SOAP Journal – 29 January 2019 (Job 20)

Do you know this from of old,
From the establishment of man on earth,
That the triumphing of the wicked is short,
And the joy of the godless momentary?

Job 20:4-5

The more Job’s “friends” talk, the more apparent it becomes that they are not listening to him. Zophar does not respond to Job’s profound statement that his Redeemer lives or Job’s plea for pity from his friends. Instead, Zophar just bangs on about how the triumph of the wicked is short-lived. Zophar is like so many of us today: he listens for a statement that he can roar down and proceeds to do just that. He misses the pain and profundity taking place in his friend, as we are wont to do when we behave in that manner.

For all of his shortcomings, Zophar gets this much correct the wicked man must give back his wealth (v. 10). In point of fact, Job got it right at the outset when he said that he came naked from his mother’s womb and would return naked to the grave. We, none of us, are taking anything with us when we depart this world. Whether we believe in an afterlife or not, whatever wealth we amass remains here, to be used by those who come after us.

Zophar’s error, as has been the case with all three of Job’s “friends,” is in the timing. The wicked do not always get their comeuppance in the here and now. If they did, then there would be far less wickedness.

It stands to reason, then, that the reverse is also true. If the wicked does not necessarily receive his punishment in the here and now, then the righteous may also not receive his reward in the here and now. Which means that I cannot look to health or wealth as indicators of righteousness or wickedness. Ecclesiastes says that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11). The most deserving — both of blessing and of punishment — do not always get what they deserve.

What this means for me is this: Do the right thing. There may be no immediate reward for it. There may be quite the opposite. But the right thing is always right.

Thank You, God, for this reminder that the consequences of our actions, good or bad, may not arrive in life. But the consequences follow nonetheless. Please keep me mindful of this and doing what You would have me do that blessings follow. Love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest of the fruit of Your Spirit.

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SOAP Journal – 28 January 2019 (Job 19)

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!

Job 19:25-27

Job speaks again and essentially tells his “friends” that they are being terrible.

They are not comforting Job with their words and, instead of closing their mouths, they keep talking. It is as if they feel that they must vindicate their points of view to the exclusion of giving comfort to someone they call a friend. And there are people like this. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it puts so much information and capability at our fingertips. The awful thing about the internet is that it has caused many among us to speak without stopping to consider the impact of our words. I have been guilty of this and am likely to be guilty of it again, before I get myself squared away.

Job does not stop there. He says that even God is against him. If it were not enough that his “friends” cannot seem to set aside their pedantic natures for even a moment, it seems that God has driven everyone who might help or comfort Job away from him. This is erroneous, because it ascribes God an active role in what happened to Job as opposed to the truth that God’s active role was to mitigate the damage that the Adversary — Satan — wanted to cause. God was active in Job’s circumstances, just not in the way that Job thought He had been.

And Job turns things around at the last. He says that he wishes his words were written down (wish granted). Why, he does not say. But then he utters a profound truth: His Redeemer lives and will stand upon the Earth and Job will see God with his own physical eyes. During Jesus’ lifetime, there was an on-going theological debate between two groups: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. One group believed in a resurrection and an eternal soul while the other did not. One believed as Job does, the other did not. As a Christian, I believe in resurrection and the eternal soul. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, if there is no resurrection, then we Christians are the most pitiable people around, because we are basing our lives and our hope on the resurrection.

Application:

One, I need to check my words. I once read that words should pass through the litmus of THINK (True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind). If I passed everything I thought of saying through that filter, I would say far less. And that would probably be to everyone’s benefit.

Two, I need to be mindful that God is always active in my life. And He may not be active in the way that I think He is.

Three, my Redeemer lives and I will see Him. Let me fix my inward eye and my hope on that. My Redeemer lives and, because He lives, I can live both now and in the age to come.

Father, thank You for the reminder that my words ought to be few. Thank You for being active in my life in ways I see and ways I cannot even fathom. Thank You that my Redeemer lives and that He makes intercession for me. I desperately need it.

SOAP Journal – 24 January 2019 (Job 18)

How long will you hunt for words?
Show understanding and then we can talk.

Job 18:2

Bildad speaks again, but what he has to say is rubbish. He asserts, yet again, that the wicked are punished in life and that everyone sees the downfall of the wicked. Before he reiterates his wrong assertion, though, Bildad asks Job three questions.

The first question is in verse two: How long will you hunt for words? There is a classic Disney movie – Mary Poppins – in which the patriarch of the family is standing in a difficult situation and at a loss for words. He stammers and tries, unsuccessfully, to find the words to express what he is feeling. The reality is that intense emotion or experience rob us of the ability to express ourselves. Some are able to put their experience into words, but even those generally have to wait until the most intense part of the experience is over. For reference, have a look at C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Alow me to answer Bildad’s question: Job will stop hunting for words when he has adequately expressed his experience. Since his friends are all missing the point, Job is going to keep talking.

The second question is in verse three: Why are we regarded as beasts, / As stupid in your eyes? The answer is found in understanding why Job continues to grope about for words to express his experience. If Bildad understood suffering; if any of Job’s friends really got what Job was trying to tell him, then Job would (a) stop talking, because he would know he had been heard and (b) Job would not, at this point, be talking to them as if they were simpletons. He is speaking to them as if they are dolts because they cannot seem to grasp what he keeps trying to tell them. He had done nothing wrong and calamity fell on him. They cannot conceptualize this. Their ideology cannot conceive of a circumstance in which a person suffers without having done something to warrant the suffering. So they keep groping around for reasons that Job might be suffering and Job keeps trying to tell them that there is no reason.

The third and final question is in verse four: O you who tear yourself in your anger— / For your sake is the earth to be abandoned, / Or the rock to be moved from its place? If this question were paraphrased, it might go something like this: Should the laws of the universe change to accommodate you because you are angry at the way things are? Which circles back around to the earlier statement that Bildad and company cannot conceptualize of Job suffering without deserving it. In their understanding of the universe, Job MUST have done something to bring about this calamity. Theirs is a universe governed by strict Cause and Effect; Action and Reaction. It is a tidy little universe they conceive of, but it does not allow for the experience of many who have done nothing that warrants the suffering they encounter. And there are still Bildads running around today offering their brand of “comfort” when others suffer.

How am I to apply these questions? First, I need to listen; really listen to those who are suffering. Often, we do not need to hear others so much as to be heard when we are going through things. Second, I need to realize that, as Shakespeare put it, there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in my philosophy. My philosophy and cosmology and ideology are not what people need when they are hurting. And, when observable reality contradicts what I think, then I need to reevaluate what I think. Let me listen and adjust as needed. I know in part. It stands to reason that I will learn better the longer I walk with Jesus. I see in part. It makes sense that my vision will clear the closer I approach the Father of Light.

Lord God, thank You for reminding me that I do not know everything and am not expected to. Thank You that I do not always need to speak to provide comfort. Please keep me mindful of these things when I encounter others who are suffering.

SOAP Journal – 22 January 2019 (Job 16-17)

I too could speak like you,
If I were in your place.
I could compose words against you
And shake my head at you.

Job 16:4

Job replies to Eliphaz by saying, in essence, that it is easy to talk when you are not the one suffering. And Job is correct. It is always a much simpler thing to look in from the outside. That, I think, is why Paul told the Corinthian church that God comforts us in our afflictions so that we might turn and comfort those who are afflicted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and why the writer of Hebrews thinks it worth mentioning that we have a High Priest (Jesus) Who understands our difficulties (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15).

Job rightly notes that his “friends” have been insinuating that he has done something wrong so that he would deserve the situation in which they see him. It is normal enough to do so. Our minds want to see the causal relationship between things. But, sometimes, there is no cause. Sometimes, things just happen. And this reality does not make us comfortable at all.

Job goes on to say that he has become a byword. This may or may not be true, as the timeline is a bit unclear. Did all of the calamity befall Job in the space of a week or so or was there a lull between the loss of his children and property and the loss of his health? It is clear that he sat in silence for a full week before saying anything to his “friends,” but it is not clear how long their exchange goes on. The whole thing can be read in a few hours’ time, but how quickly it can be read and how quickly it happened are potentially two very different things. But for Job to have become a byword of the people (17:6) would likely take longer than Job has been suffering. Word travels fast — this is more true today than ever before — but it still takes time for someone to become a byword … even today.

And what am I to take away from this?

First, I need to be mindful that not everything has a cause that I will be able to discern. There was a reason for Job’s suffering, but it was not one that either Job or his “friends” would have been able to see. There will be things in my life and the lives of those with whom I come in contact that will not be understood this side of eternity, and I need to make allowances for that in the way that I see things.

Second, I need to keep things in perspective. Job thinking that he has become a byword of the people shows that he has lost some perspective. His suffering has likely not lasted long enough for word to have spread that broadly. Job has also protested his innocence multiple times. While he may not have done anything specific to warrant or even invite his suffering, he has done things wrong in his life and has made sacrifices to atone. As Paul wrote to the Romans: all have sinned.

Father, thank You for these reminders that I cannot see the cause of everything that happens and that I need to keep things in perspective. Please keep my eyes fixed on You, so that perspective is easier to maintain (everything is small when seen beside You).

SOAP Journal – 18 January 2019 (Job 15)

Are the consolations of God too small for you,
Even the word [spoken] gently with you?

Job 15:11

Job went on a bit of a tear in chapters 12-14, all of it boiling down to a few key themes: (1) Job has done nothing to deserve what is happening to him, (2) his friends are terrible comforters, (3) he wants to talk with God and plead his case, and (4) his suffering is such that he wishes he were dead. These are the themes to which Job returns over and over in this book. But Eliphaz responds in chapter 15. Eliphaz asks if a wise man should speak empty words (he should not) or if the consolations of God are insufficient for Job (they are quite sufficient, but the friends are not offering them) and offers his own observations on what happens in the world.

Eliphaz seems to be spiraling out further from reality. He perceives what the friends are saying as the consolations of God. The major problem with that is that God is, according to Corinthians, the Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort who comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may, in turn, comfort others with that same comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). At the end of Job’s suffering, God does speak and comfort Job and Job is able to turn around and bless others in that time and place. But Job’s friends are not offering him comfort, they are offering platitudes and clichés.

Eliphaz goes further and states that God puts no trust in His holy ones. This notion presupposes that God would need to extend trust. Trust is a byproduct of uncertainty. I do not know what a person will do, but I trust that they will behave according to a set pattern that I have observed. I do not know that the chair I sat in this morning is still intact, but I trust that it is. God has no need of trust. He already knows. He knows when I am going to obey or disobey, He knows when I will make Him proud and when I will disappoint Him. He knows everything. Knowing everything obviates the possibility of trust. So Eliphaz, far from being innocent of speaking worthless words, is doing so himself.

I do not want to revisit Eliphaz’s observations, but it is sufficient to note that he has, apparently, only ever seen the just rewarded and the wicked suffering. He has had, to my mind, a very sheltered life. I have seen the wicked prospering in their ways (just look at government and big business) and have seen the just and good trodden down. David will later write that he never saw the righteous forsaken or the son of the righteous begging for bread, and I can wholeheartedly agree with David’s observation. But Eliphaz has been insulated from reality or has seen it through a lens that saw wicked men as having done nothing wrong. After all, no one is the villain in their own story.

This boils down to me keeping silent when dealing with a person who is suffering. I do not always have the words of comfort. If I do, I should give them. I have endured some things and can state, without a single doubt, that God is able to see us through. In those instances, the comfort I can offer is that God is there and that He will provide comfort and strength and walk with us in those dark places and be Himself the light that we need to see our way through. Many years ago, my youngest sister died and I can state, with complete confidence, that God can get us through the departure of a sibling.

Father, thank You for the times You have walked with me and comforted me. Please show me when and where I might offer that same comfort to others.

SOAP Journal – 16 January 2019 (Job 11)

Shall a multitude of words go unanswered,
And a talkative man be acquitted?

Job 11:2

Job spoke in chapters 9-10, asking a few worthwhile questions — like How can a man be right with God? (Job 9:2) — while mostly bemoaning his sad state. In chapter 11, Zophar the Naamathite chimes in. He, like the other friends, mixes right statements and good questions with bad doctrine.

In the category of good questions, Zophar asks Can you discover the depths of God? / Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? (v. 7) and If He passes by or shuts up, / Or calls an assembly, who can restrain Him? (v. 10). The answer to the first two is, “No.” God has no limit to His depth that I might fathom Him and His power and authority reach to the smallest elements of creation. That said, there is also a “Yes.” hiding in those questions when understood differently. Yes, I can discover the depths of God with regard to His counsel. He delights to reveal the depths of His wisdom and knowledge to those who love Him and earnestly seek Him. Yes, I can discover the limits of God. He will only endure sin for a time and that limit can be found out (not that it is the sort of discovery one really wants to make, as Sodom and Gomorrah learned). He will not step outside the bounds of His Law and His character. Once I have learned that God is merciful and just, I know that He will only ever be merciful and just. He does not change. He has no need. Perfection cannot be improved upon.

Zophar also makes a solid statement in verse 11. Zophar notes that God does not need to discover falsehood or iniquity in people. God is aware of everything without effort. This statement speaks of God’s omniscience.

Zophar, zo-good (it was too good a pun to pass up).

But that is where Zophar’s rightness ends. He opens his statements with a question: Shall a multitude of words go unanswered, / And a talkative man be acquitted? The answer to the first part is sometimes “Yes.” Yes, it is sometimes best not to answer a multitude of words. Ecclesiastes 10:14 says that the fool multiplies words. And Job, in his suffering, is descending into folly. It is best not to answer him. Best to let him vent his spleen and let him know that he has been heard and that his suffering has been marked. The friends did well when they sat beside Job in silence. They would have done better if they had kept silent.

Despite the other things that Zophar gets wrong — he, like the others, seems to think that right living necessarily brings material blessing and lack of suffering in the present — it is this realization that silence is sometimes the best action that sticks with me.

I have felt recently as though hemmed in by words. Advertisements and talk on the radio and this multiplying throng of words that says much and means next to nothing; people paying lip service to ideas and behaving in a manner that reveals they only regurgitate the words, but have never been impacted by them. And, what is worse, I find myself wondering if I am doing the same thing. Am I using many words to say next to nothing? Am I saying things and living in a manner inconsistent with what I say?

God, please shut my mouth when I multiply words without cause; please silence my words when my actions do not match them.

SOAP Journal – 14 January 2019 (Job 8)

Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?

Job 8:3

In chapter 8, Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite chimes in. Bildad’s information is a blend of correct and incorrect. Bildad does ask some very good questions in spite of his poor quality information.

The first thing Bildad does is ask a few questions. His first question is how long Job is going to keep talking. Job already said that his words come from a place of suffering and pain and should be listened to, if at all, as the words of someone not entirely himself. So this question from Bildad is not the most penetrating or insightful.

But he follows up with a pair of excellent questions that boil down to this: Is God NOT just and righteous? The implications are powerful. If God IS righteous and just, then I should accept whatever comes from Him as something that is right and just, because I can count on Him to be consistent. If God IS NOT righteous and just, then I cannot count on Him to be consistent in His dealings and looking to Him for help is a crap shoot.

The problem with Bildad is that he keeps going from there and draws out entirely the wrong implication. Bildad figures that if God is just then He will ALWAYS punish the guilty where everyone can see it and will ALWAYS reward those who are upright in the here and now. The truth is quite different.

Job’s other friend, Eliphaz, noted that mankind is born for trouble; that suffering is our lot in life. Bildad says outright that God would make Job’s prior wealth seem insignificant by comparison if Job would just seek compassion from God (v. 7). How can these disparate ideas — the notion of human suffering being normal and the idea of God’s material blessing on and comfort of the righteous and just — be reconciled? They cannot. Not without some Olympic-level mental gymnastics.

Then Bildad, after telling Job that his (Job’s) kids must have died because of some sin they had committed (sometimes we really should just shut our mouths), goes on to tell Job that he should learn from previous generations. There is great wisdom in this piece of instruction. One of the things that sets humanity apart from every other living thing is our ability to learn from our predecessors. Not just our immediate predecessors like parents and grandparents, but from innumerable generations before that — as far back as we have put words to media of some sort. I can, by reading, converse with the minds of C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I can hear the jokes of Samuel Clemens and the witty banter between Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. I can trace the formation of an idea over centuries from its very beginnings to where it is today.  And all because prior generations wrote their ideas down I am able to read. Job may have lived in a time when the histories were oral, but there has been research done showing that the oral histories are just as faithfully passed down as the written ones and, in some ways, may have been more faithfully passed down, because everyone can memorize things while not everyone has historically been taught to read. Which is only to say that there was likely a wealth of knowledge from previous generations at Job’s mental fingertips.

From that lofty summit, Bildad descends, yet again, into his erroneous notion that God will ALWAYS reward the just and righteous in the here and now with material comforts. And this is demonstrably untrue. There are and have been those who lived just and righteous lives — as much as any person can — and received little to no material comfort. Their souls were at peace and their hearts untroubled, but they seldom possessed much wealth.

The first takeaway of this passage is the justice and righteousness of God. While Bildad gets the results of God’s justice and righteousness wrong, he is correct to ascribe them to God. God is always just and always righteous and He cannot be otherwise. This affords me a level of stability. God has been, is, and will be consistent. And I can rely on Him to do what is just and right. And, since His stated goal is to make me like Him in character, it stands to reason that He wants to make me righteous and just and consistent.

The second takeaway is that I can learn from those who have come before me and I should. The Bible is the Word of God, so I am well served to study this book. I can also seek out the great minds of the faith and see what they have said and join the conversation that has been going on for almost two millennia. And I can also find out where people have gone wrong. The Bible, in my years of reading it, never so much as implies that a Christian should hate the Jews. In point of fact, the writers of the New Testament comment on how Christians are grafted into the promises made to Abraham. We gentile believers are to see ourselves as something of an add-on and to love those who have preserved the promises of God for so long. Any other reading misses the mark. And there have been other readings. These wrong readings serve as warnings to me as I engage in the ancient conversation. We (people in general, but I am thinking here specifically of believers) often get things wrong and it is to our benefit that we see our error, make amends where we can, and correct our course.

Lord God, thank You that Your Word abides. Thank You for preserving Your Word so that I might sit and converse with You; that I might listen to You speak and engage with You. Through Isaiah, You invite me to reason together with You that I might correct my thoughts and straighten out my mind and learn to make my way right before You. Please teach me, that I might live as You want me to live, and please conform me to Your character that I might be just and righteous and reliable.