Job 13:13-19 – Contending with God

Mother Teresa suffering quote

“Keep silent and let me speak;
then let come to me what may.
Why do I put myself in jeopardy
and take my life in my hands?
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
Listen carefully to what I say;
let my words ring in your ears.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die. (NIV)

The story of the biblical character, Job, is both famous and infamous.  It’s famous among most bible readers because we are privy to why Job endured such terrible suffering and how the story ends.  Conversely, the story is infamous because Job’s “friends” and most everyone else in his day believed that the extremely hard circumstances were proof positive of sin.  Job had the misfortune of being misunderstood and misinterpreted with an evil, infamous, reputation.

Job was understandably desperate.  He hadn’t a clue why he lost his every earthly possession and relationship, not to mention his health.  Job was hurt, angry, and lonely.  In today’s Old Testament text, we observe Job getting ready to have-it-out with God.  It is interesting to me that in such grinding physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as Job experienced, he held to both his own integrity and of confidence in God.

If this story strikes a familiar chord, it may be because this was also Christ’s experience.  Jesus did nothing unethical or immoral to deserve being whipped, beaten, and tortured.  Our Lord, like Job, felt the awful sting of silence stating, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  As we fast approach Holy Week, the Lectionary reminds us that there must be suffering before glory, crucifixion before resurrection, agony before victory.

Christ on the Cross
Painting by Hans Mertens

I wonder what humanity would be like if we stopped fighting so hard against suffering and instead leaned into it as a teacher and a means of awareness.  For the Christian, I am curious what the Church everywhere would be like if she embraced suffering as the path of solidarity with Jesus. I wonder what human interactions on the personal, corporate, and global level would look like if people throughout the earth would stare this current pandemic through their spiritual eyes and imagine as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann does:

“We may imagine God doing a new thing among us. Perhaps we are arriving at a new neighborly normal:

  • Imagine, we are treating prisoners differently, even releasing some who constitute no threat
  • Imagine, we are mobilizing generous financing for needy neighbors who must have resources in order to survive.
  • Imagine, we are finding generous provisions for students and their debts.

The new thing God is making possible is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.”

When we are stripped of wealth, cut-off from others, and do not know how to make sense of the suffering around us and in our own lives – it is in such a time that we are invited to consider a few observations from the story of Job:

  1. Much, if not most, of life is a mystery – including God. We are neither all-knowing nor all powerful.  Our nation’s perceived power and intellectual savvy expose deep fissures of pride and hubris.  Events like pandemics reveal that there is so much we don’t know and must learn.  We will likely never get all the answers we want when tragedy hits and lives are turned upside-down.
  2. Confronting and contending with God is okay, perhaps even encouraged. Unlike the human creature, the Creator God is big enough to take and absorb whatever anger, rage, disappointment, discouragement, depression, fist-shaking, and expletives we throw at him.
  3. Suffering does not mean that God has forgotten us. We may not understand why or even what we go through.  We will, however, never go through it alone.  God is often silent; yet, never aloof.  God maintains both his transcendence high above us and his immanence close to us at the same time, all the time.  In the Christian tradition, this is why the Holy Spirit was given – to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.

My prayer for you today is that your suffering will not be wasted – that God will bend each adverse situation toward your good and the good of others.

Soli Deo Gloria

Click How Deep the Father’s Love for Us sung and mixed by David Wesley as we anticipate the suffering of Christ on our behalf in this next Holy Week.

Job 1:1-22

            Much of life is a mystery.  We do not know why some things happen.  From our puny human perspective, they just do, and that is all we can say about it.  There are times in Scripture, however, when the veil between heaven and earth is peeled back long enough for us to catch a glimpse of mystery.  Today’s Old Testament lesson is such a story. 
 
            Job was a wealthy man and had everything that this earthly life could offer.  And he was a pious godly person of faith.  It was commonly understood that those two things always went together.  So, when we see behind the curtain and are privy to a conversation between God and Satan, the devil himself points this out – that Job only praises God because of how good he has it.  Even with this understanding of what was behind Job’s misery, we still see the mysterious God allowing Satan to operate with only God-knows reasons why.
 
            When calamity strikes; when bad news causes us to slump in our chairs; when adversity hits unexpectedly; when trouble smacks us upside our life like a sledgehammer, it is only human to begin wondering what we did wrong or what we did to bring on such a terrible set of circumstances.  But the truth is:  we just don’t always know.  But what we do know is Job’s incredible response to the mystery of God.  “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Rather than spending all of our emotional energy trying to figure out an answer to our “why” questions, perhaps the more sage response is to confess our faith in a radical trust of God.  Using these actual words from Job would be a necessary start to navigating the troubled waters of evil which swirl around us, even if we have to say them over and over again to believe them.
 

 

            God Almighty, every good thing I have in my life has come from you.  It is your prerogative whether I continue to have those things, or not.  Whatever happens, whether it causes heartbreak or happiness, is completely known to you.  I trust that you know what you are doing, and I completely throw myself upon your mercy through Jesus Christ, my Savior.  Amen.

Ephesians 3:1-12

            On this first day of celebrating Epiphany (which means “manifestation” or “appearing”) it is quite appropriate to drink in the wonderful teaching of the Apostle Paul on the subject of mystery.  The term “mystery” as used by Paul is not so much like reading a Sherlock Holmes novel in the sense that we need to do some detective work to solve a murder.  Mystery for Paul is something that was once hidden or obscure, but is now revealed. 
 
            The great mystery that lurked in the shadows of the Old Testament but is now fully revealed in the New Testament is, in Paul’s words, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  Perhaps that truth come to light does not seem very bright or astounding to you and I.  Yet, back in Paul’s day, this was momentous.  Yes, most Jews understood that many Gentiles could and would come to worship God, but none of them saw it coming that those Gentiles would actually be completely grafted into life with them and be formed into a new society, the church, the community of the redeemed.  Jew and Gentile would cease to be separate peoples and would now become fellow heirs as one people in Christ.
 
            As non-Jews, maybe we take for granted that we believe and are full participants in Christ and full-fledged members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  But because of the faithful ministry of people like Paul and Peter and the other original apostles, the vast majority of believers throughout the world are us Gentiles.  This is, then, to be a day of celebration and gratitude that God has included us through the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  No longer are we shrouded in mystery.  We share in Christ and are partakers in all the good promises of God.  Let us, therefore, punctuate this day and season with thanksgiving to God for his gracious outreach to us.
            Revealing God, you have included us in Christ by grace through faith so that your wisdom might now be made known to all.  Thank you for your gracious wooing us to your church, and giving us your very great and precious promises to us in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Inherently Paradoxical

            Huh?  What in the world is that?  Why do I have such a weird title for a blog post?  What do I hope to accomplish with such an egg-headed phrase?  Over a hundred and fifty years ago the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, described true Christianity as “inherently paradoxical.”  In the midst of a thoroughly scientific age in which having answers for everything through identification and classification ruled the day, Kierkegaard pushed back, recognizing and upholding the great mystery of the Christian faith.  Kierkegaard pointed out that we do not have the answers to everything revealed to us, but, instead, we must hold to the tension of what seem like competing realities.  A paradox is a statement that seems self-contradictory or illogical, but in reality expresses a truth.
 
 
 
            For example, the God whom Christians serve is One God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.  This seems absurd; it is unexplainable.  But we must hold the tension of the truth that God is both One and Three at the same time all the time.  In addition, Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God at the same time all the time.  It appears foolish.  When Kierkegaard said Christianity is “inherently paradoxical” he meant that that it defies and transcends the scientific method; Christianity may seem to be full of ridiculous religious mumbo-jumbo, but is none-the-less truth.  Christianity is like standing in the middle of a train track with two rails on each side.  Each is there.  Each is real.  They never touch.  We look ahead and see that they much touch somehow since it appears they come together.  But the more we walk the more we never find the touching point.  So it is with Christianity.  The more we bend to rationalistic scientism the more frustrated we will become because we never get to explain the unexplainable; it never seems to touch or to make a lot of rational sense.  Instead, we hold the tension of paradox.
 
            So, what does this have to do with church ministry and the Christian life?  Oftentimes we want to embrace one truth while denying the other in order for things to make sense to us.  To embrace Christ’s humanity, but downplay his deity is the ancient heresy of Arianism; to emphasize Christ’s deity and toss the humanity aside as only appearing a man is equally heretical position of Docetism.  Both were soundly condemned by Church Councils as misguided attempts to reconcile the inherently paradoxical nature of Christian belief about Jesus.  We serve a risen Savior who was just like us but did not sin; a Champion who was God incarnate.  To downplay either truth is to run the train off the tracks and crash our faith.
 
            God planned for our deliverance from sin, death, and hell through predestination and gracious call to salvation.  However, we still have a human responsibility to turn from sin and believe the good news of forgiveness in Christ.  God elects us and chooses us; we choose God.  Which is true?  Both are equally true at the same time all the time.
 
            If we only emphasize God’s sovereignty and providence and ignore human responsibility, we might not pray, serve, or evangelize believing that our efforts do not really matter since God will do whatever God will do.  On the other hand, we might put all our eggs in the human responsibility basket to the point of also never really praying but relying on our own ingenuity, putting pressure on ourselves to serve and work and manipulate others to live the Christian life out of a misguided belief of eschewing the inherently paradoxical nature of our faith.  The truth is:  the way up is down; to save our lives we must give them up; to be great is to be a servant.
 

 

            We are to rely fully and completely on our triune God for everything:  salvation; living the Christian life; and, serving in the church.  We are also not to be passive but active in taking charge of our Christian lives and loving God and others responsibly with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  If we do not hold all this truth together in tension we will be frustrated and have endless angst and worry within ourselves.  We do not have to understand everything about the Bible and Christianity in order to be a Christian and serve in Christ’s Church.  In fact, there is so much mystery to the faith that we must take the time to simply stand and gape in wonder at the God who is so big that we are unable to comprehend him and his ways.  So, we need to learn to enjoy this awesome God and embrace the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility so that we may worship, fellowship, and serve the church and the world.  In doing so we are witnesses to a faith that transcends understanding and allows us to freely operate within our churches, our families, and our lives.  May it be so to the glory of God.