Song of Songs 5

Classic rom com material here. When telling a story of love there has to be incident. Misunderstandings, mis-timings, love thwarted, gratification delayed.

Her beloved comes to her door as she lies in bed “asleep but with heart awake” and she has pause… Must she get up, put on robe and walk around getting dirty feet?

Something about him thrusting his fingers through the hole of the door latch however, makes her heart pound for him. We’re a few centuries before Freud, but even the usually reticent commentators observe that the original language has quite obvious double entendres at that point.

She gets up, but too late he’s gone. Queue yearning for love lost. She searches for him, and this time is assaulted, she beaten to the ground and her robe taken. Is it just me or echoes of Christ?

“What’s so special about this guy?” A chorus of friends asks. I visualise the “tell me more, tell me more…” refrain from Grease.

She responds with “hopelessly devoted to you”. A long section where she compares him with every wonderful thing on the planet. A phrase in that section “altogether lovely” got thrown into the middle of a classic Hillsong song “here I am to worship”.

It’s a cliche to mock overly romantic “Jesus is my boyfriend” Christian songs. I recently stumbled across a quiz where you had to guess whether phrases came from contemporary Christian songs or Fifty Shades of Grey. It was remarkably difficult.

The connection between romance, marriage, sex, and the love of God goes deep however, because I suppose God’s love is so great that every kind of love we experience is a glimpse, an aspect of it.

The description of marriage, two become one flesh, from Genesis is employed as an insight into the profound mystery of how Christ loved the church by St Paul. He plays with ideas of the separation of flesh and spirit within parts of Greek philosophy, but this older text, proudly taking it’s place in the canon of scripture begs to differ.

The desires of the flesh can enslave us, for sure, we see it everywhere. But God’s abundant blessing overflows to the pleasures of this life, and they are part of our experience of his love.

The yearning, the pounding hearts, the extravagant appreciation of another, the intensity of passion. It is all of, and from, God, and it’s wonderful. And I’ve lost quite a bit of it.

May I be mindful, may I be joyful, and appreciate the wonderful women I have to share my life with – couldn’t imagine someone better for me, that’s for real. We’re both surviving ATM. She’s under more pressure than me. The stoic times can chip away the joy. But when it ends, let it end, not become the normal.

50 Shades of Grey or Contemporary Christian Music Lyrics? A Quiz

Ecclesiastes 10

This seemed like a series of random bits of practical advice.

The commentary tried to make a case that it was starting to bring all that had gone before to a conclusion, to a place of meaning after so much meaninglessness. But I was unconvinced.

It was one of those days or chapters that just didn’t grab me. There was little about God directly, in fact nothing.

It kept bringing to my mind 1 Corinthians type statements about wisdom which seem to contradict it “Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Many of Jesus’ parables challenged conventional wisdom, such as the one about the workers all being given the same generous payment for different amounts of work. I’d never call grace meaningless, but it does have an irrationality about it.

One thing that stuck me was the attitude to kingship. It was quite essentialist in a way that jarred with my 21st century sensibilities.

So it said that it was a great evil under the sun that a commoner would be in a ruling position, ‘blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth.’ When low born rule, they get drunk and sleep in, never happens to the toffs, apparently!

The writer has never heard of democracy, but really, it’s not that bad! Jesus of course was born of David’s line and of God himself. David was low born and had kingship destined for him by grace.

Commentators suggested it was a model model about ideal kingship… I guess.

There’s another bit about how the foolish display how stupid they are just by the way they walk down the street. Wisdom or script of mean girls?

It ends with a warning against gossip and laziness, a hearty recommendation of feasting and wine, plus “money is the answer for everything”. What am I supposed to be getting from this?

It’s partly me… I’m very flat at the end of holidays. Having trouble with priorities. Maybe I’m feeling betrayed because the commentary is right .. the book is getting back to a more balanced place and I don’t want to go there! I’m still in the mood for angsty bleakness…

Anyway, I don’t feel like any great revelation will open up from continuing to rabbit on. See what tomorrow brings!

Ecclesiastes 1

I’m having a break from psalms to read this much loved and very strange book.

Well perhaps not so strange, because it echos and influences so much of modern philosophy. Particularly after book 4 of psalms which was pretty much wall to wall praise of God, this is actually strangely familiar: jaded cynicism.

I read the story of how it got in the scriptures. No one quite knows – it’s not hard to make a case for it not to be there. But it’s way too loved to throw it out now. And most believers find it incredibly valuable.

That it is there is a work of the Spirit, that’s conventional, but what a Spirit! To have breathed by God a book about how unsatisfying it can be to believe in God, how sometimes it makes no difference either way, we all get existential angst.

It starts with the circle of life… Water going round and round from river to sea and back to river. Wind blows here, there. Sun goes up, Sun goes down. There’s no progress. It’s all just a cycle that doesn’t lead anywhere.

This verse:

The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;

How was that not written before the internet! A.K.A. how little did the digital revolution revolutionise?

I’ve been looking forward to this and song of songs, 2 of my favourite biblical books, but when it finally came up I have a bit of a sense of dread.

For one, they preached on it in church just last year, so I feel like I’ve already done it. Ironic really, bored of being bored?

But also, I haven’t been happy. Tried to go out with the kids yesterday, but it felt forced. I didn’t enjoy it, they didn’t really. Tried to do a bunch of happy things but none felt very happy. So launching straight into “all is meaningless” from a pretty blue place to start with.

But, but… something in me wants to do it. That idea I mentioned above, the profound level of empathy God has for the human condition, is like a soothing balm.

There’s sometimes no sweeter calm than honesty.

Proverbs 15

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honour.

Humility is a hard lesson, we love honour.

It seems each chapter has one famous proverb at the moment. This one has:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But really there are a gazilion that say similar. In fact, you do get this constant nag about it that fiery people would find quite frustrating.

Sometimes it’s good to be fiery. Jesus called the religious leaders a “nest of vipers”. I suppose the key there is that he wanted to stir up anger. It was calculated.

It’s not necessarily saying don’t do it, more don’t be surprised.

I’ve been thinking about whether proverbs encourages a particular somewhat supercilious attitude that is annoyingly always above the fray. Would the proverbs person be much fun? I don’t think I’ve found one praising fun.

But perhaps the answer is in the oppositional characteristics it pairs with them. Take:

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

The opposite of soothing is perverse. You could adopt quite a fun tone in the way of being soothing and still be not perverse.

I like the ones that talk about God being aware. This one’s a little scary until you remember God’s love:

Death and Destruction lie open before the Lordhow much more do human hearts!

This book seems as much to be about how deeply God understands our foolishness, as about us being wise.

I simply found these appealing and memorable:

Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.

I’m so happy at work, the paperwork came through for my permanent status yesterday. Exactly the same job, no promotion.

But that’s ok. Humility comes before honour, and a small serving of vegetables with love is better anyhow.

Psalm 76

A psalm describing the golden period of Israel’s power, when other nations feared to arm against them because they knew God was on Israel’s side.

It recalls those battles where Israel had faith and the Lord granted them victory by simply bringing confusion on their enemies. These sorts of things inspired fear of Israel, and fear of God.

A peace based on the futility of fighting Israel reigned. For a while.

Of course that still was the true deeper power structure of the universe after Israel the nation became shattered and fell to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. It remains so today.

But the psalm doesn’t go metaphysical, not explicitly. It’s literally a snapshot of the glory days.

The commentators drew out a verse that, now I think of it, did strike me, about God being more majestic than the mountains rich with game.

Creation is bigger than the squabbles of mankind, and God is bigger again, 2 steps beyond the fray.

They said this psalm has inspired Christians to be brave and true when marginalised or under attack, which made me feel a bit faithless.

I instantly thought: ‘this psalm describes a truth we hardly ever witness’ whereas others think: ‘this picture of man’s proper response to God’s power inspires me’

Whatever.

Maybe that response reflects how powerless I feel in world affairs generally.

Like that sense of pointlessness you feel when you hover over the wrong bin with a piece of rubbish. You know literally the environmental impact of putting one small bit of cardboard in the general waste bin is virtually nil.

I know the right way to live, I’ll live the right way as much as possible, but I’m not expecting to see my actions result in a significant shift towards an earthly recognition of the power of God any time soon.

Am I too old for this psalm? God is a lot older than me. Now, new years, is time to rekindle some crusading zeal, so I’ll pray about that.

Job 1

I’ve been dreading job for some reason. I love the book, I love the wisdom and poetry section of the Bible in general, but it feels like a big commitment.

Anyway, chapter one is a great start, and well known.

It sets up the dispute in heaven between God and Satan, an oppositional angel: job is righteous and blameless, but is it only because God gave him great wealth and success?

So God lets Satan take away Job’s blessing, to see if he will curse God.

In a series of events he loses his children and wealth.

There’s much I could say, and will no doubt. But for now, my first impression is that it taps into everyone’s fear. You don’t have to lose everything to have survivor guilt.

I spent the weekend with a dear friend, single mum whose brilliant daughter, same age as my oldest so now in her 20s, had immune encephalitis. A headache one day, a lifetime of feeding her, toileting her, very high needs.

There but for the grace of God. The random injustice of the world hangs there for all of us.

That is the subject of our exploration.

I suppose the thing is I feel it’s not top priority for me at the moment. I feel I have a pretty good handle on the ‘why does god allow suffering’ question. It sounds terribly arrogant, but 40 chapters of ‘dense Hebrew poetry’ as it’s often described, on that subject, seems a bit boring to me. Lots of scratching not much itching.

But the spirit has led me safe thus far, I plan to read the whole scriptures, so lets see how it unfolds.

Starting a new week, feeling quite upbeat after a relaxing weekend. Big improvement over last week.

1 Chronicles 22

David all but builds the temple. The lavish building materials must have made depressing reading for the post exile Jews. They weren’t in a position to get 4 thousand tons of gold, 40 thousand tons of silver, and unlimited bronze. The bronze is mentioned twice.

Now we get judgement on the killing David did. He fought many many wars which are blandly noted in Samuel and Chronicles. At times he was a mercenary, this poet come killing machine. But here he mentions that it is one of the reasons God didn’t let him build the temple. He was judged after all.

I was also struck by rounding up foreigners and making them work on the temple. The good treatment of foreigners, not oppressing them because of the memory of Israel’s own slavery in Egypt, is mentioned 36 times in the books of the law. I saw it, didn’t David?

Moses didn’t get the promised land, Cain killed Able, Jacob cheated Isaac, Solomon built the temple and john the baptist pointed to Jesus. The constant deferment, moving to the second plan in the Bible. It makes sure it didn’t coalesce until Jesus.

But it’s also the result of sin.

I’m in a funk, poor focus at work. The instability is getting to me. I’ve come into a time of uncertainty, I’m no good at opportunism, I have no taste for it.

Fortunately I’m getting a fellow worker, someone to supervise. That will be an improvement, keep me focused.

I really want to do a good job, and I can imagine what a better job would look like but can’t summon up the energy to do it. I’ve been in this place many times before in my life!

It’s a kind of overthinking, a kind of pride I think. Just do what you can. Be normal. People like normal!

God can redeem the mess made by our sin, build it into his plans. Ask forgivness and move on. Do what can be done today.

Isaiah 10

Will an axe boast that it is better than the one who wields it?

A condemnation of Israelites who opress the poor and vulnerable. They are bringing judgement. A metaphor of a nest of wealth, and God’s judgement like taking the eggs of a chicken.

A condemnation of Assyria, the axe, the rod by which God brings judgement.  They’ll become arrogant in their run of victory. But their turn will come to be judged too.

Cue the prediction of the return of the remnant.

Isiah does not follow a structured argument, he weaves themes. Most of it is poetic in form.

It seems compiled from writing over a period of time responding to various events with writings and statements that return to, and build upon the same themes.

I’m feeling busy, a little down, lost in my list of things to do. Somewhat overworked and overwhelmed.

Trying to connect with the idea of Isaiah as someone who deals in extremes. He flicks from despair to hope. It’s all going to be destroyed. It will also be returned, better than it was.

Anything but “meh”, where I am. And where his audience often we too, no doubt.

 

 

 

Genesis 28

Grace in a shabby world. 

Jacob is no better than anyone really. He’s just betrayed God as surely as Peter did. But he is chosen. Though him will come blessing.

He is given a vision of god’s perspective. Heaven and earth linked and his angels passing between the two.

Genesis has these exultant moments of grace amongst all the petty nasty banality. God intervenes.

He’s intervened in my life too. Back to work, long hours chained to an irrelevant place so I can fund the rest of my family. But I gave been chosen, blessed.

Give me wisdom lord.

Malachi 1

Malachi is the last book of the old testament and last chronologically. Israel has been great, then exiled, broken and scattered; and then with great rejoicing was miraculously bought back and Jerusalem and the temple rebuilt.

If the opening chapter sets the tone, this book is a downer, it’s the “but…” after the happily ever after. The honeymoon is over and cracks are appearing.

God has done big things, God has been generous in grace, but the people have been small in response. They give the diseased and the useless animals for sacrifice. God gets the left overs.  They have a show of caring about God, a show of gratitude and praise, but it’s hollow. They actually don’t care, and God says it would be more honest if they just closed the temple and gave up.

For me this is practical. How much do I give to God? I live a life that is mostly work, time wise. It feeds and clothes my family but it chews up so much of my time on earth.

Help me learn as I read this lord what is really important. May I be open to seeing my faults.