Sunday, September 29, 2013

Job Responds

The last three posts have been about Job, one of the poetry books in the Bible. The last one had to do with one of Job's friends, Eliphaz, reacting to Job's opening statements.

To summarize: Job said he despaired of his life and wished he'd never been born. Eliphaz responded with, essetially, a little bit of trouble comes your way and you whine about it. You should be confident in your piety. If trouble has come upon you you must have sinned. Confess your sin and throw yourself on the mercy of God. Now it's Job's turn to respond. We find this in chapter 6-7. First, he states his understanding of the situation.
If only my anguish could be weighedand all my misery be placed on the scales!It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—no wonder my words have been impetuous.The arrows of the Almighty are in me,my spirit drinks in their poison;God's terrors are marshaled against me.
So Job is going along with the prevailing wisdom of the day and say that all things come from God. The good comes from God, and the bad comes from God. That's what he's said so far. Let's see what he has to say next.
What strength do I have, that I should still hope?What prospects, that I should be patient?Do I have the strength of stone?Is my flesh bronze?Do I have any power to help myself,now that success has been driven from me?
Job is answering Eliphaz's admonition to be patient in his suffering. But he goes on to say more about his friend.
A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends,even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,as the streams that overflowwhen darkened by thawing iceand swollen with melting snow,but that cease to flow in the dry season,and in the heat vanish from their channels.
That's a lengthy discussion (which goes on even further in the book) of his friends, those intermittent streams that drive caravans away. They are undependable. Yes, Job goes on.
Now you too have proved to be of no help;you see something dreadful and are afraid.Have I ever said, 'Give something on my behalf,pay a ransom for me from your wealth,deliver me from the hand of the enemy,ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless'?
So Job clearly wasn't happy with Eliphaz. He repeats his complaints about his current situation. But up until now, he hasn't said what's really on his mind. So far the conversation could be summed up as follows:
Job: I hurt; I wish I was dead.
Eliphaz: Quit whining; just repent of your sins.
Job: You're no help.

But toward the end of Chapter 7, Job gets back to his complaint to God.
What is man that you make so much of him,that you give him so much attention,that you examine him every morningand test him every moment?Will you never look away from me,or let me alone even for an instant?If I have sinned, what have I done to you,O watcher of men?Why have you made me your target?Have I become a burden to you?Why do you not pardon my offensesand forgive my sins?
This is somewhat of a mixed message from Job to God. He says "If I have sinned..." then later adds "Why do you not...forgive my sins?" I have often thought that Job believed himself to be free from sins, and thus he couldn't understand why he had lost God's favor (evidenced by his calamities). But on reading this, he seems to have asked for forgiveness, but hasn't see a change in his circumstances. He still sits there with sores all over his body; he's in excruciating pain.

I need to think on this some more. Or perhaps the exact message God is trying to get across to me will be found in the remaining chapters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What should be your confidence?

In earlier posts in this series, I looked at:

Poetry in the Bible, especially related to the book of Job


Nobody likes a whiner, looking at Job's initial complaint.

Now, in chapter 4 of Job, one of his friends speaks up. Eliphaz is a Temanite. This designates he comes from Teman, a town in Edom noted for its wisdom. So hearing Job despair of even being born, with explicit, haunting language, Eliphaz decides to be the first to speak in response. Job broke the seven days of silence. Eliphaz continues.

His words are recorded in poetry, and his first thoughts in fact are worthy of the best words in the best order, as Coleridge defined a poem.

Think how you have instructed many,
how you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled;
you have strengthened faltering knees.

The poet uses dialog to bring out more information about Job. Not only was he blameless and upright, not only did he fear God and shun evil, not only was he the greatest man among all the people of the East: even more than this he was one who encouraged other people. He strengthened them. Job was not only rich and pious, but he was active in the life of the community.

So far so good for Eliphaz. If he continued in this vein I think we'd like him. But instead he continues thusly.

But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
Should not your piety be your confidence
and your blameless ways your hope?
Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
And those who sow trouble read it.
At the breath of God they are destroyed;
At the blast of his anger they perish.

Eliphaz is echoing the prevailing wisdom of the time. Success in life is evidence of God's blessing. If you have success, you are blessed by God. Conversely, if you don't have success then you are not blessed by God. To Eliphaz it's a black and white situation. God no longer blesses Job. It must be because Job can no longer have confidence from his piety, i.e. Job has sinned. This also sounds a lot like our modern platitude "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Hmmm, perhaps not the best message for Job at that time.

Eliphaz goes on for a fairly long time with similar words. His means of encouraging Job is to suggest to him that he has sinned. What should Job do?

But if it were I, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him,
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
He bestows rain on the earth;
he sends water upon the countryside.
The lowly he sets on high,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
Blessed is the man whom God corrects;
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.

According to Eliphaz Job has sinned, so he should just throw himself at the feet of the Almighty and beg for relief. I actually find this part of his admonition refreshing. It's never wrong to appeal to God, to lay our cause before him. Eliphaz may not be correct as to the cause of Job's suffering, but this seems to me to be good advice.

Eliphaz said, "Should not your piety be your confidence....?" That requires an emphatic NO for an answer. Not our piety, but our relationship with God should be our confidence.

Next post we'll see what Job has to say in response.

And sorry it took so long to post this. We've had some lengthy Internet outages at home as our ISP is having trouble.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

No One Likes a Whiner

[See the first post in this series about Job.]

So Job had it all pretty good. Lots of land. Lots of herd animals. A good group of children. He was the greatest man in the land of Uz, an area east of the Jordan. About all that maybe wasn't perfect in his life was his wife; though perhaps she just reacted poorly to all that happened, and had been pretty good before then.

After the loss of his fortune and family, his wife said to "curse God and die." Job instead said he was willing to accept good and bad from God. He takes a time of mourning. For seven days he sits silently in sackcloth and ashes. Three friends join him. At the end of those seven days, it is approximately 14 days after the calamities started hitting. A mere 14 days.

What are the first words out of Job's mouth? "May the day of my birth perish, and the night it is said, "A boy is born!'"

Not a very encouraging start. But that's not the end of it. He goes on.
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it'
may no light shine upon it.
May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm its light.
Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
For sighing comes to me instead of food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil. What is Job doing? He's essentially whining, and nobody likes a whiner. People avoid whiners, and will leave them to whine in their loneliness.

Of course, I think we can cut Job some slack. None of us have gone through what he has. And remember it's only been 14 days. He's still in mourning for the loss of his children. He's still smarting from his wife's turning against God—and against him. His body is covered with sores. Physically he probably needed the seven days of contemplation to just get somewhat used to the pain.

Still, who likes a whiner? His friends are about to deal with his whining, which we'll see in the next post.

I certainly don't dislike Job. He's telling us how he feels about the situation. His calamities are so great that he wished he'd never been born. I can't fully empathize with his situation, but I can appreciate it and understand why he says what he does. So far he has not sinned. He hasn't blamed God. He hasn't blamed anyone. He has merely expressed how low he is in his spirit.

What is that platitude? When things get tough, the tough get going. Or sometimes you just have to demonstrate tough love to someone. His friends are about to do that. As we'll see in the next post.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Poetry in the Bible

[Great. The Compose feature isn't working, so I'm having to type this in HTML view. Even though I've saved my work and exited and re-entered, blogger won't let me type in compose. Since I don't know HTML, the post won't format properly. I'll post it and later go to another computer and hope I can format it in Compose.]

What a great day at church today! I arrived early, Lynda being in Oklahoma City and me therefore able to go in my own time. I arrived about 10 minutes early and went straight to the sanctuary to sit in quiet contemplation and prayer before worship. This is what I learned growing up, and I still like it. I said a simple prayer, asking God to bless the time at church today, both the worship services and the Life Groups.

Service was great. Since Pastor Mark was preaching from the poetry books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs), the fifth week of his twelve week series titled "The Big Picture", which is through the bible in twelve weeks, all the songs were straight out of the Psalms. What a good time of praise. Mark had a good sermon, discussing the poetical nature of these books, and dividing them into lyrical, instructional, and dramatic.

He spent time in each. He had some excellent information in the sermon, including:

- The majority of the Psalms are laments, and we don't know them very well.
- Although laments, these psalms tend to capture both human despair but confess God's presence and help.
- The Proverbs are there to form and shape your character.
- Wisdom is the DNA building blocks of relationships.
- Job is about those things in life you don't understand, and there's some of Job's friends in all of us.

Life Group was just as good. It was my week to teach, and the lesson suggested, to go with the sermon series, was on Job. I had a good time of preparation, and knew that there's so much material there that I would have no trouble filling the time. I had some passages picked out from several chapters, and had someone from the class read a handful of verses, then we discussed.

Of course we couldn't be hard on Job, given all that he'd gone through. We were much harder on his friends, who, although they had some good lines, had a total lack of understanding on the nature of God and how He interacts with his world. Job did understand, however. He had an epiphany as he worked through his problems. Sure, he lamented and wondered why he had ever been born. But in all of it he never blamed God.

I have more to say, but think I'll save it for some other posts later in the week.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Big City

I must first apologize for my lack of posting of late. Good intentions don't always result in words on the page, or screen.

As I said in my last post, there's something about a big city. We spent that long weekend in Chicago recently, and have spent other times there since our son moved there in 2003. His connection to the University of Chicago puts us mostly in the university environs, but then enjoying activities all over the city.

Twice we attended the Publishers Row Lit Fest in June, once the Taste of Chicago. Twice we saw the belly dancers in the Turkish restaurant on the Northside. Try finding that in Bella Vista, Arkansas. One year we were there for the Hyde Park art fair. Everything was priced way more than we could afford, and we weren't in need of any art, but it was good to see it all. Someday I may even develop an appreciation for the visual arts.

Of course in the big city you have a wider choice of restaurants. You have bookstores, ice cream shops, places to buy candy, clothing stores out the wazoo. All of them are different than what we find in the exurbs. You have architectural wonders to view, and some to tour.

At the U of C, there's the campus to wander, maybe to find a coffee shop, buy some regular or designer coffee and sit and read something, pretend you're back in college, but with your 61 year old brain. I mentioned in my last post that the U of C has much construction going on, and I was intending in this post to talk about some of the new buildings and those being built. But I'm in St. Louis and don't have all the information with me, so that will have to wait till another post.

Ah, St. Louis! A city I often drive through but where I've spent very little time. This is the first time I've ever stayed in downtown St. Louis. Out my hotel window I can see the south leg of the arch. A very nice, older building is off to the right. I attend the three days of the conference (well, two of them are 1/2 days), and it includes a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. That will be my third major league park to visit.

But back to Chicago. One interesting aspect of going there is looking at the buildings, even the simple residences. In older portions of the city there are no subdivisions. Houses are wedged onto small lots. Everything is on more than one level. Many parts of the city developed before everyone had an automobile, so there is no place to garage a car, and parking is tight. Yet even in the midst of this, the neighborhoods are often pleasant. People have found a way to add trees and other plants, or vegetable, herb, and flower gardens. Walk down a Hyde Park neighborhood street and it seems pleasant.

I grew up in the big city. Well, some might not think a Cranston RI location as the big city. It's in the Providence metro area, and our house was two stone throws from the Providence border. To me it seemed like the big city. Then for most of the next 16 years I was in the big city in three different locations. The big cities in the Arabian Peninsula were different than American big cities, or course, but they were still big cities. I've now lived in the exurbs or northwest Arkansas for over twenty years. I like both. I still remember what it's like to live in the city, and to live in the exurbs/suburbs. I find both to be satisfactory place.

I remember a job interview my senior year in college. The interviewer asked, "Are you willing to relocate?" I said yes, and he asked, "Even to New York City?" That was an easy yes. "Even to Biloxi Mississippi?" That was a harder yes. If he had asked me, "Even to Kansas farm country?" that would probably have been a no. Now? Almost anywhere in the world would be a yes. I can see myself going back to the big city, and maybe will at some point (if Oklahoma City qualifies as a big city). Plop me down somewhere and give me a place for my books, an Internet hook-up, some paper and pens, and I'm good to go.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Quick Thoughts on a Trip

On Friday August 30 Lynda and I drove to Chicago to spend the Labor Day weekend with our son, Charles, and his partner. I come away from that trip with several observations that I wanted to share.

Of course, no one is interested in reading a travel log. The roads we went on, the ease of driving the bypass around St. Louis, the surprisingly light traffic, the bad traffic jam as we approached Chicago, etc. Those are all memorable from my perspective, but you've already read more about that than you probably care to.

So let me just give a few bulleted items of other types of observations. I may come back and flesh some of these out in future posts.
  • The University of Chicago is an amazing institution. Since both our son and his partner work there, we spent some time on campus and saw a number of new buildings, buildings under construction, and development plans. I could write much about this, and may.
  • There's something to be said about a big city. There's so much to do in Chicago, so many interesting sights to see and places to go. We really never got out of the Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods, yet it seemed like our time was fully occupied, our bodies worked, and our minds engaged.
  • The Lake Michigan shore is nicely developed for recreation. I'm sure the tax dollars flowed heavily, but it seems to be a great amenity.
  • Sherlock Holmes was an amazing creation of Arthur Conan Doyle. I know: You're reading this and that seems to come out of the blue. We watched the two seasons of the BBC show as well as the 2009 Robert Downey Jr. movie. I haven't read much of Doyle—just four of the Holmes short stories, I think—though I've picked up a complete two-volume set of the Homes canon. I really need to work this into my reading schedule, as well as finish the Doyle letters book I'm reading.
That's if for now. As I said, I hope to come back and flesh this out over the next several posts.