Job 38:12-21 – So You Think You Know?

storm

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, 
    and caused the dawn to know its place, 
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, 
    and the wicked be shaken out of it? 
It is changed like clay under the seal, 
    and it is dyed like a garment. 
Light is withheld from the wicked, 
    and their uplifted arm is broken. 

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, 
    or walked in the recesses of the deep? 
Have the gates of death been revealed to you, 
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? 
    Declare, if you know all this. 

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, 
    and where is the place of darkness, 
that you may take it to its territory 
    and that you may discern the paths to its home? 
Surely you know, for you were born then, 
    and the number of your days is great! (NRSV) 

The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess. When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it has all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow exponentially. I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom. So much more of life is a mystery to us than we realize. 

The more discernment I get, the less, I discover, I know. 

Seems like the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way. If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible. Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 14:14). Job is held up as the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).  

Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness his understanding can barely get a movement on the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge. We likely are somewhat familiar with the story of Job. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain. 

So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there silent… saying nothing. Then, just when we think God is paying no attention, he suddenly speaks. What is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for the next four chapters (Job 38:1-41:34) he gives no answers. It is all questions. God said,

“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3). 

God Questions Job
God questions Job. From a 12th century Byzantine text.

It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding to answer anything God asks. And that was the whole point. God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective. In other words, we just don’t know as much as we think we do. 

To Job’s great credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could after such an encounter:

“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). 

None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt. I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to. Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend. 

Maybe we lack being able to understand even if God directly answered all our questions. Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Again, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings: We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it.

We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.  

There is yet one more comment to observe about God’s questioning of Job. God is sarcastic. Sarcasm often gets a bad rap, much like anger does, because it is so often associated with unacknowledged emotions and/or expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way. Yet, there the sarcasm is, with the God of the universe. I must admit, I take some odd comfort in knowing that God can be snarky at times – in a good way. Anytime we try to pin God down to nice neat understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates to us that he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box. I like it that God is playful, wild, and free to be himself – even if there are times it may bug me. 

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who he will be. “I AM who I AM,” he once said. Now that’s a God I can put my trust in. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen. 

Proverbs 3:5-12 – Choose Wisely

fork in the road
“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.” ― Ryan Lilly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (NIV)

The book of Proverbs is a collection of short pithy statements based in experiential truth. In other words, they are wisdom sayings. Wisdom is a gradual accumulation of understanding over time with a combination of observation and practice. The Teacher highlights the wisdom needed to navigate life. It is a bit like learning the basic laws of the universe such as: Respect the force of gravity by not walking off the roof of your house. Wisdom pays attention and applies understanding to reality. Otherwise, you will find you have a broken life.

Notice the realities we need to respect from today’s verses: God, God’s guidance, God’s honor, God’s discipline. The wise response to the existence of these realities is trust, submission, reverence, and acceptance. In contrast, a foolish response to reality is pride, avarice, and hate.

Both wisdom and foolishness are seen for what they are through their consequences.

The wise person, having been taught a respect for God and the ways of grace, will most likely have an experience of guidance, health, abundance, and love. The fool who ignores divine counsel will probably experience misplaced trust, health issues, short-sighted financial decisions, and cruddy attitudes. All things being equal, the wise person who deliberately and carefully applies knowledge and understanding to life will have an abundant spirit full of satisfaction – whereas the fool who improvises everything will struggle to live in a small world of holistic poverty and want.

“You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.” – Theodore Roosevelt  

The gist of the Old Testament lesson for today is that one cannot live as an island. We all need to practice consultation and collaboration to achieve a good life. Being both instructed and corrected are necessary elements to obtaining the good life. To spurn both divine and human connections in favor of radical personal independence is plain old foolish and leads to a lousy life. In short, the fool incessantly airs opinions with useless sophistry to an empty room; and, the sage is an observant student to universal rhythms and has learned the timing of proper words and of silence.

I am going to state this all in a different way:

Relying on God and others through making and keeping promises to one another is the basis of a solid community and a gratifying personal life.

Relying merely on one’s self is a one-way road to spiritual pain and emotional damage, not to mention physical illness and financial scarcity. Fools always think they know best. Sages always know better than that.

The book of Proverbs is a presentation, a dialectic, a contrast and a setting forth of two ways of approaching how to live in the world: foolishness or wisdom; independence or interdependence; cognitive pride or mental humility; negligence of evidence-based research or consultation through books, literature, and reading; exploitation of resources or submission to the natural laws and rhythms of the land; holding-on with clenched fist or generosity with open hand; Grinch-like attitudes or God-like dispositions; incessant criticism or heartfelt tribute; blame-shifts or recognition of other’s contributions; shame or vulnerability; resistance to correction or acceptance of discipline; hate or love; judgment or grace – there is a fork in the road and we must choose which way to go.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace; and, in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Proverbs 8:32-9:6 – Lady Wisdom

LadyWisdom

“So, my dear friends, listen carefully;
those who embrace these my ways are most blessed.
Mark a life of discipline and live wisely;
don’t squander your precious life.
Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me,
awake and ready for me each morning,
alert and responsive as I start my day’s work.
When you find me, you find life, real life,
to say nothing of God’s good pleasure.
But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul;
when you reject me, you’re flirting with death.”

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
Walk up the street to a life with meaning.” (MSG)

To live a new life is to embrace wisdom. To be blessed is to graft wisdom into one’s daily life. To go about life with meaning, humility, and confidence are the unmistakable evidences of wisdom’s work within a person. It would be difficult to overstate the great importance of wisdom. Indeed, there is no such thing as too much of it.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament Proverbs contrasts two approaches to life, personified in the book as Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom. Lady Folly relies on clandestine encounters, secrets, and seduction in promising satisfaction and a happy life. Yet, in the end, imbibing her drink poisons the soul and kills the spirit. Conversely, Lady Wisdom operates openly and in the daylight. She gives a clarion invitation to a genuinely good life and persuades others without manipulation to feast at her banquet. Eating from Lady Wisdom’s table is open to all, both the simple and the sage. She offers a perspective which brings insight and clarity to confusing situations and bewildering circumstances. Lady Wisdom sets up a person for a truly blessed life.

Perhaps an illustration would assist. Today is my youngest daughter’s 25th birthday. When my dear wife was only three months pregnant with her, she went into labor. The result was that, although our little baby girl remained secure in the womb, my wife spent the next 128 days on total bed rest. To put that season of life in the context of Proverbs, there were many days that Lady Folly showed up to offer the easy path of getting out of bed, just taking a short stroll, perhaps getting outside a bit, and enjoying life. To my wife’s great credit, she did not listen. Instead, she liberally ate at Lady Wisdom’s table every morning. Had she gone the route of Lady Folly my daughter would likely not be having a birthday today. Yet, this day my family celebrates life and a baby who has grown to be a blessing to the world.

You see, it is eating and drinking at wisdom’s table which brings enduring patience, proper perspective, needed perseverance, and satisfying provision for life. Impatience, narrow-mindedness, lack of following through, petty squabbling, and ignorance are the sad results of folly’s empty promises for a better life. Foolishness leads to death.

Wisdom is acquired through making daily routine decisions of faith and patience, of putting one foot in front of the other in a slow process over time. In contrast, folly seeks to circumvent time and process and speaks of deliverance and happiness now, right now, without all the fuss and hardship.

So, then, in our current social and economic climate; in our world dominated with the effects of pandemic; in our own personal lives; just what is Lady Folly barking at us about and Lady Wisdom inviting us to?…

Your answer and your response just might be the difference between life and death.

Thank you, Wise God, for being present, available, and inviting me to approach you in my times of need. Thank you for bending your gracious ear to listen and to care. There are times I feel weak, helpless, even afraid. Yet, I cling to the knowledge that God is with me. I know that you are Lord, and I am not; and, I know that you hold all situations in your good strong hands. Therefore, I trust you and I trust the process you have me undergoing to become wise and just. I ask for strength and for wisdom that I would be able to endure and handle everything in a way that will bless both you and the world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen.

Click The Perfect Wisdom of Our God written by Stuart Townsend and sung by Keith and Kristyn Getty to help inspire us in the way of wisdom.

Colossians 1:9-14 – Developing the Skill of Wisdom

wisdom quote

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.

 We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

 We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. (The Message)

 When I was younger, I played a lot of ping-pong.  I got good at it.  In fact, during a several months stretch back-in-the-day I had a record of 156-2.  Not bad, Tim.  That kind of record was only possible because of the two reasons that make any skill an accomplishment: knowledge and experience.  I learned the game of ping-pong and eventually knew it inside and out; and, I had hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing and developing my technique.

When it comes to prayer, there isn’t a need to invent a new game; we just need to learn the one we’ve got.  Today’s New Testament reading is a prayer from the Apostle Paul to the Colossian Church.  His prayer for them was singular: To have wise minds and spirits, that is, to have knowledge of God – an understanding of his ways and how he operates.

Paul prayed this for a reason: so that we might live our lives in a way which pleases God and enables us to sustain a lifetime of spiritual growth.  As people created in God’s image and likeness, we are hard-wired with a spirit which needs strengthening and exercise.  That happens as we put in the constant repetitions of connecting with the divine and putting in the time on our knees – praying daily for ourselves and others to mature in faith so that we might all together act wisely and justly in this world, for the life of the world.

A good place to start is to use Paul’s prayer as our own.  Never has there been such a need than now for us to know how to apply wisdom in places and circumstances we’ve never been before.  For wisdom to happen, we must grow in our knowledge and put in the hours of prayer.  The skill of wisdom doesn’t magically happen; it is the culmination of acquired understanding and much practice putting knowledge into loving use.

Direct me, O Lord, in all my doings with your most gracious will and wisdom.  Further in me your continual help – that in all my work and in all I do and say, I may glorify your holy name; and, by your mercy, obtain the life that is truly life; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.