bible blog 1403

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

CHILD REFUGEE WITH BABY BROTHER IN US SAYS, “WE ARE IN GOD’S HANDS” salvador

Job 5 NIRV – 

Eliphaz answered,

“Call out if you want to, Job.
    But who will answer you?
    Which one of the holy angels will you turn to?
Anger kills foolish people.
    Jealousy destroys those who are childish.
I saw that foolish people were having success.
    But suddenly a curse came down on their houses.
Their children aren’t safe at all.
    They lose their case in court.
    No one speaks up for them.
Hungry people eat up the crops of those who are foolish.
    They even take the food that grows among thorns.
    Thirsty people long for the wealth of the foolish.
Hard times don’t just grow out of the soil.
    Trouble doesn’t jump out of the ground.
People are born to have trouble.
    And that’s just as sure as sparks fly up.

“If I were you, I’d make my appeal to God.
    I’d bring my case to be judged by him.
He does wonderful things that can’t be understood.
    He does miracles that can’t even be counted.
10 He sends rain on the earth.
    He sends water on the countryside.
11 He lifts up those who are lowly in spirit.
    He lifts up those who are sad.
    He keeps them safe.
12 He stops those who are tricky from doing what they plan to do.
    The work of their hands doesn’t succeed.
13 Some people think they are so wise.
    But God catches them in their own tricks.
    He sweeps away the evil plans of sinful people.
14 Darkness covers them in the daytime.
    At noon they feel their way around as if it were night.
15 God saves needy people from the cutting words of their enemies.
    He saves them from their powerful hands.
16 So those who are poor have hope.
    And God shuts the mouths of people who don’t treat others fairly.

tragedy17 “Blessed is the person God corrects.
    So don’t hate the Mighty One’s training.
18 He wounds. But he also bandages up those he wounds.
    He harms. But his hands also heal those he harms.
19 From six troubles he will save you.
    Even if you are in trouble seven times, no harm will come to you.
20 When there isn’t enough food, God will keep you from dying.
    When you go into battle, he won’t let a sword strike you down.
21 He will keep you safe from words that can hurt you.
    You won’t need to be afraid
    when everything is being destroyed.
22 You will laugh when things are being destroyed.
    You will enjoy life even when there isn’t enough food.
    You won’t be afraid of wild animals.
23 You will make a covenant with the stones in the fields.
    They won’t keep your crops from growing.
    Even wild animals will be at peace with you.
24 You will know that the tent you live in is secure.
    You will check out your property.
    You will see that nothing is missing.
25 You can be sure you will have a lot of children.
    They will be as many as the blades of grass on the earth.
26 You will go down to the grave
    while you are still very strong.
    You will be like a crop that is gathered at the right time.

27 “We have carefully studied all of those things.
    And they are true.
So pay attention to them.
    Apply them to yourself.”

THis follows Job’s outburst in which he cursed the day he was born and criticised his creator for giving him life. As I suggested in blog 1402 Job is struggling with an inadequate picture of God which comes from conventional religious piety. The author of this drama introduces us to Job’s pious friends, who aren’t suffering like Job and haven’t had to question their conventional view of God. Nevertheless their conventional wisdom is given an eloquent expression. Eliphaz says that God is beyond human criticism because He alone is the creator who provides for all living things and in particular for the poor and needy. Job would be better to appeal to God rather than criticise. Anger at suffering is foolish because it is the human lot, the common condition of humanity. Often people bring trouble on themselves. So why should Job think his suffering is special? 

Eliphaz  goes on to suggest that God sometimes tests people by exposing them to suffering, but he also brings healing and and underserved blessings. Job can look forward to good times in the future.

Van Gogh: OLd man in sorrow

Van Gogh: OLd man in sorrow

These words,he says, are the wisdom of Israel: Job should apply them to his own case.

The whole speech is a fine example of the sort of religious wisdom that evades the hard questions and offers a mild resignation as a remedy for the rage of those who suffer. But if God is no more than a fancy name for the accidents of life,- sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, have patience- suffering people may justly ask what use He is.

Ministers of the gospel should read Eliphaz’s speech carefully and ask themselves if they have not used some of these ideas in preaching, prayer or pastoral care. Comfortable piety finds the sharp questions of suffering people offensive and glosses over them with bland generalities. 

But this author is cunning. He gives Eliphaz the full value of Israel’s wisdom tradition, the kind of reflection that can be found in the psalms or the bookof Ecclesiastes. Certainly there is an element of grim humour in his picture of Job’s so-called comforters whose lengthy lectures are a way of turning a knife in the wound, but their words are far from being a mere parody of pious thoughts. They encapsulate the best wisdom of Israel’s faith. The reader of this drama is meant to realise that Job’s attitude is destructive of many cherished beliefs about God and may even tend in the direction of atheism.

“Inshallah,” says the desperate Shia mother caught in the advance of ISIS when asked if she can bring her children to safety. Inshallah, if God wills. What patience she has, what admirable faith, that she does not curse the God whose will has apparently brought her and her children the verge of destruction. To question her faith at this moment would be a gross impertinence but perhaps it needs questioned. Perhaps the God who brings appalling suffering on people is just one aspect of the God who can also command people to cause appalling suffering.

The book of Job is impertinent enough to examine this issue with savage honesty.

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