something on the other side of suffering.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Job Break

Yesterday I took an intentional break from the book of Job (although I didn't intend not to post anything here) for two reasons: A) This book is deep, and a little depressing at times; B) I just needed some time to think about it without plowing ahead any further.

I want this endeavor of mixing blogging with devoting to remain true and fresh and real. I'm concerned about writing "for the blog" instead of reflecting on what is meaningful about God. And I'm extremely concerned about being so consumed by the study that I squeeze God out of the conversation entirely. That is the point, after all—to approach God, to call out to Him, to come near to Him and praise Him.

Job has been a stark reminder that God is entirely other from me. I am made to resemble Him, to imitate Him, and to love Him; but not to replicate Him. And for that reason, it is very uncomfortable to truly consider God and to, spiritually speaking, look Him in the face. And it is all too easy—to the point of being extremely difficult to avoid—to pretend to look at Him while we secretly close Him out of the loop. In a way, I can plagiarize God's Word by making it look like my own, but not giving Him credit for breathing it (and me) into existence. And that's precisely when I become guilty of the treachery of Job's friends. I speak on God's behalf but without God's consent. I misquote Him. I misinterpret Him. I disgrace Him.

And, God, I don't want to do that. I don't want to close you out and in the process lift myself up, although I do it incessantly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Viewer Discretion is Advised

Last time around, I was pretty harsh on Zophar. Let me update you on where big Z and I stand:

His name: still awesome.

His friendship score: still zero.

His response this time around (Job 20): still pretty cool.

(Man, something within me really wanted to use Z's in all three of those points, but I just didn't have it in me.) Zophar's response to Job this time was bizarre beyond all comprehension, but he had some great zingers (. . . wait . . . still biZarre, still Zero, still had some pretty cool Zingers . . . YES!!!).

Okay, this has totally derailed; let me bring it back. Zophar gives Job the type of speech that, if this were a movie, would start with a crazed glare. The speaker would fix his enraged eyes on the offending listener. He'd pace around him and begin whispering, voice trembling with suppressed emotion and calculated vengeance. He'd state his emotions very coolly, describing how he had listened long enough and was now very angry. Then he'd give the quintessential Bond villain monologue, describing for the benefit of the would-be victim exactly what hideous fate will befall him. Every word is chosen for maximum dramatic effect. As the crescendo of fear builds, the volume of his voice grows steadily softer and slower until he finally rests upon one small word designed to deliver . . . excruciating . . . pain. And Zophar savors every syllable.

So in that sense, Zophar's rant is classically cool. And if his thoughts on the fate of the wicked within the construct of this world were accurate, what a beautiful little fairy tale it all would be. But he's supposed to be Job's friend, and he just doesn't understand. And yet again I'm becoming painfully aware that when it's obvious a friend of mine is in need . . . when anyone can tell the person is too hurt or too distraught or too emotional to think clearly . . . those are the times when I only pretend to listen. Those are the times when I know what they need to hear. Those are the times when I can really suck as a friend.

The truth is, the person who seems to have lost all touch with reality is the one I should be listening to. The person who is in too much grief to put up with the conventions we've all constructed to help make life bearable, that's the person who is ready to cast it all aside and look God in the eye . . . or just begging for God to look away.

The person who has lost all need for pretense is my best shot at an honest answer about life and about God and about me.

God, sometimes my whole life seems like nothing more than a psychological game. It's suddenly very embarrassing that none of it does anything to mask your perception of me. And somehow you love me. I don't know how to feel about that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I Know My Redeemer Lives

I've heard and read this verse quoted more times than I care to count, and I'm sure a fair number of those times attributed the quote to Job, uttered from the pit of his suffering in chapter 19. (Aside: I've been wondering if I could get through an entry on Job without using the word suffering, but it's obviously not going to be today. I'll try again tomorrow.) 

The over-emotional reactionary within all of us wants to cry out, "Yes! Job trusted in the Lord Jesus even when all hope was lost!" All the rational commentaries are quick to clarify that Job wasn't talking about his Redeemer redeemer, just someone to vindicate him, someone who would prove his innocence, or reclaim him from the ranks of the "told you so" files. But they still capitalize the word, don't they? So maybe it's a bit out of context to use that verse to talk about Jesus . . . but not so far gone that the scholars won't agree Job expected to get his long-awaited shout-out from the Lord Himself. The emotional and the rational both seem to agree that the Redeemer of verse 25 is the God of verse 26.

Another quick nonspiritual observation: it kinda cracks me up that the general attitude toward Job's rants, grumblings, and utterings is kind of "Hey, the dude was suffering. You would expect him to say a few things he didn't mean. He didn't understand, he was under duress." So when Job is talking about God treating him like an enemy, we look the other way. But when Job mentions the Redeemer and the idea of seeing him after he died, suddenly the theologians pounce on that bit of ancient poetry like it's the juiciest piece of doctrinal red meat since the word literal was first spoken into existence. I understand that this is the Word of God. And I know it's a significant couple of verses. But in the context from which Job expressed these thoughts, can we really expect systematic theology 101? Is there any need to dissect the finer points of this seemingly prophetic blurb with any more scrutiny than his observation eight verses earlier that his wife found his breath to be cause for suffering on its own?

Within the context of this book, Job's umpteenth response to his so-called friends' umpteenth critique, I'm not seeing a didactic theology dancing off Job's lips. What really puts a knot in my chest is Job's earnest statement of faith. Without a written Word in any form (that we know of) Job was longing for his own cries of pain and trust to be recorded for all time (they were). And although he had no chapter and verse to back him up, Job knew that no matter when or how he died, he believed that his Redeemer lived. He believed that he would meet him face to face, eye to eye, and that He would behold God Himself. He believed that God would . . . what? Vindicate him? Redeem him? Protect him? Does it really matter what the distinction was? The point I cling to is that Job believed God would, in the end, still be with Job as an advocate instead of an accuser.

I don't know if Job ever would have come up with that statement had he not gone through the trials recorded in this book. But I do know this: I can think of nothing better than to know I have a friend who will stick with me until the end. The fact that I can count on God Himself to be that friend . . . well, that just makes me want to break down and cry.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

No One Mourns the Wicked

Bildad is probably my least favorite friend of Job's. If I ever lose everything, I'm definitely not inviting him to my pity party. His response to Job in chapter 18 is a tad strange in that he doesn't exactly call Job wicked . . . but he does go on and on about what happens to the wicked.

I'm not proud to say it (yes, I am; I am, I am, I am!) but I love the musical Wicked. I saw it in Chicago. I bought the soundtrack. I listen to it way too often. My personal Broadway issues aside, the opening song sets the theme for the story:

No one mourns the Wicked
No one cries, "They won't return!"
No one lays a lily on their grave.
The good man scorns the Wicked!
Through their lives, our children learn
what we miss, when we misbehave.

And Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely.
Goodness knows
the Wicked die alone.
It just shows when you're Wicked
you're left only . . . on your own.

Yes, Goodness knows
the Wicked's lives are lonely.
Goodness knows
the Wicked cry alone.
Nothing grows for the Wicked;
They reap only what they've sown.
. . .
And Goodness knows
we know what Goodness is.
Goodness knows
the Wicked die alone.
Woe to those
who spurn what Goodness they are shown.
No one mourns the Wicked.

That song doesn't quote Bildad at all, really, but the spirit of the lyrics is identical to this passage in Job. The idea is this: the easiest way to see the clear cut difference between the Good and the Wicked is to look how they wind up. The Wicked suffer supremely and die tragic deaths. The Good live in luxury, shaking their heads in disgust as they peer down on the ashes of the doomed.

One of the reasons I highly recommend Wicked is the heartfelt, thoughtful way it makes its point: that the ones we think are Wicked, the ones who are scorned and dismissed and tortured, are often quite good. And the Good who lord their so-called Goodness over all who revere them . . . those can be some of the Wickedest people in the land.

Bildad, as usual, was wrong. Sometimes, the Wicked prosper. A lot of times, the Good suffer. The one constant among mankind seems to be that we give far too much advice.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Pit of Despair

Lashing out brings satisfaction at its fastest fleeting. Job went from frustration to desperate hope rather swiftly in chapter 16, but in chapter 17, despair set in pretty fast. He saved the most heartbreaking question for last, when he asked if hope would die and descend into the afterlife right along with him.

Excuse my French, but I've been quoted as saying, "Hope is a whore." She's always available to anyone who will have her. But how many times have you seen your dreams dashed and, as the clouds of reality dust settle back down to the ground on which you lay flat, watched hope saunter off into someone else's wistful delusions? Hope can be a breath of sweet, clean air or the tantalizing whiff of a menacing carrot. Hope is a ray of light one minute, a complete mirage the next. You can't spell hope without ho. The same is also true of . . .

However, hope . . . genuine, pure, unadulterated hope . . . is real and it is spectacular. I don't have a life verse, but I think this passage in Romans (5:1-5) is my favorite:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Now, I know the first half of that passage is oh so New Testament and therefore of very little intuitive help to Job. But not the second half. No, Paul was speaking very generally there about hope and suffering. Suffering makes you persevere! Perseverance builds character. And it is character, not weakness or foolishness or denial or simple brain-addled lunacy--no, it's character that produces hope. 

Hope isn't just the currency of desperate Cub fans (although it most definitely is that, I assure you). Hope is the stuff of weathered, emboldened, deeply scarred heroes who hold true to the only One who hasn't changed, the only One worth pursuing, the One who didn't turn away from Job despite his objections . . . the One who has suffered.

So yeah, today, Job suffered to the point of despair, and tomorrow he received no relief. And the answer to his question is, Yes. Hope would descend along with him to the gates of Sheol and right on through into the darkness. What Job didn't know was that even after death, Hope wouldn't let go of Job. And, with Job in tow, Hope would rise again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Job Rules

Job is a little bit difficult to follow at times, but not in Chapter 16 when Job delivers one of the great verbal smackdowns of the patriarchal era. It boils down to, "Dude, you guys suck at counseling! If I were consoling one of you on the loss of your family, possessions, and health, I'd try the novel approach of actually trying to make you feel better!

And as I read along with Job's lament over all that he is suffering, his comment from earlier in the book comes back to me: "Will we accept the good from God and not also the bad?" Why is it that when something amazing happens, we credit God; but when something terrible happens, we don't link it to God at all. No, we say, "This is part of God's plan," in a way that really means, "God will come up with a way to make up for these bad things happening." But we don't attribute the badness to God any more than we would blame a doctor for our illness. 

The fact I'm not escaping, the fatal elephant roaming the room waiting to sit on us and kill us, is the fact that we all die. We die. There's a bad, nasty ending awaiting each and every one of us. God knows this. He knew it when He breathed life into Adam that Adam and everyone after him would lose that breath and return to the lifeless dirt. Yay! Do you have a problem with that?

It's not my favorite realization, but God has something better for us than the sheer joy and comfort of avoiding all suffering . . . Him.

Then comes what truly amazes me about Job. He points toward an advocate, arguing on his behalf at the throne of God, as a friend would argue. How did he know? How did he know that Jesus would be arguing the case of all His people?

I'd like to think God gave him that truth in the midst of his suffering, when none of his friends had a single word of comfort for him. I like that. I'm glad I've got more than an inkling. I've got the Bible . . . how can I ignore it so much?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I've come across rants like these in literature, in real life, and sometimes even coming out of my own mouth. It's the "Oh, now you've done it" diatribe people spout off when someone deliberately departs from the will of God as we have mapped it out in our minds. Eliphaz goes off on Job in chapter 15.

This is the stuff of keenly crafted false humility, unveiled in three key points: 1) Everyone is lower than God; 2) You are speaking against God and are therefore putting yourself above God; 3) Allow me (as someone who recognizes what being meek and lowly and humble is all about) to speak on God's behalf in the form of a spirited, finger-wagging rebuke.

It's the most beautifully backward theology known to man: It is impossible to be truly right before God, but if you were more like me, you would be.

What really stinks about Eliphaz's application (and that of so many of us modern-day prophets) is that Job's big sin was nothing more than thoughtful honesty. Rather than numbing his mind to the reality of his suffering, Job asked the questions and spewed the complaints his pain could no longer allow him to contain. And in that sense, Job was given a gift, albeit one with the crappiest wrapping job in the history of the world. 

God showed Job why he loved God. It wasn't, as Satan alleged, the luxury, the joy, and the thriving family he had enjoyed. It wasn't the health and prosperity and ease. No, all that stuff was merely the fringe excess of God's grace. Job's love was deeper than even he knew. When his relationship with God was stripped down naked, all he had was his suffering, his lousy friends, his unwelcome life, and the nagging assurance that he couldn't turn his back on God. Job learned that the pinnacle of human spirituality on earth (which, let's face it, Job had achieved) was still a humiliation under the gaze of a holy God.

And this so-called friend of Job was telling him to stop being a rebel, come back down to the land of the blissfully ignorant, and wait for everything to go back to normal. 

If it's comfort in anything but the love of God, rebel away, I say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Until My Change Comes

I'm not saying it's impossible or impractical to study Job 12-14. You could break it down verse by verse, divide it into sections, key messages, and themes, and even compare the translation issues of some of the more problematic Hebrew phrases. I did those things in spots, but then I found myself just wanting to read this response by Job from beginning to end. It is, after all, poetry. 

And here in these three chapters, Job expresses some gems of the human struggle. He opens by waxing, "duh." He wonders about justice. He observes that the rest of nature knows what mankind can't admit. He has an out-of-body (or even out-of-universe) experience where he watches all of man's existence swirl about according to the conduction of God's will. He asks his friends to shut up and stop playing God's advocate. He once again approaches the throne of God, hoping for an answer. And he ponders his own death, hoping for something more.

This portion of Job, like Ecclesiastes, begs the question of what lies beyond the veil of death. Both Job and Solomon express a yearning, ignorant and uninformed, for something more meaningful than experience, something better than the now, something untouched by death. Solomon died without knowing what that was. But Job . . .

Look, we all know this story ends well for Job, and that's because he became a living picture of the resurrection. The heart of the book chronicles Job's deathly suffering,  but it ends with a brand new wonderful life. What a wonderful picture! Of course, it was also just a picture. He still died. And death is not cool.

That's the lesson Job learns and teaches in this book, one delivered powerfully in these three chapters. With death in the picture, life is programmed to degenerate into a big pile of stink. That's just the way it is. As wonderful as Job's life was, as faithful as he was, he probably never before came to terms with the fact that the closing curtain is putrid, unforgiving, and relentless. It may have been a great play, but the afterparty is gonna suck.

We have to long for something more. The man who had everything, the man who lost everything . . . they both agree that there simply must be something more. And the beauty that they are only now appreciating (hopefully) is that there most certainly is.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Zophar, Zo Bad

In a contest between Job and his friends, Zophar wins two awards: coolest name and worst advice. He is the guy that, upon hearing about your problems, immediately assumes that A) you messed up, B) you're lucky things aren't worse, and C) if you would just straighten yourself out, everything would be fine.

I'm turning away from Job the character (who received these precious pearls of Zopharian wisdom in Chapter 11) to focus on Zophar. I'm wondering if I'm ever that kind of friend. The guy who tries to over-apply my theology to people's lives. I think theology is awfully dangerous, because it is, in the first place, an oversimplification of an infinite being. When we turn our observations about God into rules He must follow, the logic tends to get real scary. (Example: God is good, all the time. Suffering is not good. Therefore, if you're suffering, you must have wandered away from God.)

When I encounter someone whose life experience challenges my beliefs about God, the immediate reaction is, without fail, to think of how he might be lying, what she could be hiding, what they haven't yet considered that would clearly point to how screwed up they are and how perfect my interpretation of Scripture is. And while I definitely don't condone the redefining of the Bible to accomodate the whims of every soul, I also hope to be ever open to the possibility that I'm dead wrong. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ironic with a Why

As Job continued to wonder in chapter 10 why God was making him suffer so, the irony hit me and kinda stung a little bit. Job went on and on about how God was seemingly, to Job, waiting for him to slip up in the slightest so He could slam him back into his rightful lowly place. In reality, God was lifting Job up as the prime example of what a servant of God should be.

And even though Job's ignorance (for which I can't really blame him) prevented him from seeing the full ignominious honor of being lifted up through ultimate suffering (if you read on in the Bible, you might notice that developing into somewhat of a theme in certain places), I'm not sure his verbal assaults in God's direction quite qualify as the fulfillment of Satan's prediction that he would "curse God."

In other words, I don't think Satan won the bet. Still . . . man, you just realize at so many points throughout this book that man does not sit at the center of the universe. I have more important things to do than ponder my place in this world . . . even though that's pretty much part of my daily routine. God help me.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It Ain't Me

I have two major disconnects with Job: 1) I've never suffered emotionally or physically like he did; 2) I have never been to the point where I can call myself "guiltless."

In chapter 9, Job comes to the conclusion that, although he has done nothing wrong, God will find him guilty--and how do you argue with God about something like that? How can anyone stand before God and claim righteousness? Who is at the same level with God and therefore worthy and able to arbitrate a dispute between God and anyone? All great questions, capped off with the biggest doozy of them all:

If God didn't do this to me, then who did?

Now, you could argue that Satan did those things to Job, but as we saw earlier, God seemed to assume responsibility in chapter 2 for what He allowed Satan to do in chapter 1. And, come on, does anybody really think that when bad things happen to good, mediocre, or mildly depraved people God responds, "Hey, don't look at me. I had nothing to do with that"? No! 

But the answers to the previous questions answer Job's toughest question--nobody is in a position to judge God's actions. The inability to do so (and the unwillingness to accept human suffering as just) drives many to simply deny His existence. Good luck to them. But is suffering as we understand it and experience it truly a real factor? Isn't it merely a psychological condition, an impulse in our brains . . . an experience defined solely by the negative physiological ways in which we respond to it? Does our right to pleasure and to good and happy vibes really outweigh the existence of a supreme being who is good and just and holy?

I don't know what I could have told Job to make him feel better, but I do know that Jesus Christ is the answer to a whole lot of his questions. He makes it possible to stand righteous before God. He can argue on our behalf, not considering equality with God something He had yet to attain. And He endured suffering akin to anything we've experienced (and far beyond). 

Job asked a lot of tough questions about God. And within the realm of this life . . . there aren't really satisfactory answers. We aren't really in a position to tell God how our lives should run, and if we suffer . . . that's the way it is. But it isn't because God is cold or indifferent. Through the suffering of His Son, He put an end to our eternal suffering. Who am I to complain? Heck, with as easy as I've had it, I'd better not.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Basic Formula

Bildad, you're up!

Okay, Job, here it is: if your sons sinned, they simply got what was com . . .

Hold it, hold it. Bil. Daddio. Why did you open your mouth, compadre? Bildad's speech in Job chapter 8 gets me a little irritated, mainly because his brand of advice is not unpopular today. If there's something wrong with you, you must have done something wrong to cause it. And if you would simply return to a right place with God, He would fix everything. Your livelihood escaped you because you forgot God, like the short-lived green season of quickly wilting rushes rooted in unsure soil. (Super mega bonus points if you can identify the mystery MP3 at the top of the playlist and weave the lyrics into the meaning of this passage.) Buck up, if you're right with God, you'll be back to your laughing-happy self in no time.

Ugh. I hope to not ever talk about God like I've figured Him out. There are things I know for certain about Him, but not to the point that I can manipulate His nature to produce my desired ends. Bildad, you insolent slut.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Can't Handle the Truth

Isn't there just a small part of you (or maybe you feel it with ever fiber of your psychosis) that fears that if God would answer your prayers out loud, immediately, His response would sound a lot like the classic Jack Nicholson rant from A Few Good Men?

No matter how closely we snuggle up to God, we will never approach equality with Him. We can't do what He can do. We can't put ourselves in His place. We cannot know what He knows. So if we, like Job in the 7th chapter of his eponymous book, ask God, "Why have you made me your target?" we ought to be prepared for a response that shocks us.

Job, though, was probably better prepared than anyone ever has been. He understood his smallness on the universal landscape, which is why he asked why God would even pay attention to him. He cringed under the gaze of the Almighty, wishing he could escape into death. Twice he anticipated his disappearance from the face of the earth and the sight of the Lord . . . he predicted that he would cease to be.

Something fascinating and troubling I noticed in this chapter: Job, a man at the rock bottom of suffering and loss, echoed almost verbatim the sentiments in Ecclesiastes from Solomon, a man at the pinnacle of human achievement, wisdom, pleasure, and flat-out existence. Um . . . if that doesn't show us middle-class folks the need for something more than this world offers, nothing will.

God, I need you. If the man who lost everything and the man who had everything both felt life was meaningless, I need something more, please. Complaining about or reveling in the circumstances that surround me gains me nothing. The only thing that is pure is you. You are not a corrupt colonel, you are my almight, all-loving God who knows infinitely better than I do that You alone can please me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


If Eliphaz had delivered his response to Job in the 21st century A.D. instead of B.C., Job may have responded with a deadpan glare and an understated, ". . . Dude." But Job was old school, and he said quite a bit more in Job 6, the first half of his response. I'm taking a lighthearted approach, still, because I don't know what else to do. It's hard to read about suffering when I'm not suffering, even when I know others who are. And humor and/or sarcasm have always been my chief coping mechanisms anyway.

Job took a different tack. He reiterated his desire to die and expressed his deep disappointment with the level of support he was getting from his friends. He had no explanation for his suffering, no way out of it, and no love from his entourage.

. . .

The main conclusion I can draw from this is that when things go bad, I can't expect a reason, an end, or a helping hand. Sure, sometimes I might get all three--but other times I might get none. Am I ready for that? Um . . . I don't want that. I definitely don't want that. I think it's time to be grateful for what God has given, because I'm no Job and I deserve far less than what I got.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Everybody Hurts

It's interesting to me that the toughest day so far in this virtual commitment to spend a little time alone reading the Bible was Sunday. Go figure. But today I'm back on track with Job chapters 4 and 5, not because I want to make up a day, but because those two chapters form one continuous bit of poetic advice from Job's friend Eliphaz.

Even before I began reading, a thought hit me about Job: I care more about Job's suffering because he had it good for so long. The injustice of his suffering seems far more monumental than that of someone who has suffered all his life. And I can say whatever I want about Job being a picture of American culture or my own callousness toward the poor and suffering in the world, but I'm just going to leave it at that. I know it's sad. I know it's wrong. Maybe my heart will beat differently now that I realize how my slanted compassion favors those with whom I most closely identify. I can't force it. But still . . .

Anyway, Job's friend's soliloquy only deepened my convictions, because he describes this very simple understanding of the very complex problem of human suffering. I realize I'm simplifying it even further, but the gist I came away with was this:

Look, Job, you've helped people out of trouble before. You're a godly man, and that should be enough to pull you out of your misery. Good people don't get destroyed, evil people do. But nobody's perfect. God is just disciplining you. If you let this present suffering embitter you, you'll be ruined. If I were you, I'd ask God to make it better--you know he will. . . . Oh, and I had this weird dream about an angel or something flying by me. Gave me the chills. Whispered something. Weird, huh?

Some things I take away from this:

  • I am not the center of the universe. Not everything that happens in my life is a carefully orchestrated plan to send me a message.
  • They say the flapping of a butterfly wings can trigger a chain reaction that results in a hurricane halfway around the world. I don't know about that, but I do know that huge changes can result from small variations. The things in my life that I am most sure about and place the most security in can fall apart in an instant. God's love will never fail. (I believe you were looking for this verse, Bill.)
  • I need to be careful not to oversimplify life or God. Phrases like "Good people don't suffer" or "you reap what you sow" don't account for the complexities of being a tiny part of a gigantic universe. Not everything I experience in life is the result of my actions. And God isn't a calculator; you can't just plug in the numbers and predict what He'll display. You can't just tell someone, "Ask God to make it better, and He will." I should turn to God, but I shouldn't expect Him to conform to my trite understanding.
  • Job didn't ask God to heal him. At least, it's not recorded here. He was suffering, yes, but he didn't adopt the attitude that God should operate at his beck and call. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but I am noting that Job seemed to have an uncanny sense of humility.
  • Job's heaviest mourning came during his own physical suffering. It was probably torture. It can be somewhat easier to think through and reason your way toward coping with emotional loss, but it's hard to even think straight when you're in physical pain.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Wish My Birthday Would Die

You gotta hand it to Job: the dude knew how to mourn. In Job 3, he cursed the day of his birth, wishing it would be banished from hanging out with all the other days. And the day his parents broke the news to the entire patriarchal world that they were expecting? He would have liked to shoot that day out of the sky as well.

Now, I don't know who exactly was prepared to raise Leviathan, but apparently they were in the business of day-cursing. I don't mean to mock Job's sorrow, I'm just pointing out that it was poetically extreme. When you get to the point where you wish you were miscarried, you've entered a bad place emotionally. Job was there.

Contrary to Satan's speculation that Job would trade anything to be alive, the fact that he wasn't dead was now Job's biggest complaint. Back in chapter 1 (v. 10) Satan said God's hedge around Job was the reason for his love for God--but Job complained (v. 23) about this very protection now that he had lost his loved ones, his possessions, and his health. He wanted the protection lifted. He wanted to die. He was longing for the peace of the grave. But he still wasn't prepared to curse God to effect his own death.

Who else has said with him, "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes" (v. 26)? A lot of honest people have. Everybody has some pain, but for most people, it has to get really bad before they let it show. As B.B. King said, "The blues was like that problem child you may have had in the family. You was ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn't know how other people would take it."

I haven't felt pain like Job has. But what I do feel, I prefer to keep hidden. I usually try to keep anything "wrong" hidden from as many people as possible. Because the conclusion Job's friends make later ultimately is the one I think everybody is going to make about me: if there is something wrong in your life, it's probably your own fault. . . idiot. No one ever tells you you're an idiot or a loser when bad things happen to you . . . but you can feel the label adhering to your forehead, can't you? Ugh. That's why I keep things quiet.

I don't know what the conclusion is here. I mean, bad stuff happens. Job had no idea why he was suffering, he just wanted it to end. And I guess that's what is honorable . . . he didn't blame. He didn't try to reason it out. He just knew it was awful, expressed how awful it was, and left it at that. Hmm . . . this is the part of Job where I tend to lose interest. I'm going to try to stay open to what it says, but I'm not going to force any conclusions. For now, I'll say this:

God is good. Life is . . . iffy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Skin for Skin

Today I read Job chapter 2. It's not a pick-me-up, but it's good to read. Again, when God asked Satan where he had been, Satan's reply was essentially, "Just, you know, walking around on Earth." When, in fact, the answer was, "Causing pain, death, destruction on God-honoring people." Satan is the original PR spinmeister.

I found it peculiar that God didn't deal Satan a full accusation. The way verse 3 is phrased, God took responsibility for what happened to Job. He said that Satan incited Him to ruin Job's life. He blamed Satan for instigating the calamity, but God talked of Satan's acts as if He Himself had done them. You'll find variations on this theme every time you discuss the subject of God giving authority to kings, even evil ones, to rule over their people. We all want to tone down that idea, that God merely allows evil leaders to rise to power. I'm not so sure that's right. God is sovereign. I believe He takes responsibility for what He allows to go down . . . not to say He's guilty of evil, but when He gives someone the ability to do evil, He doesn't claim He didn't know or that His hands were tied. He's God.

But God also praised Job for his integrity. Would all the suffering be worth it if you knew God, the high ruler of the universe, was praising me for my integrity? It would certainly help.

But Satan was skeptical. He accused Job (and all of mankind) of being willing to trade the lives of everyone he knew in exchange for his own. I actually love this accusation, because it is disproved time and time again. There are many people throughout history who have been willing to die for their fellow man (for good and bad causes). This, I believe, is the true mark of God's image upon us.

So God let Satan do whatever he wanted to Job, short of killing him. And this time, there's no mistaking who is doing the action. The text specifically says that Satan struck Job with boils (and who knows what else). The Bible clearly leaves out some of the gory details. Job's wife told him to just end it: curse God. Get it over with. Die already.

And before we get too hard on Mrs. Job, remember that she lost everything, too. She's not an outsider to all the pain and suffering. But Job corrected her. He had welcomed all the good for his entire life, and now he was ready to accept the nasty. And he didn't sin. I haven't heard this come up much, but . . . do you think God may have been responsible for Job's positive attitude? Yeah. I'd say He was. Job had a close relationship with Him, and I would suppose that God rewarded him with the power to stay true. Just my guess.

And then Job's friends came by, saw Job in his suffering, sat down with him, and said nothing for an entire week. That was the best advice they ever gave him.

Seriously, I wish I knew when not to talk. I wish I was always true to God for better or worse. I hope I can be comfortable accepting God's sovereignty over everything. I hope I can accept the strength that comes from God and give Him credit when He helps me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Would He Worship?

In Job 1:12-22, God granted Satan's implied request for a litmus test of Job's faith with almost complete power over all the man had with just one caveat: no touching Job.

This tells me something about God that was implied pretty much from the moment He planted a forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden: God creates and rules this world without eliminating the possibility of evil, suffering, and sadness. We can ask why, and in this case we have at least some small answer. Satan doubted that Job's allegiance to God was genuine. It isn't spelled out for us, but it seems reasonable to assume that God wanted to validate Job's faith and love by showing that it was real; that Job loved God not because he was rich, and not because he had a great family, but because God was God. But like I said, this is a small answer, because I doubt it would have been any great consolation to Job.

Next, Job's life fell apart, and the way it happened tells us something about Satan, because all the terrible things that happened could easily have been explained by natural or normal causes. One group of people stole his livestock and killed his servants. Then a natural disaster (presumably lightning) destroyed more livestock and servants. Yet another group of outsiders stole even more livestock and killed even more servants. And then a whirlwind killed all his children.

It's not exactly encouraging to know Satan can have control over the actions of armies and the power of weather. And it's possibly even more distressing to think that God would grant him that power. (Is the entire history of the world just a drawn out argument between God and Satan . . . with really compelling theoretical examples?) But it happened. Job lost almost everything.

And the way Job reacted tells us something about him. Job grieved and worshiped. I understand why he would tear his clothes, why he would shave his head. But the worship?

I guess there's something more to God than just the fringe benefits.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Daily Struggle

I decided this morning to spend some time in God's Word and in prayer every day. One of the great things about writing Today in the Word devotionals from time to time is that studying the Bible becomes part of my job, which is a silly crazy good thing. The downside is, eventually I start to blur the lines between my work and my own personal time with God (and by "eventually" I mean right away). It seems I've developed a subconscious policy that I won't study the Bible unless I'm being paid to do it.

That changes officially today. To keep me honest (or at least accountable in this regard) I decided to post some devotional thoughts each day. If I don't post anything, that's because I didn't read anything.

Today I started in Job, Chapter 1:1-11. The sad fact is, I picked the book of Job because I thought, I don't want what happened to him to happen to me. Honestly, I don't put nearly enough thought into my choices, because from the very first verse I realized a proper reason would have been, I want to be the kind of man he was.

Job feared God, turned away from evil, and (here's the kicker) prayed for his family. Actually, he didn't just pray, he offered up burnt sacrifices on behalf of his family members on the off chance that one of them had cursed God.

Internal skeptic says: Yeah, but doesn't Christ's role as the highest of High Priests negate that responsibility now? Old Testament laws don't apply anymore, so you don't have to do that.

No. I don't have to do it. But here's a little thing to remember: neither did Job. This was all pre-Mosaic Law. God never issued Job or any of his ancestors an order to burn sacrifices on his own behalf or anyone else's behalf. Job made those sacrifices because he knew what pleased God, and that's all he wanted to do, and all he wanted his family to do. So I realized, I need to pray on my family's behalf. Not because I'm commanded to, but because I want my heart to long to please God, and I want to train it to do so. (Aside: Addison just jumped in my lap, looked at what I have typed so far, and said, "Who's the kicker?") Another realization: I don't have to sin. Job was blameless, and while I wouldn't take that to mean he was eternally sinless, the fact remains, he was good. There's no excuse for sinning repeatedly.

Next I read the part about the angels (or sons of God), Satan included, presenting themselves before the Lord. Some things that strike me: 1) Satan just waltzed in, but the Lord didn't greet him as though his presence were expected or welcome. 2) God drew Satan's attention to Job and his faithfulness. Was it to provoke Satan? I doubt it. I think He was showing Satan the truth: that the people He created in His image really are capable of staying true to God. 3) Satan didn't buy it. Satan's perspective was, look, I know from experience that being true to You is an exercise in foolishness. Job isn't true to God, he's true to the comfy-cozy life God gave him. Satan is House. 4) Satan's perspective is all too often my perspective.

I decided I want to have Job's perspective. I want to "fear God for nothing" other than God Himself. I want it to be said of me that if everything I held dear were taken away, I would still love and follow God. I commit to that today with fear, knowing I need serious help to reach that place.