Greenwich Village.jpgFor anyone in the NYC area this summer, I will be giving a series of lectures at Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village.  Each lecture will explore in various ways the recurring motif of what it means to be human–but from the distinctive vantage point of some of the most beautiful, mysterious and even perplexing themes evoked by the drama of Christian faith.  Each time out we’ll grapple with one such theme–senseless suffering, discerning the will of God, the role of story in constructing human identity, politics and the frustrating pursuit of justice, etc.–through the lens of a particular section of Scripture, with lots of interaction with contemporary literature, film and questions.

The central contention of the series is that following Jesus is not about becoming something more than or other than a mere human being, but instead about nothing more and nothing less than the discovery of what it means to be truly, fully human.  But with a twist…in an upside-down, topsy-turvy, fractured world, being truly, fully human human just tends to look ineluctably strange to people.  But rightly embodied and experienced, this strange way-of-being in the world is (I shall do my best to contend!) a far more compelling and satisfying posture for unveiling the meaning and purpose of our common humanity in the world.
If you or any friends are interested, you can sign up HERE (all lectures are free).  Hope to see many of you there!

Job1Here is the audio to my teaching on the second cycle of speeches in Job 15-21 between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.

Job1Here is the audio to my teaching on the first cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in Job 4-14.

Job1Here is the audio to my teaching and discussion on Job’s opening lament/complaint/dirge in Job 3


Lament“Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.  You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was it ever inhabited.  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon.  He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’  I know.  Does that make it easier to understand?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.’” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 5-7)

Job1Here is the audio from my teaching on the crucial (but so often profoundly misunderstood) opening chapters of Job 1-2.  So much here, but three points especially stand out to me:

1.) The book of Job is NOT about explaining the “sources of our suffering” (clueing us into why we suffer under God’s sovereign rule over the world). Rather, it is much more focused on the “reasons for righteousness”–why we ought to trust, love, and devote ourselves fully to God’s will (“fearing God”), in spite of the tragedies that befall us along the way and in spite of the significant cost that obedience often brings with it.
2.) A primary emphasis of the book of Job is the unavoidable limitations of human comprehension in the vast, complicated universe God has created, and given our ignorance of what is going on “behind the scenes” (see especially Carol Bechtel’s luminous and illuminating essay “Knowing Our Limits: Job’s Wisdom on Worship”).  Far too many discussions of the book of Job get caught up in, obsessed with, and “stuck” on the myriad details of the opening narrative in chapters 1-2.  How is Satan allowed in the heavenly courtroom? Why is God making a wager with him that costs Job so dearly?  How does divine, satanic and human agency/causation relate to each other in the evil events of history?, etc.  Instead, the analogy between Job’s suffering and ours points in an entirely different direction: the point of the opening story is that just as Job had no idea why he suffered or of so much that was actually going on in God’s purposes, NEITHER DO WE when we suffer.  This is the point of the central poem in Job 28 (likely the voice of the narrator in an important editorial interlude), as well as God’s climactic speeches in Job 38-42.  Human beings simply do not understand most of what is going on the in the universe, and this is especially difficult when we suffer in seemingly pointless, random and deeply painful ways.  What is the proper human response to such suffering and to God in light of the massive human limitations on our perception of reality?  As Deuteronomy 29:29 points out, while God has revealed some things for us to obey, many other things are still kept secret and hidden by God and not given for our illumination at this point in the story.  How then should we live?
3.) Like in Naomi’s return to Israel after profound suffering as depicted in Ruth 1:19-21 (“Is this Naomi?”), so Job’s friends inability to recognize him (Job 2:12) highlights a crucial truth about suffering: we cannot avoid suffering, we often cannot understand why we suffer, and suffering always changes us; it will never, ever leave us the same as we used to be before we had suffered.  The one thing given to us is the choice of how to respond to suffering–and depending on how we respond to God in our suffering, how we change through suffering can be redemptive or destructive.  The rest of Job is about how Job was changed by suffering in his various responses to God.  The entire story of Ruth is incredibly parallel to the drama of Job, and repays careful re-reading and comparison.

Job1This semester I am teaching through the book of Job, and each week I will link to the audio of the teaching here.  Here are my introductory musings on what it would look like to read Job well, in light of the book’s structure and purpose.

Also, here is my take on the literary structure of the book of Job:

The Structure of Job