Friday, May 31, 2013

Up in flames

For wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. 

Isaiah 9:18

This prophetic oracle likens the cumulative effect of evil to a massive brush fire burning through the forested Judean hills. Just as a wild fire will burn through everything in its path as it is driven by the hot wind, so the experience of the deepest judgments that can come to a people are found simply by God letting sin run its course and allowing it to burn everything down to charred ruins. That is the scene on display here.

Previously in the context, God has promised a future deliverer for His people and often the only thought of Isaiah 9 is to the messianic beauty of Isaiah 9:6-7. But right on the heels of the promise of a deliverer is this promise of swift and merciless judgment. The sin of His people has led to this decree. It would cover all of Israel and Judah (9:8-9). It was primarily motivated by their unwillingness to repent of arrogant pride (9:9). It would lead to destruction in cities and the countryside (9:10). The historic enemies of God's people would join in the judgment like animals in a feeding frenzy (9:11-12).

The results of God's judgment would be that both political leaders and false prophets would be cut off from the people (9:13-16). Not a family or individual person would be spared the sorrow that was to come (9:17). Those caught up in the judgment would selfishly try to fend for themselves, attacking neighbors as part of the consequence of letting sin burn itself out (9:19-21). It is a brutal breakdown of social order.

This is one reason why we should pray for God to keep His people living holy lives. It restrains the burning fire to a degree. When that restraint is taken away, the world goes up in flames. That is the warning given by Isaiah.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

To fear and to stand

But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

Isaiah 8:13

It's hard to fully grasp the concept of the "fear of The Lord" in quite the way that is being explained in this passage. Ancient Israel was caught in idolatry and in the pressures of mounting imminent military threat from Assyria. As such the people readily turned to all sorts of false gods in the hopes of stability and staving off invasion. But God comforted Isaiah with this warning to stay faithful.

The only hope for God's people was found in Him. Had they honored Him as holy, kept on obeying His law, and truly feared Him, the promises of protection could have spared them. But they would not return to God. They kept falling into the patterns of idolatry that they saw around them. They caved to social, political, and personal pressures. The tragedy that resulted from this was that Assyria ransacked Israel and those northern ten tribes never recovered. They are lost to history.

Learning from Israel, I admit that my own heart definitely feels the pressure to cave. That sort of thing never really goes away. It is a steady gravity-like pull. In my case it is not overt idol worship, but it is a form of unfaithfulness to cave to the pressures around me. And it will not be easy to stand Christian in a pagan land. I believe it is wrong to stand only as an act of defiance. Instead, I believe that to stand means that I bow only to The Lord of heaven. I only fear losing Jesus. My life means nothing else than Him.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Firm in Faith

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.

Isaiah 7:9b

Resolute and in conviction

fortified with inner unction

not knowing what to do

but hoping something's true

trying to make sense of it all

but not firm in faith, not firm at all

Many things vie for allegiance

reason, science, philosophy, obedience

but all fall short of being the art

that understands and guides the heart

disappointed by the weight of the Fall

not firm in faith, not firm at all

but Spirit speaks in scripture's pages

hearing the call of ancient sages

understanding, believing the unseen

something happens... the heart believes

trusting something that breaks the wall

if there is no faith, you won't be firm at all

finding a story pointing to a deliverer

believing history brought a sin bearer

knowing a book tells the story line

believing it gives depth and joy divine

the good news makes sense of it all

now firm in faith, firm in it all

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When a human sees God

And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

Isaiah 6:5

This is the way in which a true encounter with God affects an honest soul. Isaiah is in a state of spiritual shock. He has in vision been transported to the center of God's heavenly temple throneroom. There he encounters a holy God and is overwhelmed with his own unworthiness to stand there. He is utterly lost. There are three reasons for Isaiah's shock...

REASON ONE: His own sinful state. Isaiah is personally aware of his own lack of holiness when he sees a glorious God whose majesty fills a temple with His glory which then spills out to cover the entire planet! Isaiah is overwhelmed with an awareness of his own lack of holiness. He is a man of "unclean lips". As a lost man he is not capable of singing with the seraphim, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" He feels as if he should not utter anything in the presence of such holiness and majesty.

REASON TWO: The sinful state of Israel.  Isaiah knows that this kind of God has the right to judge a sinful people. And Isaiah, a sinner himself, dwells among a rebellious and sinful people who have rejected God. He is overwhelmed by this realization. None of his contemporaries could stand with him before God. Only God is truly holy.

REASON THREE: The vision itself. When Isaiah saw God, he nearly had a nervous breakdown. His ability to process the experience was shortcircuited by the fact that he had encountered The Lord of hosts. He could not get beyond that fact. It broke him as it broke into him. He was beside himself, shattered by an awareness of His sinfulness, the sinfulness of his world, and the mighty holy power of a glorious God. When I hear casual stories of visions of God where the human teller of the tale seems to be the center of the experience (AKA the rash of recent "I went to heaven" books), I smell a big fat stinking lie. Period. These people are lying. Encountering God is humbling and breaks you down. Ask Isaiah. It took a holy angel with a burning coal from heaven's altar to touch his lips and get him out of his sinfulness with a temporary atonement to change him enough that he would write about the vision! When we encounter a holy God, we are broken and changed by that knowledge.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

value reversal and marginalization

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 

Isaiah 5:20

It would be real easy to use this verse as a barometer for current society. But it would be twisting scripture to do so. No, really... this is not a verse about 21st century America. It would be bad application. Here's why... 1) The verse was not given to a society at large but to the people of God. It was written to the residents of Judah about the residents of Judah. This is a description of God's covenant people and not of the world. 2) The context is God calling His people back to Him, not just railing on their sinfulness. It is wrong to turn this verse into a chiding condemnation by ripping it from its context.

A tragedy was occurring among the Israelites. They had turned from God's Law. And the turn was so complete that they had a total reversal of values. We are talking a full 180 degrees. It's a U-Turn. What the Law called evil they thought of as good. God particularly takes them to task for seizing neighbor's property, abusing the poor, and seeking lives of drunken, wanton selfishness and pleasures that exploited the needy. It was this behavior that called evil good. Worse yet, they despised God's law and thought of it as wrong.

At the root of this problem of value reversal is the self-driven abandonment of God's truth. That is what God is decrying here through His prophet. And He expects His people to stay true to His Word and to follow His ways. He does not ever expect that of the world. So if anything, the passage informs the church and calls us to biblical strength even as our society mocks and abandons any notion of life with God. And mocking does not mean all people combat God. God is mocked most today by minimalization and not direct attack. Keep Christian religion a private opinion out of the public square discussion of ideas and the truth is successfully marginalized. And when Christians capitulate to this, it just gets really easy to live like the world does. We can pigeonhole our faith and live like a worldling.

I've seen it happen to the evangelical church in my lifetime. It did not come from the big, bad world. It came from within. We chose to slowly diminish the Word of God and our commitment to God through living out its dictates. We exalted what we wanted. We polled our neighborhoods, softened the gospel to meet their felt needs, drew huge crowds and the light has dimmed in the process. It happened a century ago in the mainline denominations with liberal theology capitulating to scientific naturalism. It happened 20 years ago with seeker sensitivity capitulating to pop psychology. And God help us... we must return to the blazing center of the gospel of Jesus Christ while we still can!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

a glimpse of the Messiah

In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Isaiah 4:2

The message of Isaiah rebounds back and forth between visions of judgment and glimpses of Messianic hope and renewal. Elsewhere in the prophets, the term "branch of the LORD" is a Messianic title (Jer 23:4; Jer 33:15; Zech 3:8; Zech 6:12). It is the meaning in this context as well. There is a glimmer of hope after the fall of Jerusalem and the suffering of the residents of Judah. Out of these ashes, God speaks of a glorious future hope for the nation. A mighty deliverer will be the hope of all the people. Beauty, glory, fruitful economic flourishing, and national pride will all return with "the branch of the LORD".

Messianic hope is a big deal in the major prophets. It is not a message hidden in the words of these holy men. It is revealed clearly. Christians are not reading anything into these passages that Jews have not already known in the prophets and held as their hope ever since the Babylonian Captivity. Israel's hope is for Messiah to come. It was what Isaiah longed for. And of all the prophets, he will foretell in detail the Messiah's coming glory.

Isaiah's Messianic hopes are often quoted in the New Testament. The earliest Christians (most were Jewish) saw in Jesus the clear fulfillment of them. And they made the connection because it was legitimate. In Isaiah we see Messiah as deliverer (from much more than just political oppression) and as sufferer. Jesus came clearly to do both. He suffered to deliver us from sin's dominion. He will come again to deliver Israel and restore the grandeur of the covenant with His people.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Worship as the root of rebellion

For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. 

Isaiah 3:8

Rebellion has deep roots and really it is a worship problem. That's what God says about His people when they turned from Him. And they were going to suffer the consequences with intense societal pain. Their world would be ripped apart in judgment. The city would fall and the nation would be conquered. But the reason Judah rebelled was not because of just outward sinful behavior. Judah fell when the people defied the presence of God. They no longer worshipped the God Who dwelt among them.

In the case of Judah, God's presence was literally with them; His glory manifested in the Most Holy Place in the temple in Jerusalem. But as they declined in their reverence for the God Who lived among them, the lure of other idols, of wealth, personal pleasure, and the pursuit of sinful pre-occupations began to define a people who were meant to be defined as God's unique people. Instead of the world flooding to Jerusalem to find the God of Israel, Israel instead gushed over the world and neglected God.

The point of this analysis by God is to show us that sin is always rooted in the heart. And the human heart worships something. We always have to hold something... a person, place, thing, or idea... as a ruling passion in our hearts. We were created for God to be our worship. When we replace His worship with any other worship, our lives degenerate. And we overlook the glorious presence of God.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Walk in the Light

O house of Jacob, 

come, let us walk 

in the light of the LORD. 

Isaiah 2:5

A cry goes out

against the night

calling us all

to walk in the light.

Those who hear

the call despite

fears and alarms

walk in the light.

Dark brings despair;

trails may affright,

but we can obey

and walk in the light.

God is there

with power and might

to lead us when

we walk in the light

Stumbling in the dark

some struggle despite

the promise to see

and walk in the light.

We reach to them

loving them despite

the dark around them

so they walk in the light.

The face of God

shining so bright

smiles on us as we

walk in the light.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sovereign Lord; Dumb people

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 

The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."

Isaiah 1:2-3

What The Lord has to say through His prophet Isaiah is a harsh and direct indictment of the nation of Israel and the rejection they have done of Him. It comes fiercely with strong words right from the very beginning. God calls the universe to witness as He speaks the charges against His people.

God speaks as a judge.  He summons the heavens and the earth to this hearing. God reads the charges against Israel. He convenes the tribunal and strongly states their offenses. He holds nothing back. He wants Israel to know clearly that He knows what they are doing.

God speaks as a Father. The relationship God has with Israel is parental and His children have come to age and chosen to turn against the Law and their Father's love. They have rebelled and are rejecting the relationship. God is broken over this and it is reason for His discipline to break forth.

Finally, God speaks like the people themselves, using a common agricultural metaphor to describe their condition. His point?... they are dumber than livestock. Even an ox responds and knows the farmer and a donkey knows to come home and eat in its own stall. But Israel won't come back to the farm. They are dumber than common beasts of burden.

This indictment will set the tone for the largest of the major prophets. In Isaiah, God's rulership, His authority, His right to judge, His tender Father's heart, and His rights to Israel as "landowner" all come through. Israel was called to love and worship a loving, sovereign Lord.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

restoration of relationships; restoration of fortune

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job's prayer.

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

Job 42:9-10

The "happy" ending of the story of Job comes first with Job's own repentance (Job 42:1-6). Job realizes that he has spoken "without knowledge" and now that he has heard from God, he repents of his demands for explanation of his losses. That's good, because The Lord is never compelled to give him that explanation in the least. The reality is that it literally did not matter about "why" things happened at the moment that he heard from God in the storm. The reality of the fierce holy power and the sovereign love of God threw all Job's questions down. Job repented of ever wanting them answered in the first place. God Himself was all that Job needed at the end of the matter.

After repentance came restoration. And The Lord brought two levels of restoration. First, there was restoration of relationships. The very first matter of business was for Job's friends to repent as well. Job had led the way, and now Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had humble business to do with God. The Lord commanded them to repent by having Job serve as a priest for their sacrifices. They did so, and upon Job's prayer for them, The Lord accepted their repentance. So in the end Job got his friends back through mutual worship and obedience. And God ensured that the way in which that happened vindicated Job and rebuked the insolence of his friends.

There was also restoration of fortune. Job became the recipient of supernatural blessings, just like God had sovereignly brought the bad circumstances of disaster upon him. His fortunes are now reversed and restored to twice his former estate. Over the rest of his lifetime, Job is blessed with seven sons and three daughters. He lives out his days blessed by God to the ripe old age of 140 (twice the normal lifespan) and the story ends in God's sovereign blessing on an exceptional servant who passed the test of suffering.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

God owes no one.

Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. 

Job 41:11

This brief rhetorical questions and the short statement that follows it form the core message that impacts Job in the "answer" that God gives him. Over and over in God's speech to Job, The Lord has emphasized that He is sovereign over the universe. He controls everything, even the wildest of creatures and the strongest of storms. Job cannot take care of even a wild donkey in the desert. Job can't even send a breeze to blow where he wills it. God is God. Job is not.

But in this question God instructs Job that no one has ever given anything to God that He didn't already have. God owes no one. Ever. God already owns the universe. It is impossible for God to need anything from anybody. Even when we "give" Him our worship, we are giving Him what He deserves, and indeed already has. The universe is His estate. We are part of what He already has. And nobody is God's creditor. It is impossible.

Implicit in this truth is that God did not "owe" an answer to Job for his circumstances. God could do with Job as He wished. And to think otherwise is a form of pride. Ownership is part of Lordship.

However, the reality is that mercy brought Job this answer. God did not speak to Job out of obligation. He spoke out of His own will and love for Job. God delighted in Job from the very beginning of the book. And He came to Job in the tornadic storm out of His love for His servant.

You see, when this whole trial started with Job, it was God Who brought up Job's name first to Satan (Job 1:8). God was quick to "brag" on his exceptional servant. God was pleased with Job's life of obedience. And God was willing to let Satan test him to show that his delight in Job was justified. God wil sovereignly allow trials to those whom He loves. And He will show us His mercies when He does... not because we are owed an explanation, but because He delights in us at all times. This is reality both in and out of our difficulties.

Monday, May 13, 2013

You are God; I am not.

Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Job 40:9

Long ago in early days
at an ancient city gate
You taught a man Your ways
rewarded his love and made him great.

Job sat like a king
as others sought his advice
You gave him everything
impressed with holiness and lack of vice

And he served You faithfully
others knew his kindness
until the enemy in jealousy
asked to tear him down to sadness

Your sovereign will knew
that in his heart Job still loved You
so the tragedy started and grew
mounting losses of all given by You

Job wept in pain with riches and children gone
but trusted You as in control
and when disease destroyed his skin he hung on
while others cursed, he would not let go

Friends came to comfort his grief
but only spouted accusation
each spoke words with no relief
adding to growing frustration

Job cried to You to come
and speak words of deliverance;
he hoped in You, though numb
from pain, confusion... bewilderment

And then at last You spoke to him
Job learned a lesson not forgot...
he did not need You to explain Yourself to him
for.. "You are God; I am not."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

a wilder, bigger God

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Job 39:26-27

When God challenges Job to "consider" Him, He does so at the beginning of His dialogue with Job by concentrating on the wildness of the natural world and how it all is out of Job's control and understanding. God seems to delight in the strength, beauty, and power of the creatures He has made. And He especially takes joy in the order in which they each uniquely fit. It is a way to contemplate God's sovereign reign in the universe. Each creature in the natural world has a unique role that is fit to a total ecosystem that God has designed.

Of course, Job has absolutely no control over the wild beasts. There were basic facets of their biology he did not know. But God does. And that is the point. God knows, understands, and takes credit for the functioning of the life cycle of even the most humble doe in the wilderness. What does that say about God's sovereign work in Job's life? If God could understand and direct the lives of eagles, hawks, ostriches, wild oxen, wild donkeys, deer, and any other wild beast, wouldn't it make sense that any human being's circumstances were also part of what God knows and relishes with the joy of a wise Creator?

God tells Job that all these creatures follow their natural instincts by His command. He understands them when the men of Job's day barely gave them a thought. And God knew the wild circumstances that had entered Job's life. They were not outside God's control. They might have been beyond Job but they were not beyond God.

I have always found this part of God's message to Job intriguing. I love the wildness of it. I love that God delights in the wildness of His creation. And it is awe-inspiring to realize that even a bird's flight occurs at His command. The world is a big place for one human to comprehend. The universe is absolutely mind-blowing. God is bigger than both.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

God speaks!

Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Job 38:3

The Lord does finally come to dialogue with Job just as Job begged Him to do. But the way in which God speaks is powerful. It is over the top with majesty, wonder, and strength. I am sure that Job trembled as God spoke to him. I'm a little shaky right now just reading this encounter!

I love the set-up to this dramatic entrance by God. Elihu wraps up his monologue with an extended metaphor of God at work in the storm (Job 37:14-20). Then he moves on to the brightness of God's power displayed in the clouds at the dawning of a new day (Job 37:21-24). I imagine the scene as a darkening storm moves in rolling power behind Elihu as he speaks. The tiny man is oblivious to the clouds behind him. He is nearly just a comic stickman gesticulating on the desert plain as the dark clouds of the storm that God is riding loom behind him.

On cue, the voice of God thunders from a tornado in the storm: "WHO IS THIS THAT DARKENS MY COUNSEL BY WORDS WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE?" The men have to be reduced to crying fear as God finally comes to answer Job and shut down the messy meanderings of four counselors who dare to speculate about God's purposes. It seems to me that the questions that God poses to Job are just as much for their instruction as they are for Job's consideration.

I have often wondered just what the voice of God might sound like. And in forty-two years of Christian faith I have never... repeat NEVER... heard an audible voice. NEVER. Not even a whisper. Oh, I've prayed for it in the past. I have wanted it bad when I heard other Christians brag about God "telling" them to do this or that or to share the gospel with someone who then dramatically converted. When my mother was terminally ill, she took up with some charismatic acquaintances once, who instructed me that I just needed to fervently pray deliriously (perhaps for hours or for days without end) until God "broke through". I tried for a while. Nothing happened. I reject this kind of advice now for two reasons: 1) I never see anyone in scripture doing this... and then getting rewarded with a divine visitation. It smacks of rubbing the lamp until the genie pops up. 2) It feels like psychological manipulation... more human activity than divine work. If a person obsesses about something long enough they will have some kind of experience. That's the doorway to charismatic chaos in my book.

Despite this I know without a doubt that God speaks to me although I have never "heard" a voice. Twilight Zone spirituality is in my opinion non-biblical. Here's why: I don't "hear" His voice... I read His voice... powerfully... clearly... without question. And that voice in the Word of God thunders so loudly with such profundity from the pages of holy scripture that I need nothing else to know God and the message He has for me.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a hiccup of hope

Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.
Job 37:13

In a minor concessive point, Elihu speaks the clearest wisdom of all of Job's friends. It is too bad that he didn't start with this point and build out from it. He could have given the best counsel to his suffering friend if he had done so. Instead, this short sentence comes from him, almost like a hiccup, during his final point in his monologue... as he addresses the subject of the majesty of God.

All along Elihu has focused on sinful disobedience as the reason for Job's trials. He has pointed fingers at Job. He has been obsessed with blaming Job for his present pain. His theology of suffering has been graceless and accusatory, just as all of Job's friends have been with him.

Yet now in this short statement about the purpose of God, Elihu has stated a truth that could have been the deepest comfort to his friend. He spoke about the purposes of God in a way that showed the relationship God has with us. It made a sane and loving sovereignty known in the purposes of God, and this statement is worth our consideration.

There are three purposes mentioned: 1) correction, 2) convention, and 3) care. These define the events that God sovereignly brings into our lives. And they are certainly purposes that I can see in my own life experience.

The first purpose is correction. This is more than punishing retribution. This correction has the goal of repentance and growth in mind for the person suffering. It is parental. As a father corrects with instruction so that a child can learn and grow from an error, so God corrects us when we sin. This is a kinder, gentler way of understanding the holy consequences in judgment. It is too bad that Elihu only mentions this in passing.

The second thought, what I call convention, is God's regular uninterrupted action of letting His created order be maintained. Elihu says God does things "for his land". He is talking about storms and rain, which keep the natural order in maintenance. Into every life some rain must fall. This is necessary. It is the main way we see God's sovereign work. It is routine and observable, and beautifully designed. God's sovereign purposes are found in natural law and revealed in observational science every hour of our lives.

The final missing piece of God's purposes is found in His caring love. Could God allow even Job's searing trial to bring out a loving relationship with Job? Absolutely. In the end, Job will see it and be blessed again. And it is love for God and love from God that has kept Job tenaciously firm in his resolve all this time. God never stops loving us. And He loves us greatly in our deepest pains.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The cruelest critic

But you are full of the judgment on the wicked; judgment and justice seize you.
Job 36:17

Elihu is again flat out wrong about Job's circumstances. And as the youngest voice among Job's critics, he says things so directly that they sound crass and totally uncaring. There is little concern for Job's reality. There is a lot of protection of Elihu's own stern judgment theology.

The mistake that all of Job's "friends" make is to criticize Job and to try to convince him that the only people who end up in Job's state are men who have sinned greatly and whom God has judged. Elihu calls Job a wicked sinner. He believes God's severe judgment has fallen on Job in order to humble him into great repentance. And his analysis of Job is harsh and unyielding in this fixation with justice and the severe judgment of God.

But this extreme theology of Elihu's... a graceless mess of wrath without mercy... is hard to read at this point in the story. It is a tipping point. It goes beyond disheartening the reader... it is actually starting to make me mad as I read it! I want to tell Job to slap Elihu! I can't imagine how Job kept any restraint. It was a good thing Job was so physically exhausted in his illness. Otherwise he might have wound up sinning through assaulting Elihu!

The biggest critic of Job was a young man that Job had probably invested much time with and hoped would carry on his legacy in the future. And now Elihu has turned on him. That sort of thing can happen in life. Your confidants can become cruel critics. Job can only endure and trust that God will defend him in the proper time.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cry out!

Surely God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it. How much less when you say that you do not see him, that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!
Job 35:13-14

Elihu is pretty bold and really quite impetuous. He presumes to speak for God on the matter of they way in which Job presents his complaints. It is really quite an inconsiderate attack on Job. It is totally wrong about God. Elihu is basically saying that Job's words are beyond worthless. His reasoning is this: 1) God does not listen to the raves of sinners against him. They take nothing from God. 2) Job is a sinner who dares to state he has a hard time seeing God at the moment and calls God to come answer his cry. 3) Therefore, Job is worse than a sinner with empty accusations because he dares to ask God to come answer him.

Again, Elihu could not be more wrong. If fact, God will come answer Job very shortly in this book. Elihu's theology makes God out to be an easily insulted thin-skinned tyrant Who responds to our hurting questions with a selfish "How dare you!" And that betrays that Elihu does not know a thing about God's grace and mercy.

The truth is, God wants to hear our cries. He can handle our frustrations. And He does not disappoint, even when we struggle to understand the difficulty we may endure. Some people endure hardship ALL THEIR LIVES! Does that make it impossible for them to trust a good God? Some people will never find the "perfect marriage" that they have idealized. Some people are born with physical challenges that force them to depend on "less than reliable" human beings. Someone may struggle with a physical condition, others with mental difficulties, still more with emotional ups and downs, many with depression or a repeat cycle of "the blues". Can these crowds of people not let God know how much it hurts? Are they just supposed to shut up and pray quietly and smile and pretend nothing is wrong? Of course they should cry out! It is healthy and it makes up a necessary component of their faith.

All of us should cry out to God. Let Him know your hurts. Don't bottle them up. Hiding them away gives opportunity for sin to complicate our hurts. God understands them better than anyone else ever can. And He can bring strength, perspective, and healing in our difficult days.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

ramped up rhetoric

'Job speaks without knowledge; his words are without insight.' Would that Job were tried to the end, because he answers like wicked men. For he adds rebellion to his sin; he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.
Job 34:35-37

Elihu's accusation on Job is bitter, direct, and raw. He goes from being wrong about God to being wrong about Job. And his youth is turned into gross disrespect as he turns against Job with full force in a tirade of accusations.

He dares to say of one of the wisest men of his generation that he lacks knowledge. He is calling Job a fool. He complains that when Job's words are heard and evaluated, they reveal themselves to be pointless and without insight. The reality is that Job's words resonate with insight for the afflicted. Even today sufferers can read them and agree with what Job observed in his pain. So Elihu's accusation of wisdomless wind in the words of Job are themselves insightless accusations not founded in fact.

He expresses a sentiment of resentment for Job. He sarcastically wishes for Job to be afflicted to his death because Elihu sees Job's replies as reflective of wickedness. Elihu's accusations direct the charge of rebellion against a man who was so righteous that God said no one else on the planet was as good as him. Job's reputation with God refutes the charge of rebellion.

And the most inconsiderate charge that Elihu makes of Job is that Job rails against God. Job pleas for God to come to him. Job feels abandoned by God. Job never accuses God of being unrighteous. But Elihu can't stand to see a man offer his complaint to God, so the very act of suffering must therefore be rebellion in his twisted logic. And that is the tragedy. The angry young man could have stood against the tone and accusations and poor theology of his three co-counselors. Instead, he joined them and just ramped up the painful, accusatory rhetoric.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Does God only speak in pain?

For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.
Job 33:14

Elihu's oversimplification of the revelation of God and the purposes of His Word is very disturbing. It is short-sighted. Elihu's version of God's revelation makes him a fear mongering, fiery fundamentalist. He reminds me of evangelists that I was abused with in my youth. But he is not telling Job all the truth about how God speaks or what God says when He does speak.

Elihu sees two ways that God grabs each individual's attention. Both of them are highly subjective personal experiences. The first way Elihu mentions sounds like the experiential theology of Eliphaz. Really it is just like it. Elihu talks about God speaking to humanity through visions and dreams, but he seems to center on God only using nightmares to get our attention (Job 33:15-18). So now we have Elihu as both a fundamentalist AND a charismatic. And the emphasis is all negative. Dreams come in our slumber to terrify us, convicting us of sin and hopefully showing us the error of our ways so that we will turn direction. It is all about God's wrath. So... add a pinch of Fred Phelps into the theology. It is not an encouraging process.

Elihu then says the other way that God "talks" is through trial and pain. And this is what he focuses on with Job, insinuating that because Job paid little attention to calls to repent in his guilt-ridden dreams from God, that the Almighty moved on through trial to get him to repent through pain (Job 33:19-28). Again, it is a gruesome picture of God twisting a person's arm until they submit and cry "Uncle!"

This is why I cannot think that Elihu gave good counsel to Job. He is as negative and accusatory as the rest of Job's older friends. I find his words offensive about God. Elihu's God is a frightful bogeyman and a cruel sadistic bully who guilts, frightens, and intimidates humans into obedience to Him. That ain't right.

It disturbs me most that Elihu limits God's Word to the experience of night terrors and physical disease. There is nothing good about God in this view of how God speaks. And God will show up to speak to all of the men around Job, and just be showing up in the whirlwind, God will rebuke this sick theology of Elihu's own making.