Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

Fan, or… something else?

As I sit and think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I am struck by the reality that sometimes I have no clue how it really happens. I can look back over my life and I realize that one day I was introduced to the person of Jesus, and then nearly three decades later it’s like I blinked ….and I see that my life has been full of watching people and walking beside people that know Jesus, and that is part of how I learned. They have walked through the ups and downs of life with me all these years (and I have with them as well). As a result, I can honestly say I have fallen in love with who Jesus is, his purposes to show such ridiculous grace to this entire world, and his kingdom values where the poor are lifted up, the broken and lost find hope and healing, and everyone gets to play.

But see, I don’t think we can get a full picture of who Jesus is just by being around his people. Because, if you ask them, they probably learned much of what they know from studying Jesus himself, by reading their bible and diving in, and by leaning on the character of God when life didn’t measure up. But why is this hard nowadays?

Whether you have been in church for some time, whether you are new to it all, or somewhere in between — I think sometimes what we have a tendency treat the actual stories of Jesus as if they were on our Instagram feed.

We scroll through the pages of scripture, convenient with subtitles and/or red-lettering, and we go “that’s a cool story” (double tap HEART)… not sure about that one… and, just like on Instagram, we love and comment on the bite-size stories that present themselves.

Its like having a window into someone else’s life, much like we see on social media.

But we stop there.

If Jesus parables and stories are intended to be a window into the kingdom he came to bring, then shouldn’t we put a bit more study into it than just slighly remembering the story? Instagram pix might be great for catching up, showing something you are proud of or you think is beautiful, maybe its for selling a product or any number of other things… but Jesus came to transform us….. and it takes more than just liking a parable to transform.

I know sometimes we wrestle with seeing how very different Jesus and his ways were in his day and culture, and how shocking what he said might have been to his hearers, and maybe that makes it difficult for us to tranlate to our own day and age. But if we are to really be a disciple of Jesus, we must look. We must question. We must let it transform us.

Its the difference between being a “fan” … and someone who is falling in love with the God who loves them.

It’s interesting for me too, as I start writing my first exegetical paper for one of my seminary classes. See, I have chosen a passage from Hebrews (5:12-14) where the author is challenging his audience and their spiritual maturity. The writer is an intellectual of sorts, familiar with Greek reasoning and ways of dialogue, and he is trying to challenge things that are distracting the church body from maturing in their faith…. and they are distracted precisely because they have stayed at only being content to know the basics of faith: repentance, baptism, resurrection, etc.

N.T Wright leverages a challenge in his commentary on this passage, that we who profess faith should always be aware if our answer to grasping the more difficult things of the faith is “I don’t get it, that’s too difficult to understand”.

That doesn’t mean that we get it all right away though, so please don’t think I am saying that. What I am saying is that we need to remain teachable, always learners to how God is at work in the world around us, how the words of Jesus need to transform us from the inside out – and how we need to be willing to wrestle with the difficult things our world presents us today.

God is not absent from this world, my friends. We may not always be able to see it, but if you really seek to follow Jesus.. I can guarantee you will get it one day. Be willing to be like Jacob and wrestle, or like Thomas and ask for proof. Just don’t close your eyes and stop looking!

A possible new take on Eph 2:3

Yes, friends, this is my bookshelf. One of them. After having gotten rid of just as many before we moved to Colorado, believe it or not! I am all for e-readers and Amazon Kindle.. but there is something about reading an actual book for me. I like to be able to highlight and mark up what strikes me as I’m reading – mostly because I fly through books and can’t recall which one I was reading that made such a great point – but if I can flip back through them I can find my notes!

This summer, I’ve been doing some “light” reading (just kidding – theology books not required by seminary, just stuff I’m interested in. You know, 300 page books that take a month to read. Those I got delivered to my ipad.. much easier for toting around). One of them recently reminded me of a passage I read over earlier this year and had started researching.

Ephesians 2:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath”. (Or as some bibles translate, objects of wrath, or children of wrath)

I have always cringed getting to that last part.

The concept of God being wrathful is something I struggle with … and I am pretty sure I am not the only one, either.

This idea of being under or deserving God’s wrath fits well with the Old Testament view of God being full of wrath for the enemies of Israel, and how Ancient Near East (ANE) peoples understood gods to be.

Yet I cannot help but wonder if Paul’s statement was spoken not only as a Jew who once believed that God had wrath for anyone not following the law, but also to a group of people whose worldview believed in wrath as well (like did his gentile audience believe their gods were wrathful, and thus he was including himself in the description of being deserving of wrath?)

I know the idea of wrath seems to be all over the pages of the Hebrew bible (our OT). I know Paul speaks about it. Yet if Jesus was God in the flesh, and Jesus himself was not full of wrath, how then can we say the character of God is wrathful? I will be honest, the picture I am getting as I go through my OT classes is a completely different picture. I’ll have to unpack that later as I go through round two this next semester 🙂

Anyway…. I recently re-read Tony Jones book “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin”, and just like the first time I read it, it opened my eyes to views of the atonement of Jesus that do not require God to be a god of wrath. Did you know they were out there? That is certainly something I was never taught in the evangelical church!

So I looked up the Greek for the last part of Ephesians 2:3

First off, I will say that the word “deserving of” [wrath] isn’t in there. these are the words that are:

_____

We were (eimi) – to exist, to be present (so this is present tense.. reads better as “are”)

By nature (same) – by nature

Children – (teknon) – children, offspring

Of (same) – of

Wrath – (orge) – anger, indignation, violent emotions, impulse, natural disposition or temperament; movement or agitation of the soul, especially anger

Is it possible when Paul spoke of wrath in this passage that he was referring more to OUR character and nature instead of God’s? That we, before we understood the transforming nature of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we naturally were governed more by violent emotions, anger, impulsivity, and the like?

This understanding would certainly fit with the previous verse where Paul is speaking about satisfying the cravings of the flesh. In addition, when you look further towards verse 12 where he addresses the way Gentiles were formerly excluded from citizenship and the promises of Israel, he doesn’t speak of Gentiles being under wrath there at all, which you would think Paul might state, if he thought everyone outside of Israel was under God’s wrath.

It’s nothing groundbreaking, and certainly not anything some of you might have not unpacked yourself, but it certainly broke through a difficult section of scripture for me so I thought I’d share!

A little disagreement with Paul

Alright – today ya’ll I am going to be a bit more theological, I hope you don’t mind.

Our Passage: Galatians 4:25 through 31

I’m reading though Galatians this week, and as I come to this section, I am having an issue with what Paul is doing with it. I can clearly see he is talking to the people of the city, and, based on the previous chapters, trying to remind them that in Christ, they have freedom – so stop trying to earn God’s favor and covenant relationship by adhering to the law. He is speaking to a first century audience, one that has been walking in freedom in Christ yet is now being challenged to be more stringent by those who obey the law.

What bothers me is the Hagar and Sarah story usage. I get where he is going, I can see the analogy he’s making about how the Jews in the earthly Jerusalem are in slavery as they were unwilling to accept what God had done through Jesus, yet those who believed in Jesus and accepted his forgiveness were now citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem”. Yet after finishing my Old Testament course, I see this passage with completely new eyes.

I do not deny that the apostle Paul was inspired by the Lord to write this for his Galatian audience. I do not deny that those who cling to Jesus are children of promise. However, his analogy with the slave and free woman, I have to beg to differ.

The way I see it, Paul actually took a piece of scripture out of context to make his point.

In verse 30 he says:

“But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son’. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Again, I get the analogy he is making, and I won’t deny the point of us focusing on the freedom we have in Christ being the one who justifies us, rather than adherence to a set of religious rules.

But have you gone back to read the passage Paul is referencing (Genesis 21:10)? That’s not something God said, it’s what Sarah told Abraham once Isaac had been born.

Hagar and Ishmael had been around for 13 years until Isaac was born. A big feast held when Isaac had been weaned (could have been his 2nd or 3rd year)… and the text tells us that Ishmael was mocking them.

So Sarah did what any mother might naturally do when you see a teenager mocking your toddler. GET OUT OF HERE! Leave him alone. Let’s not spiritualize this too much: Her momma bear came out. I wouldn’t doubt if in the back of her head she was also thinking “he doesn’t matter anyway, MY SON is the one God promised.” (I know, some of you are probably cringing that I would assign a very selfish thought to Sarah here. But she was… human…)

Abraham was actually concerned at what Sarah was asking. Keep in mind, Ishmael was the only son he had known for 13 years until Isaac was born. He loved Ishmael. So he asked the Lord what to do. God’s response was still full of promise. Yes, he said Abraham could acquiesce and send Hagar and Ishmael away, but he promised that Ishmael would also become a great nation because he was Abraham’s seed as well.

Then what we see the text showing us is that God took care of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:15-20). He didn’t abandon them whatsoever… He saw her need, and He provided for her.

This passage in Genesis, rather than condemning Hagar and her son, actually shows us God’s heart of compassion for those who are rejected and outcast. We also have to recognize that, once she left Sarah’s company, Hagar wasn’t a slave any more… she was free, and was a mother of someone that would father a nation on his own.

How’s that for throwing a wrench into Paul’s analogy?

I’m not saying his analogy didn’t work for the Galatians. I can see pieces of it now, and recognize what he is saying. Yet for me, everything in me now cries out to see this a little differently. Paul used pieces of the Old Testament to make his point, but he made an analogy and point that the original text wasn’t actually trying to make.

Man. That is a lot to think about at 7:45am. Come to think of it, I better run – it’s Saturday and I have places to go!

Hope you have a refreshing and restful weekend, whatever your plans!