SOAP Journal – 15 March 2019 (Psalm 11)

If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?

Psalm 11:3

Psalm 11 seems to break down into two thoughts.

The first thought, verses 1-3, seems to be a consideration of the inability of people. David opens with the statement that he takes refuge in the LORD. This is the best place to start. Times can be filled with trouble and the best place to take refuge is in the LORD. But there are those who question David. They suggest that he should flee to his mountain; to a physical refuge. They tell David that the wicked are preparing to attack. And the closing thought, whether from these questioners or from David, is to wonder what the righteous can do if the foundations are destroyed. If the physical refuge has been undermined, then where can one go for safety? David opened with the answer to that. He takes refuge in the LORD.

The second thought, verses 4-7, is that the LORD has everything under control. David begins this thought with a reminder that God is on His throne and that throne is in Heaven. No Earthly power can get to it to attempt undermining it. David keeps going and reminds himself and the questioner that the LORD tests us and judges the results. The wicked are ultimately destroyed while the righteous ultimately see God’s face. The one who makes his refuge the LORD will ultimately see the LORD face to face. That is the final judgment.

The application for me is to make God my refuge. Times are sometimes tough. Sometimes finances are tight. Parenting is challenging. Marriage is challenging. Friendships or their drifting away into obscurity are challenging. Life is filled with challenge and difficulty. From time to time, someone will take issue enough that they make themselves my enemy and seek to do me harm. In all of these difficulties, the great and the small, I need to run to God and take refuge in Him. I need to seek my solace in His arms, as my children often do in mine.

Father, thank You that You are a refuge for those who run to You. Please restore to me that childlike simplicity that runs to Your arms for comfort and security and all the things that a child can receive from His Father.

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SOAP Journal – 18 February 2019 (Job 38-42)

Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?

Job 38:2

Reading through the last few chapters of Job, I was struck by how neatly God’s position could be summed up by the question “What do you know?” God focuses on the natural world — stars, weather, large creatures — but seems to insinuate that an individual so limited in knowledge as to not really understand or have authority over the natural world is in no position to tell God what He ought and ought not do. And God, as always, has a point.

Job and his “friends” have gone back and forth about things that they did not fully understand, but have been speaking as if they were authoritative. When confronted, Job, at least, has the good sense to repent.

What I find most comforting as I close my time in Job is the question: “What do you know?” What do I know? It is what I know that brings me comfort.

I know that God loves me. God loves everyone and has a special place in His heart for each and every one of us. God demonstrated His love by dying for me when I was still in my sins (Romans 5:8).

I know that God does not want anyone to go to Hell, but for everyone to freely accept His offer of salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

In fact, there is rather a lot that I know, because God has revealed it in His Word. And this knowledge is comforting

Father for Mercies and God of all Comfort, thank You for this book about someone enduring suffering and for the insights this book supplies. There is comfort in knowing that our suffering is sometimes through no fault of our own. There is still more comfort in knowing that nothing happens to any of us without You vetting it and placing limits on how far it can go. Please bring these things to mind when I am in a time of suffering.

SOAP Journal – 11 February 2019 (Job 25)

How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?

Job 25:4

The last words uttered by Job’s friends also happen to be the briefest they have uttered. Bildad says, in essence, rule and glory belong to God and asks, rhetorically, how a person can be right with God. Bildad obviously thinks that rightness with God is unobtainable and leaves the matter there.

There are two major problems with leaving the matter there.

First, this statement leaves anyone who actually believes it without hope or comfort of any kind. Of all the useless things that Job’s “friends” have said in their efforts to “comfort” him, this may be the least comforting and most useless. If there is no way to be right with God, then what is the point of even trying? If the only thing I can actually expect from God is punishment for my inability to be right before Him, then I should leave off trying to please Him and just enjoy what little pleasure life brings to me. But this entire thought process is wrong. God will punish those who are not right with Him, but that punishment may not arrive this side of the grave. God will reward those who are right with Him and that reward is very likely to be amassed in Heaven. Jesus told His disciples to store up treasure where moth does not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal it. The reward for those who are right with God is rightness with God and the peace and comfort that brings. Everything else is decoration on the icing on the cake.

Second, if there is no way for a man to be right with God, then all of the claptrap that Job’s friends have blathered on about God rewarding those who do right in His sight was something that he (Bildad) did not believe was even possible. His words contradict one another. If there is no way for a man to be right with God and God rewards those who are right with Him and punishes those who are not, then it follows that everyone should always be punished and that no one should ever be rewarded. From the standpoint of pure, unadulterated justice, this is true. God is righteous in a way that human beings can never be and unadulterated justice would demand that we all be punished for willfully violating His Law. But God does not work on the basis of justice alone. God tempers justice with mercy and grace. And He does so through Christ and His work on the cross.

I was reminded of how tilted the scales seem to be this weekend. I received credit cards for which I had not applied and made phone calls to sort out the issue, learning that someone had opened them in my name and successfully charged a large sum to one of the cards. I have read more than a couple articles online about how people have dealt with identity theft and gone so far as to essentially hand the culprits over to law enforcement on a silver platter only to have the officers refuse to arrest the perpetrator. It is disheartening. Then I read this and God reminds me that His justice is sure and that the treasures He wants me to store up are in a place where they cannot be stolen and no one can do anything in my name, because my identity is securely bound up in Christ and only The Father knows my true name.

And He wants to do the same thing for the people whom I allowed to ruin a portion of my weekend. I could have taken the news gracefully and made the necessary calls and arrangements and gone on about my day without thinking about it, but I allowed what had been done to get to me and was angry and wanting justice to be done. While I still want the person to stop stealing and ruining others’ reputations (or credit, at least), I am not longer on my momentary hellfire and brimstone warpath. But God (my favorite phrase in all of scripture) does not want them to face His justice, He wants them to receive His mercy and grace.

Father, I confess that I was not compassionate or forgiving or merciful. I am grateful that You are all of those things and more. Please forgive both me and those who have wronged me. They need You. Just as I do. Please break through both of us, me to conform me better to the image of Your Son and them to repentance. May we both be right with You.

SOAP Journal – 01 February 2019 (Job 21)

“How then will you vainly comfort me,
For your answers remain [full of] falsehood?”

Job 21:34

Job grows more and more impatient with his “friends” and their responses to his suffering. It is as if they have memorized some script of “Things to Say to a Suffering Friend” written by the Marquis de Sad. And Job has had enough of it. The more I read, the more I think I can hear his voice going from grief-stricken to outraged.

When his “friends” showed up, they did their best work of comforting in the first seven days when they said nothing. As soon as they opened their mouths, it went downhill. And job says as much. He points out the demonstrable falseness of their position. They think that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked materially in the here and now. They think that riches and honor and health are a sign of right standing with God. Job points out that then, as now, it is an easy matter to point to examples of people living wicked lives who do so in luxury and good health.

How, then, am I to comfort those who are suffering? If there is no guarantee that a righteous life brings health or material comfort in this life, then the only hope or comfort is in the next. And this agrees with Jesus’ teachings. He told us to store up treasure in Heaven and the fix our eyes on Heaven. Peter and Paul both wrote of the hope of the life to come and the temporary nature of this world. Ultimately, the believer is enduring suffering in the hope that there will be comfort.

What does this mean for me? And how can I comfort those who are not living for Christ and the hope of His comfort?

For me, I need to endure hardship with an eye toward the goal of Heaven. If it were easy to arrive at those gates, then there would be far less comfort needed once within and along the way there. But it is not an easy road and I often examine myself and wonder if I am even walking the correct path. There is difficulty in life. There is shortfall and sometimes lack. There are all the experiences common to humankind. The comfort I most often crave in the moment is the comfort that I set my feet to walk to God’s Gates and that I am still on the path. It may be a long road and it may test my endurance, but all destinations worth reaching do to some extent.

For those who are not Christ’s, I can only offer Christ as comfort. I have nothing else to offer. I have no other hope to present that has stood the test of my own brief time.

Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort, thank You for comforting me. Please nudge me back into Your path when I stray and comfort my heart when I walk in Your way so that I may be at peace with You.

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 – 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 – 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.