bible blog 819

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Massacre at Daraya, Syria

How can God permit it?

Job 4:1, 5:1-11, 17-21, 26-27

Eliphaz Speaks: Job Has Sinned

4Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

5‘Call now; is there anyone who will answer you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?
2 Surely vexation kills the fool,    and jealousy slays the simple.
3 I have seen fools taking root,    but suddenly God cursed their dwelling.
4 Their children are far from safety,    they are crushed in the gate,    and there is no one to deliver them.
5 The hungry eat their harvest,    and they take it even out of the thorns;*    and the thirsty* pant after their wealth.
6 For misery does not come from the earth,    nor does trouble sprout from the ground;
7 but human beings are born to trouble    just as sparks* fly upward.
8 ‘As for me, I would seek God,    and to God I would commit my cause.
9 He does great things and unsearchable,    marvellous things without number.
10 He gives rain on the earth    and sends waters on the fields;
11 he sets on high those who are lowly,    and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
17 ‘How happy is the one whom God reproves;    therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.*
18 For he wounds, but he binds up;    he strikes, but his hands heal.
19 He will deliver you from six troubles;    in seven no harm shall touch you.
20 In famine he will redeem you from death,    and in war from the power of the sword.
21 You shall be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,    and shall not fear destruction when it comes.
26 You shall come to your grave in ripe old age,    as a shock of grain comes up to the threshing-floor in its season.
27 See, we have searched this out; it is true.    Hear, and know it for yourself.’

Satan inflicting boils on Job, with God’s permission (Blake)

The book of Job begns with God praising Job as a righteous faithful worshipper. Satan, acting as Devil’s advocate, points out that Job is healthy, wealthy and happy with his family. “Take these good gifts away,” Satan says, “and he’ll curse you to your face.” And when one by one, his wealth, family health and happiness are taken from him, Job more or less does curse God, demanding an answer as to why these misfortunes have come upon him. The author of this drama (for that’s what it is, a theological drama) then invents the characters known as “Job’s comforters” who give him pious wisdom and rebuke him for his wild accusuations against God. The speech above is one such piece of comfort. Remember, it’s addressed to a man who’s lost all his family and barely sustains his own life, covered with sores! Trouble is endemic to human life, the comforter says. Fools neglect this truth, but the wise bear it in mind. The only wise thing to do is to trust in the Lord who provides for all his creatures. Yes, he can be a bit unpredictable in the short term but in the long term he will look after those who are faithful to him. All this sounds very like the pious advice that many religious people might offer today. Yet here it is put in the mouth of someone whom the drama will reveal as a fool; as one too easily satisfied with religious platitudes, whereas Job who demands answers and will not accept easy excuses for God’s management of the world, is shown to have been faithful and worthy of a reply from God himself.

It’s not an easy or comforting book, as we shall see, but its demolition of comfortable faith is a permanent corrective to the sort of people who think God answers their prayers by finding them empty spaces in crowded parking lots while ignoring the anguished prayers of their neighbours whose child is dying of leukemia. The suffering of others, like Job’s suffering, asks terrible questions about God which can be ignored only by those who are determined to keep their faith trivial. To live with the questions is the only way to recognise an answer, but even then, as this great drama reveals, the answer may go beyond human understanding. This book has epecially assisted my understanding, as a Christian believer, of the story of Jesus.

(I would encourage people to read a good translation of the book of Job in a “study bible” version, so that some guidance is available. They should avoid pious study bibles which feel they have to protect God from hard questions. Use Oxford or Cambridge or New Jerusalem Study Bibles to find good guidance.)

Acts 9:19-31

19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul Preaches in Damascus

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus,20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’21All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus* was the Messiah.*

Saul Escapes from the Jews

23 After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him;25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,* lowering him in a basket.<!– 26 –>

Saul in Jerusalem

26 When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.30When the believers* learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

God’s universal love unacceptable to some

Luke has begun telling his readers the story of Saul/ Paul who will bcome the great missionary to the gentiles, that is, to all the various nationalities and ethnic groups of the Roman empire. His controversy with orthodox Jews immediately leads to an attempt on his life; while his introduction to the disciples of Jesus requires Barnabas to smooth his path. Even then his distinctive vision makes him unpopular with Jewish ultras (Hellenists) and he is sent away for his own good. These are only hints of the trouble that Paul will cause by his unswerving message that in Jesus God has declared equal love for all human beings. To some religious minds this an unaccepatble truth: as it was to slave owners in theUSA; to the Dutch reformed Church  in Apartheid South Africa; to the many Churches that deny God’s love for homosexual people; and to all those Christian males who think that God doesn’t trust women enough to put them in charge of men. The universal and all inclusive love of God in Jesus as declared by Paul has been from the start as disruptive as it is wonderful.

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