Job 35

Continuing Elihu’s criticisms of Job.

They aren’t straw men. These aren’t cartoons of people’s views about God, they are deeply felt, complex and beautifully expressed.

Today Elihu posits a God who is too big for tiny granular justice, and that is why the arrogant prosper.

Considering the vastness of the heavens, he says the consequences of our sin won’t damage God. We only hurt others by sinning.

Since that time mankind has developed the power to perhaps completely wipe itself out, with weapons of war or environmental mismanagement on a global scale.

But God would survive our nuclear holocaust, and you have to think the fate of the planet is ultimately in his hands, despite our best efforts.

On a personal level, it jars when David’s sinned against Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, and then says ‘against you (God) only have I sinned’.

It’s so prone to being taken the wrong way I urged the Salvos take a reading of psalm 51 out of the service of repentance for the wrongs done to children in their orphanages, and elsewhere, exposed by the government’s enquiry into child abuse.

I could imagine the victims of abuse feeling left out of the equation, the opposite of the point of the whole service.

We left it in because I couldn’t find a better expression of repentance. And you just have to accept that our sin does matter to God, even more than the victims of its earthly consequences.

After all our good does. Jesus revealed that giving any random hungry person food is like giving God food.

Anyway it’s an interesting, if flawed, idea, but then he pushes it too far when he says people don’t cry out to God in their oppression under human sin… They do, unless Negro spirituals are without precedent in human history. Mind you, lots of people don’t blame God for their suffering as well.

And he says God doesn’t listen to them or care. Everything we’ve read in the Bible so far contradicts that.

So what according to Elihu does God do for us?

Gives us understanding higher than beasts and birds, gives us songs in the night.

See what I mean? Even when he’s wrong, but he takes these beautiful paths there. Songs in the night!

Anyway I’ve been surprisingly messed up emotionally since my job interview Wednesday. Getting it would solve a lot of problems simultaneously: job security, a financial boost, most likely, and give me a strong sense of a purpose that matched what God made me for. But it is in God’s hands, God’s plan.

Things looked promising on Friday when they got me to send in referees they could call. I asked if that meant I would be offered the job, and the recruitment guy wouldn’t commit, but said it was ‘a good sign’. I almost cried on the phone later as I told Kelly… I get myself to the mindset of accepting it’s all in God’s hands. But then the stages of waiting kills me.

Sigh, first world problem, there is a job for me…

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Job 34

Elihu continues to speak, and will for several chapters.

He seems here to be saying exactly the same argument as the friends have made thus far.

He’s highly critical of Job. He devotes a stanza to each of these concepts: God is all powerful. He is just. He knows and sees all.

So if he has seen fit to bring down misfortune on Job, it is deserved. And if Job continues to say it is unfair, then Job is unrepentant.

‘To his sin he adds rebellion’ he concludes. Everything Job says in his defence just multiplies his sin.

It’s a bit of a yawn. He’s a bit like a younger, more black and white version of the older friends. Like a kid fresh out of theological college, full of zeal but knowing more of theology than the world.

Great at loving God, more to learn about loving his neighbour.

The thing that struck me most was when he talked about the contradiction of suffering. He really knows God and talks about the spirit a lot. He understands God as the sustainer. If he withdrew his spirit, we would be nothing. I visualised it as the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel in reverse.

That’s his reason for rejecting the idea that God would allow random suffering for good people. It’s contradictory because God is the author and sustainer of life. And he’s right, in pure logic.

But all we have to return to is that pure logic is not wisdom, the fear of the Lord is.

I’ve got to concentrate until Wednesday. I have a second interview then for the job managing my department! I’m in contention! But I have to do a 15 minute presentation on what I would do in the first 90 days running the department.

I make a pact now to quote that verse from Job about the fear of the Lord at least once in that interview. Because you can’t run a faith based organisation on logic alone!

Job 33

I’ve done a bit of background reading on the new character, Elihu. Opinions vary. From saying he contributes nothing really to the central question: is boring, is wrong… To a view that he is an appearance of Jesus, a theophany, God in human form.

It seems at least some care is warranted… he’s not necessarily 100% good oil.

Some scholars studying the literature aspect of it suggest he’s a clumsy later addition to the text.

But I must say I think his appearance makes a lot of sense in that job has been asking for another person, an intermediary between him and God for chapters.

I said the three friends were a ‘the old one-two-three.’ but maybe they were a 123 within a 123… 3 friends/Elihu/God.

Last chapter Elihu ticked off the friends, this chapter he starts talking to Job.

Ironically, Job is probably closest to right on the question of suffering all along, because he always says it does not make sense to him, and we know at the start that God allowed the suffering to show how faithful Job would be. So from Job’s point of view, it won’t make sense. It’s not because of his sin.

It’s not particularly to teach him a lesson, which is the theory Elihu seems to be advancing here; that suffering is sent to bring us closer to God. It’s good for us spiritually.

Certainly, attempts to turn misfortunes into neat little Aesop’s fables that teach you something can be the most unempathetic and unhelpful of comforts.

Job 32

New commentator, Elihu.

He – like me – is impatient with the dead end the arguments have come to, the three friends saying Job must have sinned, job saying he didn’t.

They have nothing more to say, but he is like bottled up wine, bursting at the skins.

He refers to the spirit of God inspiring him, and criticises job for justifying himself, not God.

His beef with all of them comes back to the fear of the Lord being wisdom, they need to go deeper into God rather than continuing to rely on their own understanding.

Its good advice, I’ve been very earth bound this week. Classic busy December stuff. I’ve been out every night socialising, and I complain of tiredness, but when things get calm and normal, I’m actually restless and can’t settle.

Still no news on any jobs, January looms … Tomorrow will be one month exactly of my contract left. I have 5 job applications in, still only the one interviewed. No one seems in any hurry!

I feel some comfort from a kind of catch 22 which is is they don’t fill all the roles, they’ll need to extend my contract until they do.

I think the worst case scenario I’m looking at is the only job I can get not paying enough, and needing to live frugally until I can get a better outside job. But I’m pretty sure I’ll at least get something.

The weekend away was interesting, but I think it gave me pause to think about what I am really getting into. Is it really me? Where do I draw the line at my commitment?

But I’m definitely needing to do a David and slow down before the presence of God.

Gotta go now!

Job 31

‘… And I am innocent’

In Job’s 3 chapter cry of injustice he’s said how blessed he was, how cursed he is and now how little he believes he deserves it.

I confess it’s testing my patience a little, we aren’t getting anywhere as much as adding emphasis. I wanted the discussion to move on.

The structure of it is a series of very stereotypically Jewish curse statements, along the lines of ‘if I am lying may I be struck dead!’. He calls down curses like losing his wife, his arm falling off, his fields being full of stinkweed and briars.

It gives us an interesting insight into what is regarded as the model of moral, ethical behaviour.

First he shows porn is not a new problem by describing his ‘covenant with my eyes’ not to look lustfully at young women. I recall at moore theological college an internet monitoring system keeping all the students honest was called ‘covenant eyes’…

He includes with this honesty, especially cheating in business, so lust and greed, which he calls ‘my heart being led by my eyes’… Nice one.

Then justice and fair treatment of servants and the vulnerable. His sense of justice comes from the equality of creation, he takes it back to both of them being formed in the womb by the same God. Made in God’s image. It extends to generous use of his property and compassionate use of his influence.

Next false idols, whether gold and wealth or nature such as Sun or Moon worship.

As it concludes, in quick succession: not gloating over enemies misfortunes or wishing ill on them, hospitality, hypocrisy – putting on a false front for political purposes, unsustainable or selfish farming practises.

He calls again for God to hear him, to argue the case.

It’s really smashing poetry, winning me over again, despite the earlier reservations. A good picture of an ethical life.

Job 30

This chapter is a massive ‘but now…’ as in ‘I was living the sweet life… but now…’

It starts with a long section on how scummy are the young men who now disrespect him. Now the least of the least are superior to him.  It goes into great detail about them.  Commentary says this is just to emphasise how pathetic Job is, not revelling in how debased they are.

No longer intimidated by job, they feel free to terrorise him.

God becomes a bringer of suffering too.

He finishes by saying he doesn’t understand, but he has become revolting in status, appearance and health, and is very miserable about it.

These chapters have a heavy irony over them. He’s now pitied by people he would previously never have given the time of day to. Drives him crazy.

As you get older there is a particular kind of scorn young people have for you, where they are so sure they will never be as pathetic as you, as if its your fault you got old without managing to be as successful or glamorous in reality as they imagine they will be by your age. And how can you compete with potential? How can the actual future you got to live because you were born earlier measure up to a young person’s rosy fantasy of the future?

Let it go. He’s lost perspective, and is wallowing in self pity. Job really is about how many things you need to be able to let go.

Job 29

Aww this is a beautiful picture of Job’s lost contentment. It the first of a three chapter response by Job, so he really just starts his points.

He talks about being respected with lovely nuance. It’s a portrait of his goodness, which could be self righteous bragging in another context, except he has lost so much, it seems fair enough.

I love how he uses cream and olive oil metaphorically to reminisce about how smooth and easy his life was.

He paints a picture of going to the town square and being respected from young to old, rich and poor, for his goodness and wisdom. They all fall silent as he starts to speak, and his word silences the prattle after he’s done, as they quietly savour his wisdom.

He a champion of the poor and needy, he anticipated a long, secure, comfortable, happy personal life. Good and blessed, humble and respected.

It is the dream still for a good respectable citizen. It’s the later life entrepreneurs like Bill Gates aspire to, once they’ve been hard and mean in their youth and gotten their millions. A philanthropist. An elder. It’s what I’d love to be! I’m a bit chuffed about being a warden at my church.

He’s portraying himself as having had the wisdom discussed in the previous chapter. He feared God, he departed from evil.

But the blessings of his life were not what God promises. He’s miserable, he’s pathetic and sick. Is the wisdom still as precious? More than gold or silver? Now that it’s delivered misery?

It’s like the marriage vows… For better or worse. Turns out the majority of couples can’t live that way.

I’m praying for good things, but I must accept I may not get them. In some of my friends’ views, that proves Christianity wrong. But I’m like Job, I can’t imagine giving it up.

Gee though, this chapter seduces through time as a still potent picture of the decent, respectable life we must lay on the altar. Begone dreams of comfortable respectability! You may be my circumstances, but not my desire.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 27

I am not that guy.

Job’s final words to his friends cycle back to the point that more is needed.

Job agrees with all the terrible things his friends say will happen to those who defy God. Things like happened to him: lose the things they loved and be thrown from God’s presence. But he is not that guy.

He loves God and is assured of his acceptability to God – as we have been in the set up in chapter one. Job will never be convinced otherwise, as any believer would not.

So missing pieces are needed to fill in the picture of God’s justice, his love, his salvation.

After the raucous rally last night to gee up the salvation army someone said ‘but where is Jesus?’ Well he’s in there. The oft repeated vision I gladly signed up for is about ‘transforming Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus’.

But there was also a fair degree of cultural tub thumping in the mix, and also a lot more talk of of justice and salvation. Stories of transformation from the lips of people around the nation, hitherto operating in parallel, now to be administered as one.

And it’s confronting when they announce they are releasing X million dollars to set up X number of new churches. Is that how God’s kingdom works?

The first evening session was quite self deprecating in a way: we partner, we fit in around others. Then yesterday was more ‘we’re going to win the church contest!’ Rah, rah’.

The Salvation army is a bit like a piece of performance art. There is an element of instinct, stuff just happens and the meaning gets unpacked in real time. A series of iterative actions rather than the result of long reflection. Not the way I’m accustomed to a church operating. Not saying it’s wrong necessarily, but makes me think.

Apt I think, to start talking about the search for God’s wisdom.

Job 26

Job will now speak for 6 chapters or so. First order of business is responding to Bildad, and in a way wrapping up everything the friends have had to say.

They’ve really moved not at all from the first response. All their talk has added up to nothing. Job sarcasticaly points that out.

They’ve said Job have to understand that mankind are worms and maggots compared to God. He knows, but what use is that?

He emphasises how much more aware he is of man’s inequality to the awesome power of God.

The reference to the power of the sea and God crushing the snake invites comparisons to God’s promise of retribution on the serpent in Genesis. But also, commentry says, it could be talking about Canaanite mythical sea creatures.

There is a theme running though Job not obvious to modern readers of asserting monotheism over folk gods. For instance, here the sea has the definite article, but the word for sea without it is the name of the sea God. Ie: calling it ‘the sea’ rather than ‘Sea’ makes it part of the created order, not a God itself.

My fave verse is the last, that as much as we understand of God’s power, it is but a whisper on the edges of his actual power.

I’m waking up at the large salvation army tribal event. Last night I attended a session on partnering to affect social change and fight injustice.

So they had a local panel only one of whom was a salvo. An indigenous law professor, the manager of a football club (Collingwood) a rough diamond sort of a guy who wound up on local council in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria spoke of how they worked with the Salvos.

The international leader, the General spoke with an intensity that belied his age, of how much justice means, comparing it to new shoots from the stumps of ruined lives, taking the metaphor of God’s salvation from Isaiah. Fiery.

And then a big band played some classics from Gershwin and others, what a night!

Ooops, gotta go to brekkie, may get back to this…