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.