Song of Songs 6

This passage is easy on one level yet impossible on another. You have to squint I think and step back from the detail.

At the distant level three phrases went through my mind:

“Whose garden?”

“You’re the one”

“The grandeur”.

In the emotional flow of it, last chapter she feared she may have lost her beloved. Now he’s back, and they are closer than ever.

Whose garden? The vineyard was introduced as her inmost private self, and her sexuality. Now the garden is also his. There are a variety plants. It’s a place owned by both of them, their shared inmost being and sexuality.

She flips the love declaration from earlier in the book. First it was “my beloved is mine, and I am his”. Now it’s “I am my beloved’s and he is mine”.

They are deep in trust and closeness, losing track of where one stops and the other starts.

You’re the one. He describes his love for her. It overwhelms him, he has to look away she’s so beautiful. She is unique to him, forget even the King’s harem of the most gorgeous women in the kingdom, none can compare.

The grandeur. She’s not just gorgeous, she’s majestic. Reminded me of “…we could be royals” the song by Lorde (what is it about her music and this book?).

He compares his love to… the glitziest and the most spiritual cities, Tizrah and Jerusalem. To banners of troops. To the dawn, the moon, the sun and the stars.

He is transported from the garden, all a-bloom with spring to the noble chariots of the capital, her calls her a female version of Solomons name: “Shulmalite”.

It’s that wedding day feeling: you are inseparable, your partner is the best in the world, and your romance is one for the ages.

This is not a diary or a blog. It’s not documentary. It’s a poetic script, designed for some sort of performance, including parts for a chorus of friends to link the sections. It’s Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde (But not tragic).

It’s this idealised abstraction of relationships – a supercut I said earlier, a better picture of love than our actual relationships can sustain.

I do still cry at weddings, taken aback by riskyness of their promise of love before God, treasuring all the more my beautiful Kelly sitting beside me. It doesn’t have to work out as wonderful as it did for us. And still never perfect perhaps, but what richness in the discoveries together, such as I could never have imagined.

What am I saying? I don’t know… It’s a bit too much this book. So unrelenting in focus, like consuming a whole plate of Turkish delight in one sitting.

All of these wisdom books are: Ecclesiastes is too much existential angst, proverbs has too many proverbs, psalms has more than enough measures of praise and despair for a lifetime: you never finish psalms. And Job: God himself is just too much.

It’s like God said “ok lets do this, let talk life, death, love infinity, all the obsessions of your imaginations,” but because he is God, the brew is always verging on too strong too heady for us. “100 ways to blow our tiny minds”. There’s an album concept for these books!

Praise God I suppose. I bow to a stronger force. You really are the source, the richest take on all these things. You win!

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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 17

It’s not proverbs’ fault.

I have found a book that is deeply unsuited to reading a chapter at a time first thing in the morning.

Like taking a car manual to a book club, this book has exposed that my rigid formula for Bible reading does not match every kind of writing.

Proverbs of all things, having made it though Numbers and Daniel!

I’ll try taking the maxim that has helped in the past – focus on what it says about God – but here I’ll adjust to real time: what is God saying to you?

More than just “what is your favourite proverb?” – I’ll ask: “what speaks to my soul?”  The murmurings of the unquenched Spirit.

So scan proverbs 17 again, here goes:

God refines out the spirtual gold and silver in my heart.

These proverbs illustrate living in a state of spiritual sensitivity.

There is a control of anger, of temptation to ungodly shortcuts to happiness, like bribes or cheating, or simply ignoring the injustice and misery around you. But those will kill the spirit.

If we listen to God he will soften our hearts and purify our minds.

I worry about my family a lot, but I need to connect more. I have trouble connecting.

I’ll talk to Kelly about how to connect.

Father help me be a channel of your peace.

PS: And though I’m trying not to do ‘what was your fave proverb’ there was one I don’t want to forget:

‘A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor;
Wherever he turns, he prospers.’

The present is the same word for bribe – its at the least a gift to curry favour. Its quite obscure but its saying the person who makes a bribe or manipulative gift thinks of it as a precious stone, when they imagine all sorts of opportunities opening up for themselves by giving it.

The image of ‘wherever he turns…’ is of turning a precious stone in your hand, and seeing gleams in every facet. Its not judging it, though in context its scarcely the kind of behaviour the godly are advised to undertake.

I think its just observational, saying how life is. You’ll encounter people big noting their influence, their ability to be slick, and one step ahead of the system. Somehow to me, thinking of it as them turning their jewel puts it in context, makes it easier not to find threatening.

Proverbs 16

The most famous classic this chapter? ‘Pride comes before a fall’.

Some big topics here, the interaction of our will and God’s will, and the interaction of political power and righteousness.

For example, at first blush this sounds like a pretty verse for a poster:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

But what does it actually mean? There are several such conundrums:

To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.

Jesus had a habit of speaking this way too, seemingly straightforward statements that don’t tease out as easily as they seem they should.

It seems to be embracing the mysteries of predestination: we have control over our actions, and they are within God’s eternal plan.  Plus, I suppose, if you are looking at the difference between what we think about doing vs. what we end up actually saying and doing… the plan can turn on a dime, but the actions are written in eternity.

Maybe its like the difference between temptation and sin, but with a positive spin: thinking about doing the right thing vs. doing the right thing.

That’s not a king… this is a king!

The characteristics attributed to a king make one doubt that most earthly kings are kings at all: speaking justice like an oracle, detesting wrongdoing, & maintaining the throne through the value they place on righteousness, honesty and truth. The mere brightening of their face brings life – like a raincloud in spring.

There are a lot of proverbs about humility interspersed. I mean, said no earthly king virtually ever:

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
    than to share plunder with the proud.

Maybe that is the point. We’ve had a few proverbs about the character of the Lord just before this group: the Lord atones for sins, engineers peace, works out everything for a proper end and sees the true motives behind our actions.

The ideal of kingship could only be fulfilled by God. For us citizens, following the king’s ethic is associated with all sorts of rewards – prosperity, blessing, a fountain of life, healing.

So we have here this complex interplay of responsibility for our choices and actions,  being governed by higher authority and inspired by holy example.  Its urging us to be mindful before we act, and remember that our actions are eternal and become God’s plan for good or ill.

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 40

A commenter pointed out that Job basically had a great time with God in the past two chapters.

God continues to ask rhetorical questions the chapter, but he brings the teaching home more specifically to Job. It’s a still gentle, non attacking approach as I read it.

God pretty much asks job if he agrees, after they’ve looked at many wonders of creation and nature together, that they can’t really have the discussion job wants to have, where he lays out his case against God and God defends himself. It’s just not appropriate. God can ask the questions, not Job.

And job agrees. He covers his mouth, he has no answer to the questions God has posed. He’s speaking completely differently now, he understands he’s not as big of a deal as he thought he was, but equally that he is not forgotten. At the centre of this vast evolving tapestry of life and creation, God is patiently guiding him in love.

God says, when job understands and can share the rules of life and death, judgement, the role his wrath plays, then they will be able to discuss his case as equals.

He compares Jobs strength to a hippopotamus (most likely… A bit unclear).

This is a bit like those photos that include something for scale. Hippopotamus included for scale. Job much weaker and smaller, not a chance of controlling it. God much stronger. Made the hippo.

Again, a very clear and non judgemental way of demonstrating to job that they simply can’t have the conversation he wanted to have.

In the era of the tweet, the 42 chapter poem of Job is paced more majestically than I’m used to. But it’s certainly effective, I’ve gone on the journey.

I could see where the friends were coming from, I thought job had a point, but God has effectively shut me up without alienating me. Quite the reverse.

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 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.

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!

2 Chronicles 7

Continuing with the dedication of the temple. After Solomon prays, God acts, sending cloud and fire to burn the sacrifice.

The celebrations go for 3 weeks, involved crazy number of animals being sacrificed. Foreign leaders were there. After it all everyone goes home happy.

Then God speaks to Solomon and accepts the temple. He says his name, his heart and his ears will be there forever, and he will hear prayers offered there.

He offers two ways it can go from here, 2 ways to live if you will. Following other Gods, or him.

Spoiler alert, pay attention to the option where they don’t stick to it and the temple ends up rubble.

This all seems very remote from me today. Of course I can still worship other Gods. If I am now the temple of God, I suppose he’s saying I have the choice to have it rejected by God and his presence withdrawn.

I’m praying for family as ever, for financial self discipline and responsibility.