Proverbs 11

It’s about being preserved through this life, avoiding the pitfalls and temptations.

…to gossip, to trust mortals (they die); to be led astray by: words that undermine the truth within you, or your own pride, or the temptation to cheat to get ahead.

15 or so wise sayings that start personal and broaden out to community wisdom.

The main game is always avoiding death, being kept righteous in God’s eyes.

There wasn’t much between the most memorable and the least, but I was quite struck by:

Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.‘. (which I actually took as personal advice, as I have a bit of a ‘go-it-alone’ mentality).

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.

‘Only wealth!’ How many lives have been spent on the notion that wealth gives honour? I suppose some people split the difference, like Bill Gates, who spent half his life mercilessly pursuing the wealth and half on honour. But wealth alone? Compared to kindheartedness?

Proverbs is like poetry, slows you down in a good way. Before I read the chapter I have no patience for it, but once I do I feel refreshed and more positive about the day.

I’ll pray/try to take advice, not participate in stuff I know to be foolish, count my blessings and avoid mourning wealth I’ll never have.

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Proverbs 8

A chapter of hype of wisdom. Seems like a new section, as this is not specifically addressed to the young men like the last few.

Oh so tired, I’ve been a fool not getting enough sleep.

It literally says how important wisdom is for most of it. No actual wisdom, except self referential ‘it’s wise to be wise’.

There is a section saying wisdom is the first of God’s works, before creation. So wisdom was there for it all, and presumably is in it all. We get a grand highlights reel of creation each image prefaced with ‘I was there when…’

It’s of God, it’s ancient, it’s true, it’s precious.

Let’s face it, it is God. It’s a bit like a click bait version of God packaged up to be more grabby. It’s advertising, yelling it out in the squares and cross roads: ‘be 2x more successful with this amazing life-hack Kings and Princes don’t want you to know!’

In Australia this time in January signals the end of the holiday season for most. I’m feeling focused, work is getting more stable, I feel I can get onto a list of things I have been leaving lay for a bit. Gonna be a wise year, eh!

Psalm 82

A strange setup, God on a council of Gods, comparing the way they judge.  The polytheistic language sparked intense speculation about what it was referring to, commentators went crazy.

Jesus quoted this psalm when he was accused of blasphemy.  He said essentially, if the scriptures can call these people gods – and it would probably have included some of those who were accusing him at that very time – how much moreso can I claim to be God.

The message of it is about the nature of God.

The earthly ‘gods’ have the wisdom, the word and authority of God, but they remain ignorant and corrupt. The ignorance of those in positions of power in human society shakes the foundations of the earth. Its hard not to relate to that, given we have some spectacularly bad world leaders at the moment.

God’s judgement defends the weak, fatherless; upholds the cause of the needy and oppressed; rescues them from the wicked.  That is the right use of authority.

These people are like the gods we have before we know God, they exercise the authority of God, but do it in a broken way.  The plea is for the one God above all to spread his authority across all nations.

I have little authority, so all I can do is pray and hope, and vote responsibly.

And do what I can. I’ve been messaged by some of my new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends about the Yarbun festival coming up to coincide with Australia day.  They are looking for support, they are still an oppressed minority in Australia, and I must address my response carefully and respectfully.

 

Psalm 74

I feel like I’m back in the book of Job again. There is even a reference to Leviathan!

It’s a psalm of frustration with God. Israel stands in for Job here, it is the victim of seemingly random attack and misfortune.

There is a cinematic image of the destruction of the ancient religion of the promised land like men clearing the forest with axes and fire, except it’s the carved panelling of the sanctuaries that is smashed and burning.

And the psalmist rails against the silence of God. Why won’t he act? It’s full of questions.

In Job the frustration with God has a self serving element that is to be unpacked and repented of. But here the frustration is coming more from a longing on behalf of others.

This verse caught it elegantly: “Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land. Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name.

It’s deeply compassionate. Like Job we need to learn to trust God’s awesome power and be patient for his plans. But the outcome isn’t a passive life of stoic detachment. It’s right to be longing for others, praying for them. Longing for the violence, hatred, blasphemy and inequality to end.

And, I guess the psalm implies, doing what we can to bring about God’s kingdom. Ironically, I reckon you could argue that when the psalmist is moved by the spirit to call out the desecrations and cruelty, and we are inspired by it, God is not being silent or failing to act. We are the temples now, we are his presence. We all have our part to play, including me.

Job 36

Elihu speaks another chapter, beginning by implicitly apologising for going on so long, and promising to get to the point. A commentary pointed out that he then goes on to speak for a few chapters more…

His character comes even more into focus: young, quite arrogant, but full of the holy spirit, so has these powerful visions of God along the way.

Just saying… if I was responsible for writing the Bible I don’t think I’d lightly include characters who claim to speak for God but are a mixture of insight and misguidedness. Talk about confusing!

But it’s telling us exactly what will happen in our life. Our experiences will prompt doubts about God. From our friends or pulpits we’ll get a mixture of wisdom and foolishness.

God is portrayed as distant and uninvolved for most of the narrative, but the irony is that if you accept this as God’s word, inspired by God, its understanding of our foibles is incredibly intimate, loving and patient. If it’s by him, our creator knows us so well!

He knows how ridiculous we are, and he loves us anyway! I feel a bit ridiculous, fretting away for months now about my work situation. There’s so much else in the world.

Our Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon preached his perspective on Christmas last week, one of the few sermons I’ve listened to twice. It’s rattling around in my A.D.D head.

He took the Isaiah passage ‘unto is a son is given’ and Jesus’ sermon in his home synagogue on proclaiming the ‘year of the Lord’s favour’, and talked about comparitive plans for world domination. The oppressive regimes of Isaiah and Jesus’ time, and for him the Australia he was born into.

He talked about the power of proclamation, such as when James Cook planted his land rights flag on Australian soil and with a word made all Aboriginal people subjects of the English crown.

The politics of Christmas is a different plan for world domination, a proclamation of good news for the poor, sight for the blind and freedom for prisoners and the oppressed.

The little baby in the manger is the perfect image of God, which gives him power and value like the image on currency gives it value.

Elihu ends by describing a coming storm from which the spirit of God speaks, starting to set up the climax of the book.

What am I saying? I’m thinking about perspective. On my problems and the world’s, and the power of the almighty.

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 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 24

Oh no, bad night’s sleep, very difficult chapter. Eyes keep closing.

Job seems to argue that justice should be seen to be done as well as be done.

This is possibly a way of reconciling his belief in God and the arguments of his friends.

He’s sort of saying it all comes down to timing. If God could relieve the suffering of the vulnerable during their lives, and bring about the downfall of the wicked exploiters by means other than the termination of their years on earth, then he would accept the words of his friends.

The argument has been heading this direction for a few chapters. It’s like they are reaching a consensus on God’s cosmic and eternal justice. Job’s refusal to deny God includes an underlying belief in his justice.

But he doesn’t understand why he can’t be seen to be just. Try as they might, the others can’t spin the experience of life here on earth as reflecting God’s justice, particularly to one who has lost everything to a series of misfortunes as job has.

Between Christians today, the struggle continues between those who put their hope in heaven after we die, and those who emphasise ‘thy will be done on earth’.

Christianity almost has too many ideas. It almost works as a gospel of earthly ethics, with no supernatural, afterlife element needed. And it almost works completely as a system of eternal reward, with the corporeal virtually disposable except as an opportunity to hear and accept the word about God’s eternal plan.

The most unsettling teaching I’ve heard in recent years was from N T Wright, partly because as an Anglican Bishop respected by serious types in my circles, I was conditioned to exist he was ‘safe’and mainstream and not likely to be a whacky heretic.

But he teaches we wont go to heaven, heaven will be a fixed up version of where we are now, earth. Literally, I think. For example, his book on the environment is called ‘God is coming, plant a tree! That idea has never crossed my mind. We’re staying here? This is it?

Whether metaphorical or not, thinking of it that way gives a whole extra impetus to that line I’ve said all my life ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Eternity is inherently a present tense and past as well as a future concept. But so often we talk about it as something confined to the future.

However, as they say, ‘we should start as we mean to carry on.’ Slavery can console itself with visions of bands of angels coming to carry them home, but also should be abolished. Both.

So in my job interview yesterday when I said I got it, this Salvos idea of holistic mission, practical and spiritual Christianity, it wasn’t just so they’d give me a job!

Perhaps it’s time for all of Job’s friends to stop talking. I mean come on guys 24 chapters, what is this, a theological college?

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!