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?