Sunday, December 25, 2016

This week's lesson (December 24-30): some lessons from Job

What can we learn from the Book of Job? Three suggestions:

1.  We don't know everything.
Job never did figure out the cause of his suffering; neither did any of his friends. That alone should be enough to inspire humility.

2. The things we know don't always help.
Job's friends picked up the idea that sin causes suffering -- something that is true enough . . . then reversed it, turned this reversal into a Universal Principal, and used it to "prove" the only possible cause of Job's suffering must be the fact he had sinned. They took the little bit of truth they had, in other words, and made it speak to a situation it was never meant to address.

3. But the things we don't know shouldn't make us forget the things we do.
Job's friends didn't know why Job suffered -- but they did know how to treat people who suffer. But as Job continually complained, they ignored the second in order to focus on the first . . . and in doing so, they earned Job's anger, God's condemnation, and our contempt.

A suggestion: the next time we gather to decide A Great Issue of the Day -- the age of the earth, single-sex marriage, the propriety of applause in church . . . it might be useful if we began the meeting with the lessons of Job:
  • We don't know everything.
  • The things we know don't always help.
  • But the things we know shouldn't make us forget the things we do -- things such as Christ's command that we love each other.

Friday, December 23, 2016

This week's lesson (December 17-23): the character of Job

Who would do better in your church?

Job?

Or his friends?
  • Job is angry at God -- the same God his friends are eager to defend.
  • Job asks uncomfortable questions -- and what's more he keeps asking them. His friends, on the other hand, are happy with the answers they have.
  • Job takes a "bottom-to-top" approach; if the facts on the ground disagree with theological truth, then the theological truth is wrong. His friends, however, put their "truth" first -- even if it disagrees with facts on the ground.
And yes, I know we all want a church where we can be Job -- where we can be honest, where we can be open, where we can ask all the nasty questions we want . . . 
But what about the other Jobs out there?
Would they be safe in your church?
Or is it a place where only Job's friends could feel at home?

Monday, December 12, 2016

This week's lesson (December 10-16): Job's Redeemer

If all you have is a hammer . . . 
Then when do you stop treating all of your problems like nails?
Consider the three friends of Job -- three friends who have one (and only one) explanation for Job's suffering: he must have done something to deserve it.
Now you know that's not true; that's because you've read the first two chapters of this book. 
But Job's friend's never do learn the truth. 
No, they just keeping banging away with the only answer they have: "It's karma," they keep telling Job. "It must be karma. I mean, what other explanation do we have?"
Dumb, right?
That's why I'm beginning to believe the Book of Job is not about The Problem of Evil; instead, it's a book about The Limits of Wisdom . . . 
Or rather, what happens when you reach the limits of your wisdom.
If all you have is a hammer, after all, then do you make the same mistake as Job's friends, i.e. do you insist that all problems must be nails?
Or do you pause -- like Job?
Reflect -- like Job?
And start looking for something better?

Friday, December 09, 2016

This week's lesson (December 3-9): Out of the Whirlwind

One thing is clear about God's speech in Job 38-41:

Nobody expected it.

Job and his friends spend 30-some chapters discussing The Problem of Evil, remember -- and then God breaks in with what?

With a quick tour of His creation -- with a quick tour of All Things Bright and Beautiful (as well as Some Things Dark and Scary).

And yes, there are all kinds of ways we try to make sense of God's speech:
  • Maybe He's trying to overawe Job with His power.
  • Maybe He's pointing out that people are just a very small part of a very big universe.
  • And maybe God decides the one thing Job really needs right now is a trip to the zoo.
Maybe.
Dunno.
But it's worth remembering that God doesn't always answer our questions.
In fact, He doesn't always ask the same questions we do.
In short, we may come to God with our questions, our concerns, our requests . . . 
And God may answer them.
Or God may change the subject.
And if God changes the subject?
Then maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

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.