Monday, January 28, 2013

Book of Job, Session Two

Bible Study @ Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA
Winter Semester … The Sorrow and Hope of Job

Tuesday Jan 15
Saturday Jan 19
Job 1-7
Jan 22
Jan 26
Job 8-14
Jan 29
Feb 2
Job 15-21
Feb 5
Feb 9
Job 22-28
Feb 12
Feb 16
Job 29-35
Feb 19
Feb 23
Job 36-42

  1. Keep in mind - the Book of Job is more interested in exploring the terrain of suffering and the loss of hope rather than simply offering quick and easy answers. 
  2. There is truth to be found in what the four friends say, but not the whole truth. Life is more complex, and so is faith in God, and God’s ways with us, and our ways with God.
  3. There are textual issues with Job, especially toward the end. Translators have great difficulty; go ahead and scratch your head. It’s okay.
  4. Job often “quotes” his friends, or the received, or conventional, wisdom of the day. Hebrew, of course, has no quotation marks, so it’s a challenge to the reader: What is Job actually saying about his own faith or beliefs, and what is he merely quoting, or alluding to, from his friends?

Chapter 8

The gloves are off … Bildad jumps into the conversation and gets all over Job for saying “foolish” things. Bildad defends the justice of God. It’s Job’s sin that causes all of this. 

Please note: there’s not a shred of compassion in Bildad’s harangue. This is sometimes called “theology from above” - it’s all about ideas about God. Whereas “theology from below” always begins with the human condition.

When Jesus says, “People were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for people” (Mark 2.27), Jesus is “doing theology” from below. In other words, Jesus begins “down here” and works his way upward. 

In theology “from above,” it begins with ideas and works its way down.

Once again, there is “truth” in Bildad’s speech - essentially the same as Eliphaz, but with an edge: Do good, get good; do bad, get bad.” The laws of retribution..

Sure, of course; we all know, “you reap what you sow” (that’s in the Bible); the Book of Proverbs and simple human wisdom (garbage in, garbage out), but it’s not the whole truth, and that’s the problem explored in the Book of Job. 

As one pundit put it, “For every hard question, there’s a simple answer. The only problem, however, it’s the wrong answer.”

Simple answers often lead to cruelty. Simple answers, black and white thinking, in and out, up and down, who’s in and who’s out, who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

You better watch out,          
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Bildad uses an image of plants - one endures hardship and overcomes - the righteous; the other fails, the way of the godless. 

Chapter 9:

Job “agrees” - there is much in Bildad’s speech that’s good and right, but something is “rotten in Denmark” … 8.20-24 - Job here declares, “If this is the way it is, then God is pretty much a god of destruction and suffering.

“What do you want me to do?” - put on a happy face? (9.27-28) - “I can’t.”

Chapter 10

Job’s complaint continues - tell me what I’ve done, and Job readily admits, he speaks out of bitterness (10.1).

Job intensifies his attack on God … more references to Psalm 8 … why would God reject the work of God’s hands and cause the purpose of sinners to shine?

Job cries out for a God of justice rather than a God of power … Job contends that God’s decision to punish him has nothing whatsoever to do with Job’s guilt or innocence. He cries out for the peace of death.

Chapter 11                   

Zophar now weighs in … without mercy. God has punished Job for his sins, if not known, then, at least, secret. Period. In fact, God has reduced Job’s punishment, and it’s simply beyond human understanding. To be restored to life, Job needs to repent his sins and become worthy of God’s forgiveness and favor.

For people of faith, it remains a significant question: is there something we do that can trigger God’s forgiveness, or does God’s forgiveness come to us before we can do anything? 

In Christian history, it’s the difference between the Reformed Family of thought - God makes the first move; it’s grace, and grace alone, that fashions our soul for salvation - and the Arminians who believe that we have to confess our faith first of all in order for the grace of God to enter in and redeem us. For the former tradition, it’s God who makes the first move; for the latter, it’s the believer who makes the first move.

This is seen in the difference between preaching in the two traditions - one focuses on God and God’s goodness and greatness; the other focuses on the human being, our sinfulness and the need to repent of our sins - the quintessential expression of this is the revival service with the emotional/rational appeals to “come forward” and “be saved.” 

The hymn, “Grace Alone” is a solid example of Reformed thinking - the primacy of grace, as well as “Rock of Ages” -

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee. 

Chapters 12-14 - Job’s reply to Zophar

The key to understanding these chapters lies in recognizing the “use of quotations.” Job cites the words of his friends in order to refute them, or Job quotes ideas found within his own religious traditions in order to support his own position. 

Job’s speech begins with a sarcastic reference to the friends’ claim to have superior knowledge of God.

As for Job, God may be powerful, but what good does such power do when it’s manifested only in destruction. That’s hardly a god worthy of praise or worship. Merely being big is no virtue, and proves nothing, other than “size matters.”

Job looks for hope and considers a new idea - immortality which after the Exile appeared in Jewish thought - that if this life is filled with injustice, there will be redress in the after-life.

By the time we get to the New Testament, the notion of the after-life has taken hold, and Jesus supports the idea, though the Sadducees do not - in that interesting encounter noted in: Matthew 22.23 ff, Mark 12.18 ff and Luke 20.27 ff.

Though it must be noted: nowhere does the New Testament support the Greek/Roman notion of immortality, but resurrection from the dead … but that’s a whole other study - what happens to us 1) upon death, and 2) what is the New Testament vision, rooted in the Hebrew Bible, of Resurrection from the dead.

As the early Christians confessed in what came to be known as the Apostles’ Creed.

For now, let it be noted: Job considers the possibility of some kind of afterlife and then rejects it. No reward in the afterlife could compensate for his sorrow and suffering now. What good does it do to anyone for whom life is a misery to tell them that it’ll be okay when they die. And what kind of a god would create such a miserable life and then offer compensation for it in the afterlife?

Historically, this promise of “happiness in the sweet by-and-by,” is what Marx called “the opiate of the people,” a tool used by the powerful and the comfortable to maintain their privileged status (ordained by god) and offered to their serfs and slaves a hope of things to come, certainly not in this world (don’t get uppity), along with other verses of Scripture that can be interpreted to mean, “stay in your place, as god ordained.”

Job takes no comfort in an afterlife promise; Job looks at life here and now and sees a terrible injustice afoot. Something is wrong. Job is not content with either what his friends offer 1) repent and all will be well, or 2) the notion of afterlife compensation.

To be continued ...

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