Saturday, July 15, 2006

Confronting Job IV

Tomorrow is my last day of teaching the book of Job to my tiny Sunday School class in a not-so-tiny Southern Baptist church. I hope I have an audience, because it's a good lesson. It has meant a lot to me. The lesson is supposed to cover the last five chapters of Job, which is easy to do if you ignore the poetry and cut to the chase, but I am in awe of these metaphors and word pictures. If I hadn't been a Bible-believing Christian before I read this, I would have to become one. I don't see a human mind from 4,000 or more years ago coming up with this on its own.

So can we extract any lessons from these chapters? The first lesson we extract is that Job really didn't. He doesn't show a bulleted PowerPoint slide of "take home points" here. He gets it, but what he really gets is that he doesn't get it. He understands his place in the universe, that it is not only unwise and bad philosophy to criticize God, but sinful as well, and that he was doing so in all his beautifully written rantings about the wicked. We could understand if he moaned about how bad he felt, but why keep criticizing God about how He judges the world? And that's exactly the summary of God's challenges. "You're just not in the position to do what you're doing, Job." Job can't judge, he can't control, he can't explain how nature works, he wasn't around helping out with creation. Accept it.

Consequently, Job doesn't get an answer about why he suffered. We are left to ponder the same for ourselves, I think. We can't point to cause-effect, not really. Medical science likes us to, but people who never drink get schirrosis of the liver; people who never smoke die of lung cancer. People who weigh 300 pounds have healthy cholesterol; thin vegetarians are told to take statin drugs. No easy answers on the whys of suffering, just that God allows it and we are to learn or grow from it in some way that may or may not be clear at the time.

It strikes me how much imagination one must have to exercise faith. Why anyone would see those as two separate realms of the mind is beyond me. It takes oceans of imagination to deal with a God who is isn't tit for tat in His dealings with us, to consider all the angles here.

If there is another lesson, it is how distinct Biblical revelation is from all other religions. No karma. No "god in the box" paganism where we can control the deities with the right incantations and rituals. No "god in the tree" pantheism, where the gods live in the nature or nature is some sort of offspring or body excretion of the gods (God asks Job, "From whose womb does the ice and snow come?" I think that's a direct reference to the paganism of his three friends, who really don't seem to have any sense of the biblical God. )

And God comes to Job. Ah, the sweetness of these words. We cannot go to Him, so He comes to us. Maybe in a whirlwind, maybe in a still small voice, maybe through the actions of others, and most likely through the word, but He comes to us. Job didn't figure it out for himself, and God didn't send him a telegram. God came in person.

Job's repentance is not related to his restoration. It is often assumed that it is, but not really. Job is still suffering when he repents, he is still suffering when he prays for his friends. As far as Job is concerned, he doesn't connect those to a hope of the boils clearing up or getting his property back. He just does it. God was right, all along; Job did serve God for nothing but to please God alone. God wins the challenge, not that there was ever any doubt.

Finally, the lesson of Job is to accept your place in the universe. We spend so much time striving against who and where we are. That is not what a hero is; that is what a celebrity is. Celebrities spend all their time being someone other than who they are. Man is the pinnacle of creation; he is also the creature most corrupting of it. Man is incredibly stupid for all his knowledge. I have never been happy with myself or my lot in life, not really. It seemed wrong to be satisfied with one's life. I have plans, to start a business, get a doctorate, be a college president, to run for office, to do enough for three lifetimes. Wanting position for its own sake is pretty vain, Job teaches us, because we are not the one in charge, and having position is a way of convincing ourselves we are. Position and power are fine if given, but evil if pursued with a vengeance. I am reading Bonhoeffer, and his willingness to throw away his education and possible power for what was right for the church in Germany cuts me to the heart.

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