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.