Friday, December 02, 2016

This week's lesson (November 26 - December 2): the Wrath of Elihu

There's always an Elihu.

He shows up at the end of a long conversation -- a long conversation that's gone nowhere . . .

But he shows up full of certainty, full of answers, full of belief that it's time for a New Generation to Set Their Elders Straight.

And with that, he says . . .

Nothing.

Nothing that hasn't already been said, at any rate.

To be sure, the experts aren't sure what to make of Elihu:
  • Is he a gloss by a later writer, eager to give his opinion?
  • Is he a symbol of Impetuous Youth (and the way they keep repeating the mistakes of earlier generations)?
  • Or is he a convenient way to recap what's already been said - and to point out that nothing more remains to be said, that further argument is useless?
Don't know.
And I doubt if I'll find out anytime soon.
But I've noticed that people like him show up anytime there's a problem - yes, they show up late, make a long speech, and don't add anything new to the conversation.
Yes, there's always an Elihu.
But it doesn't need to be me.
Or you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This week's lesson (November 19-25): intimations of hope

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. - Job 13:15, KJV 
See, he will kill me; I have no hope; but I will defend my ways to his face. - Job 13:15, NRSV
Obviously, there's some controversy about the best way to translate Job 13:15 -- a controversy that goes all the way back to the early medieval scribes known as the Masoretes.
  • If you follow the Masoretic Text (as does the King James Version), then the text says that it doesn't matter what happens; Job will continue to trust God.
  • But if you follow the Septuagint (as does the New Revised Standard Version), then the text says that it doesn't matter what happens; Job will continue to argue his innocence.
  • And yes, plenty of texts tell us to trust God regardless of circumstances . . . but judging by the earliest manuscripts (and the over-all tenor of Job's argument), this doesn't seem to be one of them.
We know about the bet between God and Satan, after all - but Job doesn't.

We know how this bet turns out - but Job doesn't.

What's more, we know this book has a happy ending - that God shows up, vindicates Job, and restores his good fortune - yes, we know this.

But Job does not.

And that makes Job's words all the more remarkable. 
  • He doesn't trust God to solve His problems; if anything, he thinks God is the source of his problems.
  • He doesn't hope God will "work all things for good"; no, he expects God to kill him.
  • In short, he doesn't expect this story to have a happy ending - but in spite of that, he doesn't give up; no, he continues to argue his case.
All of which bring us back to the question of Job's faith -- the question that lies behind the various translations of this text.
Is it a faith that trusts God for the answers?
Or is it a faith that trusts God with the questions?

Friday, November 18, 2016

This week's lesson (November 12-18): innocent blood

Job says he's innocent -- that he's done nothing to deserve all the bad things happening to him.

And maybe that's true.

Maybe it's not.

But at least he's not making it easy.

He could have "dumbed down" righteousness, after all -- made it something so easy that anyone can do. "I am a good man," he might have said . . .
  • "Because I do not own a TV."
  • "Because I do not eat cheese."
  • "And because I always study my Sabbath School lesson."
Job doesn't do that.

Instead, he talks about the way he's treated other people -- especially those less powerful than himself. "I am a righteous man," he says in the 31st chapter of this book.
  • "I have not denied justice to my servants."
  • "I have not used my influence in court against the poor."
  • "But I have shared my food with the poor, and comforted both orphans and widows."
When Job claims to be righteous, in other words, he means that he's been good to those in need.
And maybe that's true.
Maybe it's not.
But if it's not, then at least he failed at something important.
And that's better than succeeding at something trivial.

Friday, November 11, 2016

This week's lesson (November 5-11): retributive punishment

PRELIMINARY REPORTS
OF THE DEVELOPMENT TEAM
FOR THE KARMATRON:
FIELD TRIALS
VERSION 1.0
Karmatron performed as designed, administering near-instaneous negative rewards to subjects for any  infraction of Primary Directives. Fear of punishment, however, quickly induced a state of withdrawal-type behavior resembling catatonia; simply put, subjects wouldn't do anything for fear of doing it wrong. Perhaps a time delay?

VERSION 1.1
Time delay proved ineffective -- short delays between negative behavior and negative rewards results in withdrawal-type behavior; long delays negate link between negative behaviors and negative rewards. Will try random delays.

VERSION 1.2
Random delays implemented; result is that some subjects escape negative rewards entirely, while other receive negative rewards even after they have moved on to positive behavior.  Interesting. What happens when we add positive rewards?

VERSION 2.0
Immediate postive rewards for positive behavior result in obsessional repetition of that behavior, with no interest in doing anything else. Will add random delays -- perhaps intermittent rewards? (Perhaps even the occasional negative reward for positive behavior?) More study needed.

. . . 

VERSION 37,817.6927
"Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

Thursday, November 03, 2016

This week's lesson (October 29 - November 4): the Curse Causeless?

Job suffers.

Eliphaz tries to make sense of Job's suffering.

Job says he's done nothing to deserve this.

Eliphaz insists that nothing happens without a cause.

Job says God has abandoned him.

Eliphaz says God speaks to him.

Job is angry with God.

Eliphaz counsels prayer, patience, and repentance.

In short, Eliphaz offers good, religious answers to Job . . .

Yet the Bible says Job is righteous, while Eliphaz is wrong.

So . . . which would you rather be?

Job?

Or Eliphaz?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

This week's lesson (October 22-28): Curse the Day

It's easy enough to say, "for better or worse."

But when it comes to living those words?

"Better" is definitely better.

And that's just as true when you're following God as it is when you're married.

Yes, when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there's a chocolate cake just waiting for you on your kitchen counter, then it's easy to believe you made the right decision when you chose to:

A) Follow God.

B) Get married.

C) All of the above.

But when it's been raining all week . . .

And the kids are down with the flu . . .

And the only thing on your kitchen counter is that stack of bills you've been avoiding . . .

Then it's easy to say, "I don't want this. I don't deserve this. And I don't need to stick around for this."

Or as Job's wife says, "Curse God, and die."

To be sure, I understand why she says this.

What's more, I know how difficult it is to argue against this -- if you're not getting anything from a relationship, after all, then why stick around?

No, all I can say is that we all understand why we might feel this way about someone else . . .

But we all hope there's somebody else who would never feel that way about us -- someone who loves us, even in the bad times.

And if that's something we all want . . .

Then why shouldn't God want the same?

Yes, why can't God hope we'll say, "For better or or worse."

Even when it's worse?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This week's lesson (October 15-21): God and Human Suffering

Why doesn't God do something about human suffering?

Perhaps the best answer comes from Christ's parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 
 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
If you're wondering why God doesn't do something about human suffering, in other words . . . 

The truth is, He's asking the same question about us.