Job 15

Eliphaz speaks a second time to Job and is more aggressive than the first.

I’m guessing he took offence at Job saying he was not inferior to his friends, because he doubles down on attacking Job for a mixture of arrogance and corruption.

I’ll talk through the flow of his argument, because I’m struggling to follow a bit at this point.

First he says that wise people don’t do what he does: speak empty words that drag other people down. We are being shown that Eliphaz finds Job’s questioning an offence and a threat.

He claims the elders. He says they are on his side … So where could have Job’s attitude have come from? He’s marginalising him.

He gets theological, but unfairly so by saying only God can be righteous and pure, when Job has already agreed he’s not perfect.

To this theological point he adds the elder’s traditional teaching that bad people get bad things..

If evil people seem to be thriving, it’s an illusion. It will all fall apart, they’ll get theirs.

He doesn’t once refer to the Job’s suffering personally or directly. Job has made a very emotional appeal. Eliphaz’s response is impersonal.

Empathy is a luxury for the unthreatened. Because simply acknowledging the seeming injustice Job is suffering would threaten his world view, he can’t. He throws up religion, tradition and majority consensus to justify switching off from job.

It is so still thus. Very easy to view this as an indigenous story. And to relate it to the demonization of refugees and immigrants, or the ‘other’ whatever form that may take. Eliphaz started out sounding more sympathetic, but underneath was this resistant hardness.

Suffering a touch of Monday-itis. What will the week bring? Have a fun trip to wyong to look forward to on Wednesday, and a few other nice things. And Kelly will finish all her assessments.

Speaking to me from the passage is the need to respond to the things in front of you. What you encounter. The good you can do now, like Jesus did. Don’t close yourself to the moment.

Rattling round in my head is a Christian thinker who claimed in a video last week that all human creativity and achievement is social, relational. I’m feeling like I’m too much of an island.

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Job 14

The end of 3 chapters, a long poem of Job’s response to his the friend’s first round of advice. Spectacularly bleak.

At this stage Job definitely subscribes to the ‘life sucks then you die’ school of thought.

Blue tack that to your youth group wall!

He has learned that he has sinned, that much is clear. He understands that God removes sin, seals it up in a bag, he says.

And he is questioning about life after death. Literally he asks ‘if someone dies will they live again?” He likes the idea of the grave claiming him, and then some sort of ‘renewal’.

But then he descends into self pity, including the verse above.

I’m writing in the evening of Sunday having had a lovely productive day. At church I showed some friends my Job meme to some amusement.

I’m glad the Bible has these things. It’s ok to go there. I feel known and understood.

Interested to see if the second go round of the three friends and responses advances things further.

I’m really living it, in that, not all the arguments are straw men.

I really engage with some of them, and then I see another point of view when that is argued. It’s more psychologically subtle than I expected.

Job 13

Job continues with his response to Zophar. Interestingly, he speaks less about being sinless, and more about being as worthy as anyone to come before God, clearly he agrees with Zophar’s argument that he must have some sin.

Later he talks about God punishing him for the sins of his youth. That pretty arrogant still… ‘Ok, I used to be bad, but I’m good now!’ His humility is growing, but it’s not very big yet.

But anyway, he emphasises that he is not inferior morally to his friends, and quite passionately rejects them as sources of wisdom about God.

He says he has to confront God, and if they were in his shoes, they’d realise how empty their advice was.. ‘proverbs of ashes, defences of clay.’

This is between him and God, they can butt out. Indeed, he claims his boldness to speak to God is evidence of his godly heart.

He asks two things of God, to be less terrifying.. to allow him into his presence without fear, and to show him his sins.

He ends with a plea to God to speak to him, he compares himself to a garment being eaten away by moths. Quite a haunting image.

He’s pleading with God not to be silent. In this chapter, he is. God’s silence would be an interesting study. Here it’s used theatrically, to amp up the drama until the denouement.

I love the urgency of Job that won’t allow his problems to be put in a box. His suffering is the irritant that prevents smugness. He can’t settle. It’s like the sand in the oyster that produces the pearl.

The others can afford to be passive about God, but he really needs to know God.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons for it. We’d never seek him otherwise?

I also like how mixed up Job is. He’s everyman, he’s an emotional rollercoaster, which is honest. He would be, it’s what God made us to be. His emotions are what any of us would display.

Still struggled to concentrate at work. I’m trying to emphasise relational work, I’m good in the dynamic of a conversation.

I’m realising about myself that anxiety channels into an inability to finish things. I need to pay for boldness and confidence. Job has that because he feels he had no choice.

3 social media/ web jobs came up that I could apply for. A bit torn about social media… I’m not naturally great at it, but I have worked in it professionally in the past, so I know what you have to do.

I’ll def apply, but it eats you up a bit applying for jobs where you don’t think you’ll get them, and also they never include salaries, so you never know if its going to be a waste of emotional energy. Sigh.

Going to enjoy a Saturday of DIY. That’s satisfying at the moment.

Job 12

Job responds to Zophar. He talks about God being in control. The response goes for two chapters.

So far, I’d guess that the difference between Job’s and Zophar’s attitude to God and Job’s suffering it’s that Zophar is saying ’tis a mystery’ and Job is saying ’tis a mystery I need to try and understand!!!’

He is a bit sarcastic about his friends – he accuses them of banalities, and comments on how easy it is to pontificate from the outside of misfortune.

His many examples of God being in control, of nature, of people, shift from good things to terrible things. Yes, God is in control of all of them!

We’ll see where he takes it tomorrow.

I did marginally better at feeling positive, productive and efficient at work yesterday, but still find it extraordinarily hard. It’s hard to explain how it is.

The place is at the pointy end of a major 4 year change, the planning has taken most of the time, so now at the end, everything is in an uproar and flux. Like the moments on a reality show like the block where the clock is ticking down the last few minutes. Most of people supervising are quite distracted and I am quite forgotten.

Plus home is a bit weird too. Kelly (my wife) is sympathetic but frantically busy finishing her own assessments for her course, and she has her own sense of existential pondering in the mix too.

In a week or so at work is a mega gathering in Melbourne to launch the new unified national version of the church. Within that I, and many others I notice, are quite in limbo.

Various people get positions, and they are happy about that, but they seem fairly dangling too, as they try to figure out what the new postitions are.

I can’t really plan anything because I don’t know what the future holds, which exacerbates the usual sense of end of year tiredness and feeling overwhelmed that kicks in towards Christmas.

When I was self employed and very negative about work I used to program my time very tightly. Break my projects down to a series of hour and half hour deadlines though the day. I’m going to try that today.

Plus it’s the weekend tomorrow!

Job 11

Job’s friends are commenting on his misfortunes. Today we heard from the third, Zohar. And he is the most plausible.

They’ve done the ol’ literary 1-2-3. Like the beds in little red riding hood, Eliphaz was too soft, Bildad was too hard, Zophar is closest to fine.

And Job hasn’t been all oppositional… He’s agreed with some points, objected to others and made a few of his own. There is a sense of zeroing in on the nature of God.

The voices are like – indeed they are probably literally – different aspects of one internal monologue inside the mind of the author of the book, as ideas are considered and tested.

His first point is that Job’s claim of innocence has to be baloney. This is what I actually believe, the doctrine of original sin.

People decide they are innocent with so little prompting. I remember visiting jails when I studied criminology, and the prisoners never related their punishment to their crime, to them their incarceration was always unjustified. They’d forgotten the crime, all they could see was the punishment.

But rather than attempt to join the dots between a sin and Job’s suffering in a simplistic cause-and-effect way as the first two friends did, Zohar echoes Job’s sense that there must be more. Some missing bits to our understanding of God.

He says that of course job has sinned, God’s already forgotten more of Job’s sins than he could ever confess. But sin isn’t the point. Understanding God, becoming wise, is.

And that has to come from God. He memorably says the chance of us coming up with an understanding of God without His help is about the same as a donkey having a human baby.

It ends with perhaps the most significant turn around of the book. He says that if he humbles himself before God he will receive hope, love, and a satisfied mind free from fear… Rather than stuff. The others just spoke of a return to prosperity and respectability.

So we’ve tested the conventional wisdom, it’s fallen short and we need new paradigms on sin and blessing that are aligned to the revealed nature of God.

Sin is useful as a contrast, shows us how we are not God. Makes us desire not only his mercy but wisdom, insight, understanding of how things were designed to be, how things could be better.

Similarly, blessing is about His kingdom coming, not ours. Earth as per heaven.

And as far as human philosophy and effort can take us, in terms of really understanding the universe, it’s like expecting a donkey to give birth to a human.

Or a human to give birth to God. Just a minute!

Job 10

In the second half of Job’s response to Bildad he rails against God more than his friend.

The opening sections contrast the tenderness and love with which Job was created by God with the lousy life he is having.

While the discussion of justice in Job is sophisticated, his take on the afterlife seems rudimentary from my perspective.

He believes that after death he’ll go to “the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness“. The Jewish Sheol idea, not like heaven as we understand it

My favourite image in the last chapter was of his days going too fast, they ‘skim past like boats of papyrus’. It reminded me of making paper boats after rain when I was young and watching them zoom down the gutter at the side of the road with the storm water and disappear down drain.

It made me wonder though, why if he was suffering so badly, he wouldn’t LIKE the idea that his days went quickly. It’s preferable, isn’t it?

But this explains that his days on earth are all he thinks he has. He ends the chapter praying that God will leave him alone so he can have ‘a moment’s joy’ before death.

This theology makes you realise why their expectation of earthly blessing is so important to them. If God takes that away, they have no blessing, they never experience it.

Compare the greed of today’s prosperity theologians, who promise God’s blessing of wealth during our time on earth AND after you die. Having your cake and eating it too.

With such a gloomy view of the afterlife, no wonder Job is so emotional.

God sort of reveals himself on a need to know basis. We still only understand him in part, as Paul says. But job knows even less than us.

It’s interesting: what is the bare minimum revelation God gives to mankind, what are the essentials?

Remember, Job isn’t being portrayed as one of the chosen, he’s outside the covenant of Abraham.

He knows there is an all powerful creator, God the father. He knows that we are known by God, and that ethical living matters to the creator. He knows God can forgive.

Doesn’t seem to have a strong sense of original sin or afterlife.

Australian Aboriginal peoples, disconnected from the scriptures for 60000 years, got to similar places, though I think they had a good idea of an afterlife. The word for caterpillar is a traditional child’s name, for example, because apparently they thought of butterflies as a metaphor for the spirit of people who have departed.

Job has got to the same place as the psalmists and the prophets; of realising that a simple theory of reward for righteousness does not stand up to empirical experience. So he is seeking more. He’s longed for a Messiah figure but not revisited his attitude to the afterlife yet.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this, but it’s interesting.

After ending yesterday’s notes sarcastically, I did actually find Job comforting yesterday when I was notified that I didn’t get even an interview for one of the three jobs I applied for so far. God’s promises are great, abundant, tender and as strong as solid rock; but that job is not one of them.

Job 9

I started out feeling a little unenthusiastic for a longish book with just one idea: the problem of suffering. Barely a few chapters in and my problem is too many ideas. I’m getting a little overwhelmed by Job!

He is apparently a bit of a legendary character, a byword for goodness, a little like an ancient Middle East Santa or maybe mother Teresa. He’s sort of a thought experiment of a person without original sin.

The original is in Hebrew, and scholars thought for ages it was a translation from another language because of its idiosyncratic phrasing.

But the latest theory is that it affected an idiomatic style in the original Hebrew to imply an exoticism. Which adds another layer to its already considerable cultural remoteness, literary sophistication and style. And for all that its still amazingly fresh and approachable. As yoda would say ‘in 900 years, look as good you will not!’

Job begs comparison to Jesus, another innocent man accused and punished. Today though he seems also to conclude that he needs a mediator between him and God.

In a two chapter answer to Bildad’s forthright attack Job, for this chapter at least, seems to say… ‘YES’! He doesn’t really push back on Bildad’s assessment that he is just blustering wind.

Wrong or right, Job concludes he’s on the losing side of the argument because his argument is with God.

He kicks off describing the majesty of God, and boy, does he. I won’t attempt to convey the poetry.

Key verse: “who can say to Him ‘what are you doing?'” In the context of the creator God’s majesty, any mortal’s case against him is hopelessly unequal. Who can tell truth what is true or justice what is just?

Another implication of God’s ubiquitous majesty Job draws out is that everything: – times of injustice, disasters that kill innocents randomly, etc. Everything is God. He won’t subscribe to some theology of limited divine power. Key verse: ‘if it is not He, then who is it?’

He toys with just acting happy and normal, but this devastating experience means he realises being good means nothing, turning over a new leaf is a waste of time. It gets you no leverage with God. Why bother?

This leads him in the last to long for a mediator, a priest, an advocate and barrier between him and God.

And so the first half ends. The only implicit refutation of Bildad is that Bildad told him to reconnect with old wisdom, but Job longs for new wisdom, for more.

Some good signs for my sons. Ren really enjoyed his first learn to row class at glebe rowing club last Sunday, and Lewes is being proactive and positive, relatively. He’s found an anti depressant he likes, still going to counseling. On you lads!

Kelly’s working crazy hard, a literal all nighter for an end of year presentation/assessment today, I couldn’t do it.

I’m still panicky about the end of the year naturally. I deal with pressure with either admirable calm, or by burying my head in the sand, depending on how you spin it.

I’m vaguely aware that others in my situation would be drawing attention to themselves, currying favour and trying to look good, because they want a job.

But I’m not capable of that. I’m more like, frozen. I fear I give off a useless blob vibe. Not the best timing.

But at least I have the words of Job, eh? …don’t even try, no matter what you do, you’re stuffed. Words to live by! Sigh.

Job 8

So the second friend, Bildad the Shuhite speaks.

There is a high level similarity in his message for Job, compared to Eliphaz: it’s your fault it happened, and in your power to fix it asking God mercy for your sins.

But the personalities are very different, and the instances of victim blame flow from the personality.

This is quite instructive because it encourages me to ask: what tendency in my personality tends to flavour the way I read God’s word and behave?

And maybe also: what role does personality have to play? It’s God given isn’t it? Not to be stamped out? When does my personality lead me to sin, when do I serve God in it? How do you lay your personality on the altar?

Bildad is much more naturally conservative and direct. I think of him as Moore college dude (that’s a pretty straight evangelical theological college here in Sydney).

So where Eliphaz was all double-edged compliments (you’re a loved teacher, how about you teach yourself?) and indirect insinuations, Bildad gives Job something more like a bollocking and an old man rant.

His opening salvo is to ask how much longer Job will keep going on like a blustering wind. Hurry up, your children got what they deserved, you’re running out of time to straighten up and fly right, essentially. Gosh.

Then he does a variation on the old man classic ‘kids these days, no respect’. He says job has cut himself off from the wisdom of the elders.

Though he does it so eloquently, is quite a beautiful song in itself to spiritual depth and sustenance.

He talks about various ways plants wither by being cut off from sustenance: growing in a marsh, cut and put in a jar, tangled in roots, planted among rocks. It’s reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the sower.

He compares Job’s understanding to trying to lean on a spiders web. So vivid!

He ends each idea with a promise that if job listens to him, he’ll be rich and prosperous again, an idea I naturally treat with skepticism, probably because I’ve grown up with the story of Job as part of my cultural memory.

Eliphaz is more relational, starting with what he knows of Job, Bildad is more didactic, starting with what he knows of God. It will be interesting to see how job moderates his response.

In the meantime: my personality is a bit of a mix of those two. I’m fundamentally evangelical (but never evangelically fundamentalist…).

I’m towards the progressive side politically, which puts me at odds with some of the favourite political causes of people I’d think of as culturally evangelical.

In style my weaknesses are more like Eliphaz. I battle with a tendency to not speak up in order to keep the peace. It’s why I write so much, I think!

I’m convinced personality itself is not the issue. Honesty, genuineness, being real are all wings upon which God’s mission can soar. Hiding your personality can be as much of a constraining chain as personality flaws I’m sure.

Gotta go now… Lots of chapters to think more about this!

Job 7

Job questions what his existence might mean. His refusal to say there must be no God, and his rejection of his friend’s conclusion that he somehow deserved his suffering means he’s motivated to explain his situation. He struggles.

He compares it to his ‘work’. There are lots of hard jobs: slave, labourer. They have temporal cycles of effort and reward. Slaves get to rest. Labourers get paid.

Unfortunately he does not get rest in the evenings. They are uncomfortable because of the scabs and sores. Maybe he is just on a long cycle – months not days?

And there is always death, the spans of life are no more than a breath compared to eternity. He draws comfort from the idea that even if, as he expects, his season of suffering lasts until his death, it will at least end there.

This elevates his voice to the purpose of his existence. He will speak out about his situation. He gets no rest, because he gets bad visions and dreams in the night. He understands that he has been singled out for suffering.

He ends addressing God, not his friends. He asks a bunch of questions that are like a parody of psalm 8.

Psalm 8 asks God why he chose to think of mankind in all the vast stars and universe. Job asks the same question, but tells God to stop. Stop picking on him and leave him alone.

So having been emotional back in chapter 2, Job is calmer here.

He’s rejected his friend’s argument that he deserved to suffer in the last chapter.

Here he more coolly says: yes, I appear to have been given the most miserable life possible to live. I just want to die, and my only purpose for living seems to be as a voice asking God “why?”.

Which is circular, his purpose is to wonder if he has a purpose.

His prayer is that God will ignore him and focus on someone else. And allow him a good night’s sleep.

It is what it seems, God has chosen him to suffer. It’s unsatisfying, and it has bad implications for all of us.

It seems disrespectful of the honesty of this page to try and tie it up into a positive little life lesson to take into the day, so I’ll just sit with that, and see how the next call and response plays out.

Job 6

Job responds to the last two chapters over the next two chapters. This one addresses the friend’s arguments. Next chapter he seems to return to thinking about his situation.

First he addresses their criticisms of his language… Of course he’s been a bit salty!

He goes further and says how he’s longed for death, just so he’d die without denying God’s words. They are underestimating how little strength he has not to curse God. He has no fight in him at all.

He’s making them aware how deep their lack of empathy is.

By the way, Job is an experience, it’s so well done! I have to read it a couple of times to get my concentration in, but it’s not actually difficult. It deserves to be just read, it is the prime experience of it, a summary is so much less.

So next he assures his friends he has not got some great hidden sin, he accuses them of being fair weather friends, of just being afraid of his misfortune – which is so true, sometimes people treat misfortune like it’s contagious, or need to assert a sense of control over life by saying it’s somehow deserved.

He ends this section saying ‘look at me! It’s your ol pal speaking, I’m not lying!’ I’m certainly not prepared for how precisely – and freshly- this ancient poem pinpoints my foibles.

I have lots of opportunities to comfort those suffering various kinds of misfortune at church, at work, even at home. Job’s message is:

don’t fear me,

don’t get desensitised to my words so they mean nothing to you.

I do crave honesty, but don’t give me facile, dismissive answers.

Don’t be unreliable.

Don’t fight the truth that I am the same as you: there but for the grace of God…

Time to pray.