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



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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)

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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.

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Crenshaw“Our entire human experience militates against understanding God only as the beneficent, revealed God devoted to human beings in his salvific will.  If indeed he is the Lord of all reality, then his nature also includes unpredictability, inaccessibility, and hiddenness, for everything that lives also suffers.  Only an understanding that conceives his revealed nature together with this hidden quality preserves his comprehensive divinity…If our faith is not to run aground on the reef of concrete reality, there must be some mediation between the actions of the revealed God and those of the hidden God, between those of the deus absconditus and those of the deus revelatus.  The traditional speculative solution to this problem by way of universal theodicy–that is, by way of some justification of God in the face of the evil of our world–transcends the limits of human reason. ” (Otto Kaiser, “Deus absconditus and Deus revelatus: Three Difficult Narratives in the Pentateuch,” in Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Right?, eds. David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt, p. 73)

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See the link below for three handouts I’ve put together for a talk delivered at Columbia University on “The Story of God’s Spirit.”  The first traces the role of the Spirit in the story of Jesus.  The second lays out a number of biblical passages that strongly associate God’s Spirit with the experience of life (both in creation and redemption)in the memorable phrase of the Nicene Creed, the Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of life.”  The third and final handout lists texts that connect power and the ministry of the empowering Spirit in the existence of God’s people.

Holy Spirit HANDOUTS

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Calvin“The Lord commands all men without exception ‘to do good’ [Heb. 13:16].  Yet the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit.  But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love.  However, it is among members of the household of faith that this same image is more carefully to be noted [Gal. 6:10], in so far as it has been renewed and restored through the Spirit of Christ.  Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him.  Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord ahs given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh.  Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image.  Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself.  Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.  Now if he has not only deserved no good at your hand, but has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf.  You will say, ‘He has deserved something far different of me.’  Yet what has the Lord deserved?  While he bids you forgive this man for all sins he has committed against you, he would truly have them charged against himself.  Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches.  It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels out and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.6)

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2 Samuel 12:15-23Prophet–“And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child.  And David fasted and lay all night on the ground…On the seventh day the child died…Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes.  And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped.  He then went to his own house.  And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, ‘What this thing that you have done?  You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’  He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?‘  But now he is dead.  Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.'”

Amos 5:14-15–“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.  Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate–it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious the remnant of Joseph.”

Jonah 1:4-6--“Then the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.'”

Jonah 3:8-9–“Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God.  Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.

Joel 2:12-14–“Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?

Daniel 4:27–“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Zephaniah 2:3–“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.”

Esther 4:13-16–“Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?‘  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my young women will also fast as you do.  Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.'”

Cf. Isaiah 55:6-7 and Psalm 32:6 for what is, it seems to me, the deeper moral logic behind these strange prophetic sayings.  Also relevant, perhaps, are the statements in Scripture that imply there is a “cut off line” for sin before God’s judgment finally falls (as in Genesis 15:16 and the various “unforgivable sin” passages in the Gospels, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31, and 1 John 5:16-17), as well as the frightening occurrences when God forbids a prophetic leader to pray on behalf of the unfaithful covenant people.

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