5.1.12

Get a haircut, and get a real Job (pronounced Jobe...)

The last few days, I have been reading Job.  I was thinking about reading the bible cover to cover this year, but wanted to do something different. I have done Genesis to Revelations, I have done one section fromt the OT, one from Psalms, one from Proverbs, and one from the NT every day.  So I decided this time to try it chronologically.  As it stands, I spent the last few days with the man of constant sorrows.  And I have to say: I am really fascinated by Job.  I have read his story before, and have understood it on an overall level: sometimes bad things happen to bad people for not discernible reason. 

But as I read it this time, I noticed myself dissecting  it that little bit further.  I decided to note down my thoughts on it, and figured it might make an interesting blog entry.  For those of my readers who don’t know the story, here is the rundown:  Job was a good man.  He was obedient to God.  He was also rich as hell, and had a big happy family.  The story never says if one caused the other, or if these facts are incidental (and this becomes one of the key plot points!)  Anyways, Satan asks to tempt Job.  First, he takes his wealth away.  Job still praises God.  Satan comes back for round two, and takes away Job’s health.  Job still praises God, but starts to wonder why his life sucks.  He isn’t so much angry at God, as he is confused by why he is suffering.  Job’s friends come by and say it is because he sinned.  Their basic argument is that God is just, so good people prosper, and bad people suffer.  Job contends that he hasn’t sinned, his friends call him a liar, and his wife tells him to curse God and die.  God comes down and says to Job et al, it isn’t that simple.  I AM just, but you won’t always get what I am doing.  He tells Job’s friends to repent, and Job is blessed with even more wealth, and a bigger family, and a long happy life!

I want to tackle a few things here, but the first is a character study of the four friends and Job’s wife.  I found some interesting trends in what arguments they used, and their purposes for arguing.  First, we have the four antagonists, the friends of Job.  Each one has different motivators, and uses different arguments, but all come to the same conclusion: Job’s losses are due to sin.

Eliphaz – This guy is interesting.  He is the only one who never says he took offence at what Job said.  He also uses “you did” less, and speaks more in terms of God’s capabilities versus man’s.  His arguments are very intellectual, and lack the passion the other two older friends show.
Bildad – Wow.  This guy is offended!  He thinks of Job as self-righteous, because if he is as good as he claims, then he is implying that Bildad isn’t.  Also, he keeps talking about how he isn’t stupid.  His arguments are raw and visceral, and flat out accusations.
Zophar – He has the shortest of the conversations with Job, and only comments once.  He claims his reason for speaking is to protect his “honour”.  Even though Job is defending rather than attacking, Zophar feels a need to defend his “reputation.”  His argument after that is very direct, and little more than an extended poetic that reinforces what the other two have already said.  Other than being chivalrous to his own ego, he doesn’t bring much to the party.
Elihu – This guy drives me nuts, because I know this guy!  Every time I struggle, be it with sin or with situation, this guy strolls into my life.  Here is the guy who starts by claiming his humility: “Oh, I let you speak first, because you are older, and I am respectful.  I am only speaking because the spirit prompted me to (Yeahh.... right!)”  He then does all but parrot the key arguments made by Eliphaz up to this point!  His only original thought is to warn Job not to go to those who would financially back him out of his “Punishment”, and that Job hangs out with bad eggs.  Almost nothing new comes from him.  I relate to this pompous windbag because I am him.  Lord, help me to never be Elihu again!

Character Study – Job’s Wife
I have her separate for two reasons: first, her contributions make up a single verse.  Second, she never accuses Job of wrong doing.  Instead, she simply tells him to stop trying to protect his integrity, curse God, and die!  I don’t want to analyze her, as I would have to do a lot of assumption to get to why she did what she did.  Let’s leave it at this: she told Job to give up.  Why?  We don't know?  Her motivation: unknown.  But there is one thing we do know:  God blessed her.  Job had more children... her children.  Job regained his wealth... wealth she would have partaken in.  Whatever her standing with God, whatever the intention behind her words, God blessed her.

Back to my thoughts on the story...
Job’s friends accuse him of basically one thing: earning his misfortune.  They claim he has sinned.  This includes hiding his sin, thinking he deserves to hear from God, blaming God for what he has received, and even hanging out with bad people.  Their arguments all revolve around trying to show Job that the wicked suffer (here on earth) while the righteous prosper (here on earth.)  They invoke God’s righteousness, God justice, God’s hatred of sin.  They argue that God would never hurt good people, and that God does hurt evil people.  The flaw in their argument is simple: they limit God.  True, God allows what happens in this world to happen.  It is His will.  But, suffering is not always a punishment.  And wealth or prosperity is not always a blessing.  Sometimes the good suffer while the wicked prevail (curse you Donald Trump!)  God gave pharaoh riches, but kept him evil so that he could motivate the Israelites to leave Egypt.  God blessed Solomon, even after he had multiple concubines.  David, when he was righteous, lost his wife and was an outcast rejected by the very king he protected.  But during his sin to Gideon, we see him overflowing with wealth.  II Corinthians tells us a simple fact: we go through the wringer so that we can succor those who suffer.  In other words, it teaches us empathy.  From Job, I learned a great deal, even though I never met the fella.  This tells me that suffering may also come so that someone else can learn from my pain... right back to II Corinthians 1:3-5!

Yes, I believe that some suffering is discipline, to wake me up and get me back on the right path.  And I think that some blessings are so that I can continue the good works that God has planned for me.  But I have also been cursed by wealth, and blessed in my trials.  In fact, I have always learned more from my trials, than I ever will from my periods of blessings (Reality check: I need to look back over that last sentence.  Something about it doesn’t feel right.)

After the repartee is behind them, God comes to them all in a storm.  Talk about a dramatic entrance!  I love how God answers Job's plea.  He starts by justifying those things his friends said that were right: we will never understand or measure up to God’s Power, wisdom, or authority.  Job’s only answer is to say that he repents of his sin, and realizes the arrogance in questioning God as just.  At this point, we would expect a stern lecture to Job, or for God to confirm his sin.  Instead, God rebukes the three friends (not Job’s wife or Elihu.  Insteresting…)  He then commands them to offer a very hefty sin offering: seven bullocks each (seven being the number of completion).  He adds that Job will pray for them, and he will accept Job’s prayer!  Talk about a kick in the pants!  He is essentially making Job the High priest over those who tried to point out Job’s unworthiness!  Finally, he blesses Job with even more than he had before.

So what does this tell me?  It tells me that what I consider justice, and what others consider justice, isn’t always corresponding to God’s justice.  I am limited, to say the least.  I do not have God’s knowledge.  I do not have his strength.  I do not have his power.  I do not have his experience, his control, his perfection.  I am a finite being trying to figure out the infinite and perfect.  And I need to accept my limitations and embrace God’s lack thereof.  If I suffer, I should praise God because it is somehow for my good.  If I should prosper, I should praise God, because it is somehow for my good.  And if I stagnate, then I need to worry.  (I have drank water from a stagnantpond.  Not good!  (And yes, the link is to Beef Magazine!  Isn't that awesome?))  As followers of Christ, we should embrace all that the Creator gives us: good and bad, loss and gain.  Rather than looking at how easy or hard it makes our life, we should be asking: what am I to learn?  And more importantly, what I am to do?

One more thing: teh book of Job was, according to tradition, written very early on, possibly before or around the time of Abram (soon to be Abraham.)  The Mosaic organization of the church had not yet taken place, and much of the structure of Israel is yet to come, not to mention that there is little of what we now consider the bible, if anything at all.  In some ways, given the lack of available scripture and the lack of modern communication of gospel truths (John piper has a blog!  What did Elihu have?  Papyrus and ink made from ground bugs?), I can almost understand his friend’s possible misunderstanding of the Word.  They couldn’t open to Romans, or read of God’s mercies to the wicked in Psalms.  I get that. 

But… what is my excuse?  When I offer my brother condemnation rather than comfort; when I see his trial, and accuse him of sin; when I let my pride govern my response, rather than my love; what can I blame?  I know better, but I still do the same things that Eliphaz did, intellectualizing another’s suffering.  I still whine like Bildad when someone doesn’t acknowledge my image or opinion of the situation as gospel, taking it as a personal slight.  Like Zophar, I sometimes protect my honour more than I seek the truth.  And like Elihu, I sometimes feign piety when trying to convince others of their sin (beams and motes come to mind…)

God, forgive me for my arrogance, and my blindness.  Lord, thank you for taking the time to use Job to teach me to spend less time critiquing others, and more time on my obedience to you in ALL aspects of my Christian walk.  Help me to be more like Job, “But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”  Let me offer relief first, even if You call me to rebuke.  Let me be honest and true to You, while still making love and support my number one priority.  Thank you for the chastisement God.  I wasn’t expecting it, but I appreciate.  Love you, Lord!

5.12.11

Not enough faith to be an Atheist? Part 1 - Absolute Truth

This is the first in a 6 part series.
As some of you may know, I am not an atheist. Nor am I an agnostic. I am also not a professional bowler, nor do my feet smell like roses. I could list other attributes about myself, but I think these four are pretty revealing, and enough for what I want to write about for the next six blogs or so.
A few months ago, I was talking with someone online who was an atheist. In the course of the conversation, I tried to explain that Atheism required as much faith as believing in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He tried to explain that Atheism is not faith, but a lack of faith, specifically in God. And no matter what I said to him, he went back to this one point. I politely bowed out of our very cordial discussion (it really was!) and I got to thinking. A lot. For about five months! My first thought was a simple one: what is faith? This led to a second thought: why am I a Christian, and not an atheist? From this came a third thought: am I out of peanut butter already (that last thought has little to do with this blog, but it did prompt me to buy a large container that I now keep in my drawer at work. True story!) So this series which I am writing, is the outcome of the mental gymnastics I have been doing since that encounter.
What I want to do over the next few days is explain why I couldn’t be an atheist. I want to explain why my faith isn’t strong enough to believe in the absence of God. From the start, I have to tell you that I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. There are many great authors (both Christian and not) who have tackled this subject with much greater finesse than I ever could. But I am not here to prove anyone wrong. I don’t expect anything I do to convert anyone to a knowledge of God. Rather this is just an explanation of why my faith is what it is. So please forgive the typos, the inadvertent strawman, and the occasional Occam's Razor. Like I said, I am by no means an expert in Apologetics. If anything, the older I get the more I realize just how na├»ve I am.
To make this easier for me, I am breaking it down into six topics. They follow, at least in my head, a logical order where the one builds upon the next. I’ll outline them briefly now, and get into them over the next few days. After that, I will start on the first one.
1 – Absolute Truth – My belief that there is absolute truth.
2 – The Second Law of Thermodynamics – My problem with the idea of a random or accidental creation of the universe.
3 – Adolf Hitler and Martha Stewart – The issue of Moral Relativism.
4 – Einstein’s Static Universe – The limitations of man.
5 – The Charlie Brown Principle – The need for meaning in Life.
6 – The Three Monkeys – Denying or acknowledging my own experiences.
Now before I finally begin, let me be clear: there will be quotes from the bible. There will also be other quotes and links to both secular and spiritual sources. And if you are really good, there may even be cake! (OK, the cake part was a lie, but if any of you want to meet for coffee and a pastry, hook me up!) So, on with the show….
Not Enough Faith to be an Atheist:
My First Issue: Absolute Truth
I had a very interesting discussion with an eight-year old recently. We were talking about a time I had told her I had seen a U.F.O. (note: a UFO! I do not claim to have seen an extra-terrestrial, nor am I sure I even believe in intelligent life on other planets. But, I have seen a flying object which I could not identify.) She went on to tell me that UFO’s were not real. I didn’t argue the point as I knew that she meant E.T. phoning home, and not merely sky-bound phenomenon. She then went on to say something else that floored me: “…and ninjas aren’t real either!”
What? What kind of eight-year old doesn’t believe in the awesomeness of ninjas? I tried to explain the role of shinobi in feudal Japan in the 15th century, but she simply refused to believe that ninjas ever really existed. It is a sad world we live in, when ninjas are placed in the same locker of reality as Alf and Santa Claus. I mean, ninjas are amazing! They sneak around in black pajamas, kill people with hollowed-out duck eggs and poison knitting needles, and they get all the best lines in the movies! Who wouldn’t want to believe in ninjas? But try as I might, this stubborn specimen of pre-pubescent intellectualism had no room in her world-view for Japanese pre-industrial super assassins.
As I tried to explain my point further, she then let out the second shocker of the day: “That is just your opinion, Wayne. And I have mine.” So, the existence of ninjas is… opinion? I tried to explain to her the difference between opinion and fact, but no matter what I tried, she simply refused to see that what we were debating was a matter of fact, and not opinion. To be honest, I love talking with this little munchkin. She is extremely intelligent for her age, and believes nothing easily. She searches for proofs and evidences in anything people present to her as facts. But, if she can’t see the logic in it, then she merely files it under “opinion”, allowing both parties to think they are right. (As a side note, this has since become a bit of a bonding point between us! Any time I tell her something she simply cannot believe, she will tell me that ninjas aren’t real, either! LOL!)
This weird little discussion outlines something I very strongly believe in: Ninjas! No, that’s not it… What was it again? Oh yeah… Absolute Truth. I believe that there are some things that are inherently correct and true, what we sometimes call facts. In my opinion, gravity is a fact. I also believe in thermodynamics, the rotation of the earth around the sun, that “A” is the first letter of the Roman alphabet, and millions of other little things (and not so little things.) I am sure that most of what I listed would be agreed upon by 99% or more of the people in the world. I am sure that there would be little room for debate. Sure, you always get the odd job here or there, but most of what we are discussing is considered universal truth.
At this point, some of you may wonder what any of this has to do with God.  Well, it is this: Either God is real, or He isn't.  This isn't a case for opinion, but a case of fact.  Either he exists, or he doesn't.  It's really that simple.  After all, we are talking about an entity in the universe.  So, just like Elvis, unicorns, Ravi Zacharias, and Invader Zim, either God is real, or He is a figment of my imagination. 

This may seem trivial, but it isn't.  You see, we go back to absolute truth.  Either something is real, or it isn't.  Obviously, there are those beliefs that fall into opinions, those that are matters of taste, rather than fact.  These are the things that are based not upon reality, but our own subjective beliefs.  Is blue prettier than white?  Does West Ham suck this year?  Is Johnny Cash the greatest singer ever?  These are all matters of opinion.  There is no right or wrong (except that West Ham are rather suck-ish this year...)

And we live in a society that places matters of religion into the category of opinion.  But unlike whether broccoli is better cooked or raw, God either is or isn't.  So, if God is real, then we have to ask additional questions: what is our relationship to Him, His relationship to us?  What obligations do we hold to each other?  What, if anything, does He expect of us?  You see, if there is a divine Creator, then we are His creation.  And just like clay yields to the potter, we must yield to Him.  And if He isn't, then we have a moral obligation to... well... what do we have a moral obligation to?  (I better tackle that one later.)

Next time, I'll start talking about my first issue of atheistic faith, and that is: The Second Law of Thermodynamics.