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.