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.

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Psalm 71

Waking up in the country, in Berry, a much needed break. The psalm is about plotters trying to kill the writer in the later part of his life. It’s not attributed to David but it’s surely gotta be one of his.

Can I relate? There are exactly zero evil possies bent on my destruction, so not really. David had a very unrelaxing life.

It’s someone who has always loved God since childhood – that I can relate to. And like the psalmist I’m pretty convinced nothing would make me give up that love now.

That ex addict who spoke at chapel on Thursday talked about the constant hunger of his addiction, and made no bones about the idea that he used Jesus to fill the place drugs had, that he just had an addictive personality. He said he filled the hole with something good

It reminded me of a thought circle I have about that which ends in me not caring.

God is my refuge and my comfort, I share that with the psalmist. The troubles that do come my way… (‘Many and bitter’, he calls them, the verse that jumped out most) …they don’t stop me praising God with the Lyre and harp.. well, guitar piano and Ableton Live, anyway.

It’s the old man I intend to be.

But what if I’m just addicted to the pattern of it. Going to church, praying. What if the comfort and refuge are a mind trick, and God’s not real?

None of the people im away with in the weekend, other than Kelly, think God’s real, at least more than in the most general sense if at all.

It doesn’t matter to me any more. I love being in this place so much, even if it’s all a huge confirmation bias, or if, as I actually think, its the holy spirit who says ‘but God is real’ everytime I wonder if he isn’t, I’m not going to change, so it doesn’t matter for my part.

I saw my parents get old in the faith, their strength fail in the faith, die in the faith, and right now at least, it doesn’t frighten me at all. I actually look forward to it. Talk about God being my strength and refuge, eh?

I’m have this feeling of relaxing into my skin at this point in my life. It’s a good feeling. I still have enough energy for life (if barely for paving), but I feel like the ambition and ego of my youth are at least getting small enough now for me to see other people around the edges of them. I’m content to win smaller battles. I feel I’m becoming a better listener. I feel like that means I’m of more spiritual use to God in some ways than I have been in the past.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know! It’s just the time of day when I write about the Bible! Oh dear, maybe I AM just addicted to the ritual!? Still, is one I like so….

Psalm 47

A jolly praise Psalm about God becoming king of all nations.

It starts with clapping: an international language, all beings praising.

It talks about God first choosing the Israelites, giving a special inheritance to the pride of Jacob.

The covenant with Abraham was to be a father to all nations. His grandson Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes, Israel’s is a story within the larger promise.

Then in this quick praise filled version of the larger story God ascends to his throne as king… Like Jesus actually did… Amid the shouts of joy of all nations, and trumpets. He reigns. All people gather. They praise, and praise some more.

It is the story of the Messiah, and our gentile ears should tingle (while we are clapping, shouting and praising) because he is the revelation of God to all of us.

I’ve been thinking about universalism in my old age, whether it’s possible everyone is saved. I don’t think that is probably true, but I feel less hard on people who do. I don’t think it makes a heap of practical difference to the life you lead or the message you preach.

It’s just a an awareness of this feeling of stories within stories, smaller blessings within larger ones. God is always managing our revelation.

Like the layers of creation stories, from being made in God’s image to the dishonest temptation to be like God by eating of the tree of Knowledge. What does that mean? If someone is an image of God but out of the garden, do you address them as being God’s? I face this problem of address regularly at work.

I’m contemplating that many more or many less people may be believers, or saved, than I would have thought. Which makes sense. I mean, how on earth would that be something I would know?

But you grow up thinking you do. You know, all Anglicans are in. Well, the evangelicals, the ones we know. Other protestants, good to go. I’m not intolerant.. as long as they believe something ( looking at you Uniting). Catholics pentecostals? Depends on the moment… Is this a conversation about theology or demographics?

For example, Abraham goes back 4000 years, but Aboriginals have lived here most likely 60000 years. What did they know of God those 56000 years? That’s a very lot of years. I’m totally with my brothers and sisters, when Captain Cook arrived, God was already here.

But equally, reading about the ‘chosen’ people in the old testament this past few years, the majority never seemed to have got it. Many spent a lot of time worshipping other Gods, or just being blatantly nominal Israelites who did religious duties, enjoyed the feasts, but behaved with total self interest, spiritually hollow. True believers always seems to have been a tiny subset.

We think the church is in decline, Australia doesn’t identify nearly as Christian as it did a generation ago. But I don’t think God is failing, perhaps nominalism is failing.

We meet each week in our sandstone cave in glebe point road, 70 of us in a population of 1000s. I don’t think God’s mission is a failure, I do what I feel led and taught to. I trust and obey.

St Paul’s image of us seeing through a glass darkly frees me from overthinking this. It’s an awareness that, yes we still don’t have the full story, but I have my story, and God is very happy to run with that.

I’m aware of my failings and challenges. I spend a lot of my time either boosting the salvation army or my beloved local church, or praying for and sharing life’s ups and downs with my family.

I share in this international vision of praise of a mighty God of love and justice, everyone’s King. But I don’t really have a clue how it literally plays out on that level, just an evolving sense of how it plays out in my little patch.

Psalm 39

David on the edge of eternity, uncomfortable with the world and with God.

One of my favourite parts of Jeremiah was when he tried to stop prophesying doom, but the message burned in his bones. David has a near identical experience here.

He breaks his silence with other people to talk to God, and is overwhelmed by a sense of eternity, of how short our lives are. He returns through the psalm to describing our lives like a phantom, a shadow.

He’s enough aware of the futility of a Godless life to feel like a stranger who has nothing to say to the people around him. But enough aware of his own impure and rebellious nature not to be able to stand God’s correction. He asks God to stop looking at him.

Any Christian can relate how he’s feeling. But we also have so much more revealed to us.

We’re told from birth that Jesus, the Messiah, was God dying for love of us. That we are participants in eternity, God’s children in a new heaven and earth where there are no more tears. And we’re still only seeing these things through a glass darkly.

David has an intimacy with God I’ll never have, but his glass is even darker. His honesty and clarity about what he knows of God’s truth leads him to the edge of all the missing pieces Jesus has filled, and he will be as saved by Jesus’ blood as I am.

But he’s miserable as he writes this. He’s has a vision of how meaningless are most of our earthly pursuits, he’s bowed out, but it’s resulted in the intensity of his sense of inadequacy before God increasing to breaking point. And there he leaves it.

Perhaps those moments when God seems like too much, when you just want to be ‘normal’ but you can’t – are the very hardest to bring honestly to God. It’s brave enough of an example to us that David has done it, of course there is no neat answer.

2 Chronicles 1

Solomon asks for wisdom. He is promised it, and also unprecedented wealth and success.

They start to describe it.. gold and silver everywhere, the expensive horses and chariots.

I was struck by the things God listed that could have been the hearts desire of the new king… Wealth, possessions, honour, death to his enemies, a long life. God praised Solomon for not asking for these.

It’s pretty much the lyrics of “God save The Queen”. God knows us, and through the millennia we stay very predictable.

I’ve felt on the brink of something new of late. Makes me wonder if I am, or if it’s just a feeling. Is it my wisdom request, a la Solomon, or my request for a long life, a la any king.

All of our lives are battles for kingship, us vs God.

I suppose the test is ‘does it tend to make me live a life more for others or more for me?’

1 Chronicles 1

A list chapter, I looked at the commentary daring them to find anything to say about it, they found plenty.

One quote compared it to the emotional effect of a walk though a graveyard, a blur of old names, provoking thoughts of your own identity and mortality.

It dates from Ezra’s time, when the exiled Israelites were allowed to return home and set about restoring their broken culture.

So the lineages were very important to remind themselves of their grand history, plus the religion relied on tribal groups, so it’s vital work for that context.

It also emphasises the connectedness of humanity under the hand of God. Their captors, their enemies, their friends brothers and sisters, all branches of the lines of Adam, Abraham, Noah and the patriarchs. God blessed many nations other than theirs, his plans are both broad and specific. He’s always there, working though it all.

So there’s a lot in a list. The names of past forbears tell you where you came from, yet the fact that they are forgotten tells you about where you most likely be going to as well. Their lives meant no more or less than yours.

It gives you perspective. Grounds us in time and God in eternity.

Jeremiah 42

Right so has Judah learned it’s lesson? Find out in tomorrow’s exciting episode!

Infighting within the depleted remnant of Judah has blown apart the order that the Babylonian conquerors put in place. When you are occupied Poland, you don’t want to make the Nazis angry.

The plan is to run away to Egypt before the Babylonian rulers find out and seek retribution.

They know enough to ask Jeremiah at least. And he says”no”. After 10 days God’s voice comes to him, Egypt will mean death, they must stay and face the music.

Will they? See chapter 43, presumably.

“Everything happens for a reason” people say, but when similar situations come up again, have you learned from life? Does the scar tissue of life teach us to pray or harden us to get deeper into trusting our own judgement as we grow older?

Jeremiah 29

Bit of a jump forward, many people are now in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah writes a letter to them telling them to relax, put down roots, marry, get jobs etc. It’s going to last 70 years. It’s God’s will.

He criticises more bolshe prophets who are saying it’s not God’s will and should be resisted. It might be popular, but they are lying, they haven’t had a word from God on it.

This sets me thinking about politics. I’m more towards the progressive end of things. I often find messages of resistance appealing.

In Australia we get Christians saying “resisting laws about gay marriage is God’s will” which I would regard as a futile and unjust conservative mission. Or “we need to legislate carbon emissions to fit climate change” which I do think is an appropriate thing for Christians to stand for.

Jeremiah didn’t like his message. In my favourite verse in the book so far he said it burned in his bones. I don’t conclude that we need to studiously avoid politics in our faith, but we need to be aware that it is an area for tolerance.

Jeremiah 11

Jeremiah has a pattern of hope to hopelessness. God starts saying how the people could fix their relationship with him, but then says they won’t.

Here its done with the covenant. He reminds them of it, says that they could still obey him, then says they never have and never will. He emphasises how long it’s been since then, and how now they have “more Gods than cities”.

Proceeding further into the heart of darkness, God reveals to Jeremiah in a poetic section a plot to take his life. For speaking God’s word! The chapter ends with dire predictions of what will become of the plotters.

It’s a chapter of God’s speaking to Jeremiah, not him to the people, except the poetic section in his voice.

Judgement isn’t a big part of theology day to day in churches. Sure is a huge theme of the old testament though.

Though it’s more like a sort a tagging of God’s direction. This book is the five minutes to midnight before Babylon takes Jerusalem – it’s tagging Babylon as God’s agents.

When AIDS hit there were Christians who tagged that as God’s judgement. And there is a way that any death can be seen that way. But we don’t get to do the tagging.

And it’s different now anyway that Jesus has come. That was just an exercise in cruelty.

Isaiah 37

King Hezekiah consults Isaiah about the Assyrian threat. Isaiah knows God’s mind, that the Assyrians won’t take Jerusalem. Indeed he knows the specific fate of the Assyrian envoy: he’ll die at his son’s hands.

He also knows a great pruning of Israel is coming from which only a shadow will survive, which he also refers to in his poetic response. And he is aware that even the Assyrians’ victories are God given, for all their arrogance.

We get a great affirmation of Jehovah above idols of wood and stone. There is an image of the people born in other countries being like weak doomed grass that takes root on the roof, which I found very poignant.

The story set me thinking about the relationship between knowing God’s mind and prayer.

The people and the king pray that God will hear the taunts of Assyria and act. Hezekiah is answered in those terms “God has heard your prayer”.  But Isaiah knows God’s mind all along.

People tear their clothes in fear and despair when they hear of the Assyrian threat because they know it might be God’s judgement, or maybe because they don’t believe God is really in control of such a fierce force of evil.  They ask for help, and this time they get it in terms they asked.

When the Babylonians returned less than a generation later, not so much.

God always responds like God. A bit like Jesus’ random encounters during his ministry… A catastrophic tower collapse may be talk of the day, or he may be at a wedding with inadequate catering, see a dead fig tree or meet a sick person.

And he thinks presumably “what would Jesus do”? And his responses fit the moment and the larger plan of salvation, and teach us til today about the nature of God.  And it answers prayers then and now. It doesn’t really make a difference if its random or part of a master plan, because it all sings a consistent tune.

God is the same in the minutiae and in the grandeur, in the fleeting moment and in the millennia.

Because his truth and his character are eternal, unchanging. And he loves our faith, our prayer.