Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Book of Job and False Assumptions about Suffering

In one horrific moment, Job loses everything. His children and servants die, and his livestock is carried away by thieves. Even his wife tells him to curse God and die. And yet, he still maintains his integrity and faith in God. He is proven to be a righteous man.

Why then, would such tragedy befall him? This is the age old question of "why do bad things happen to good people?" But it is also deeper than that. Job legitimately thinks that God is punishing him. And, though perplexed and in despair, he accepts this apparent judgement.

It is this faulty assumption that drives the whole book. Not only does Job think this, but his friends do as well. And in an attempt to help him recover from his horrible circumstances, they actually condemn him based on their flawed perception.

Of course, as readers we know that this  is not God's doing at all. We are aware that it is simply the attempt of Satan to derail Job's faithfulness to God. But Job and his friends are going based on what they know, and from the information that is available to them, it seems entirely logical to conclude that the tragic events of Job's life are being directed by God.

If their understanding were accurate, then the assumption this is an act of divine punishment is a logical conclusion.

But the whole irony of the situation is that these horrific things are happening to Job because he is righteous. The reason that this started to begin with was that the enemy wanted to show God that Job's faith in Him was temporal, and only based on the blessing he had received. Satan saw that Job was righteous, and sought to undermine his integrity.

What is more, the very reason God allowed the enemy to attempt such a thing was that He knew it would end in failure. God knew Job would maintain his integrity, continue to live a life of worship, and ultimately bring glory to His name.

Yet, neither Job or his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad,and Zophar, see what is going on behind the scenes. His friends mean to do good. But they tell him that the cause of his trials are unrighteousness, and add to his pain more by condemning him.

The mistake Job's friends make is a common one. They assume that suffering is God's punishment for our sin. And while it is true that rebellion against God results in disarray in our lives, the majority of the time that is not the reason why we go through pain. Trials and tragedy are a natural part of life, as a result of the human condition.

This knowledge allows us to see meaning in our pain, and in the pain of others, that we might miss otherwise. When we suffer, it is because God knows we can handle it. He allows it to become part of His plan, and He knows that, like Job, we will bring Him glory through it. And ultimately, pain becomes part of God's redemptive plan; in suffering, we learn to be there for others, and we find out how to truly love. In the end, it gives us the chance to build deeper character, and to become more like Christ. And it is in our times of darkness that God uses us as a light to others who are also suffering.

As for Job, we see that all ends well. God finally makes Himself known, and sets the record straight. God proves Job to be a righteous man, and gives him to the opportunity to bless his friends that had been condemning him. Finally, God restores to Job what he had lost- and even more.

And just like Job, our struggles ultimately end in triumph. Beauty comes from our pain, life springs from our grief, and we see that our suffering is a part of God's plan.

Exegetical Frustrations

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m back. And you could probably say I am back with a vengeance, because for this post, I am going to share some big beefs I have with various ways people misinterpret scripture. A lot of the time, people read certain parts of the Bible in some really inaccurate ways. In this post, I will list some of the issues that bother me the most, and hopefully get you thinking a bit. These will sound really harsh, but it’s something I’m super passionate about, and I’m in one of those moods today. So here goes:

  •   Just because the word “Elohim” can be interpreted as a plural noun that does NOT mean it is a reference to the Trinity. To say that it is requires you to read beyond the clear meaning of the text, which defies one of the most fundamental principles of good hermeneutics.

  • The “bride of Christ” metaphor pertains to the Church as a whole, NOT you personally. It is a very meaningful metaphor, and one that should be respected. So stop acting like Jesus is your boyfriend.

  • I am sorry to burst your bubble, but Old Testament prophecy was not written directly for you, your country, or your church. It was intended for the nation of Israel. It has principles and promises that still apply today, but it is not intended for you personally. So stop reading it like it is.

  • The book of Revelation is NOT a code to be cracked. It is not talking about nuclear war, the use of micro chip identification, or the certain public figures being the antichrist. This is not the plain reading of the text. Yes, there are symbols, but those would have been readily understood by the 1st century Christian recipients of the book (originally written as a letter). They are not hidden messages that apply to specific situations.

  • Dear church planter: Paul’s epistles to Timothy are not your definitive “how to guide”.

  • When Christ compares the church in Laodicea to cold, hot, and lukewarm water, he is not trying to say that they need to be completely committed. He is making a reference to the waters of hot springs and cold, refreshing water from springs, as opposed to the lukewarm water of the aqueducts. He is saying that they aren’t refreshing or strengthening, and that He wants them to be that way. He is not saying that they are complacent; He is condemning them for not fulfilling their calling. So stop using this passage in sermons condemning complacency.

  • The fact that Genesis says God created the earth as opposed to “earths” is not support for your defiance of any possibility of livable planets in another part of the universe. That was not an issue being addressed by the author. And it is unreasonable to try to make Genesis pertain to that debate at all. That is not the point of the book. Not that I believe in aliens or anything.

  • Please don’t try to relate every passage of scripture to Jesus. It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how the Old Testament was intended to be read, and doing so is one surefire way to get messed up theology.

    And last, but certainly not least...

  •   Song of Songs is clearly intended to be read as erotic love poetry that pertains to the sexual lives of a married couple, NOT as an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. There is no doubt that that is what Solomon intended when he wrote the book. Furthermore, Song of Songs’ spiritual and practical value is actually degraded when it is read as an allegory.

So that’s that. There is a lot more that I could say, but I don’t want this to turn into a rant. And I hope that, despite the harshness of this list, I have helped get the wheels of your brain turning a little bit. And don’t just stop by reading my frustrations; look into it yourself. If what I have said annoys you, test it out. Look deeper into scripture. Check out some commentaries, or talk to somebody who is knowledgeable about this subject. And I promise you, it will do you a world of good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Look at This and Be Inspired!

I just ran across an article about some artists from Montreal who recently created a breathtaking, massive mural on the side of a five-story building...

Inspired by the work of Alphonse Mucha, this piece was created entirely from spray paint, using graffiti techniques. 500 cans of paint were used, in over 50 different colors. Now that is what I call a masterpiece!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"If You Have Faith And Do Not Doubt... You Can Say To This Mountain, Go Throw Yourself Into the Sea, And It Will Be Done."

These words of Jesus are some of those that I have heard most quoted by Christians (usually taken out of the context of the passage, but that is a whole other topic). It is clear that Christ is making a very significant statement about the power of faith.

But there's more.

I was reading for my hermeneutics class recently, and I found something that excited and amazed me. Jesus was in Jerusalem while He said this, which we all know. But what I had never realized before was this...

The mountain Jesus was referring to was the temple mount, Mount Zion.

If this fails to amaze you, which it wouldn't be too surprising if it did, let me explain one of the things that makes this so significant. One of the implications of this statement is that the power of Christ, and God the Father who answers prayers, surpasses that of the Jewish Temple.

But wait a minute, weren't the power of God and the temple one and the same back then?
Well, that's what first century Jews believed. But Jesus seems to be saying that this is not the case; the role of the temple was only part of what it means to worship God. Furthermore, believers do not need to worship at the temple for God to respond to the prayers of His people.

So, what does this mean for us today?

I think that what we can learn from this is that God's response to us does not require anything but our willingness to rely on Him, and to cry out to Him in faith.

We do not have to gain God's attention through our actions, through our success, through our understanding or stability. What is more, we do not even have to have the strength to believe. If one lacks faith, all they must do is cry out to God, just as the Roman official with the dying daughter did, "Lord, help my unbelief!"

Cry out to God, and He will answer. Whether your mountain is emotional pain, circumstances, fear, or even doubt, it will be cast into the sea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Funny Quotes that I remember from Middle and High School

Funny Quotes that I remember from Middle and High School
I was looking at some old journals and things yesterday from middle school and high school, and I found some really cool stuff. And a lot of it was pretty hilarious. I shall share some of it here, because somebody might get a kick out of it.
The funniest quote from my middle school poetry journal is from a short script I wrote about Bob, who is arguing with some dude, because he is convinced that he is an illusion (this script was making a joke out of existentialism). They get pretty mad at each other, and then another person walks in, and says this great little line:
“Sir, you should stop arguing with the illusion, because you know you can’t win.”
I took a trip to Europe in 2007, with People to People (a government sponsored student organization).
On this trip we had an awesome Belgian bus driver, Danny. Wow. If I had to pick the single most hilarious person I have ever met, it would be him. And I have met some highly entertaining people. He was like my 20something year old goofy older brother during the trip.
His most memorable antic was when we were getting on the bus to go from one city to the next.
As we were all loading our luggage onto the bus, he took my suitcase and said to me “There’s no room on the bus for it.” Then he attached it to the hitch on the back of the bus, acting all serious. “I’m sorry, this is the only way.” He left it there until we all got on the bus. Then when we got off a few hours later, I went to find my suitcase, and he had put it back on the hitch.
Best quote of the same trip:
"The place appears to be occupied by Americans"
A European guy, said this to his friend, as they were walking past the hotel that me and a group of students were staying in somewhere in Switzerland

In my freshman year of high school, I had to put together a project together on the Odyssey. It was compiled in a folder, and at the back of it, I wrote some amusing, caffeine induced acknowledgements:
My cold tea
My clock that won’t work
The color orange

In my sophomore year of high school, the following hilarious dialogue happened in youth group, between my youth pastor and my best friend:
Youth Pastor: Tonight we will be talking about a three letter word that starts with "s", that you all are very uncomfortable with"
Angela (standing up, shouting) "SEX!!!!"
Youth Pastor: "I was actually going to say "sin", I don't know what YOU were thinking"
And last, but not least, I have an old card from my crazy first boyfriend, in my junior year of high school (it is a reference to an inside joke, but it’s still pretty funny:
“Love is like a jelly-filled doughnut! Don’t ask me why it’s like a jelly-filled doughnut, but it is!!!!!!!!!”
“Oh, and Voldemort says hi….”

That’s all my quotes for the moment. And now I will go encounter some more!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Growing Up is Wierd

One of the most amazing things in life is the experience of growing up. Seeing how much we, and the people around us, have grown and changed, is awe inspiring. But it is also strange, and a bit disorienting.

The most striking examples of such astounding growth in my own life are my oldest friends, Libby, Lena, and Katy. We met when we were in sixth grade. When I shyly sat next to them at lunch for the first time, there was no way I could have imagined that 9 years later we would be best friends. It is mind boggling to think of how much we have changed since then.

I remember when Libby and Lena were quiet, shy and had few friends.
I remember when Katy was an awkward, overweight, reclusive child.
I remember when I was an oversensitive, socially inept, extremely shy girl who did not know how to make friends.

But now we have changed. The years have passed, and we have grown tremendously...
Libby has become a dramatic and endlessly conversational butterfly.
Now Lena has grown to be a sensitive, imaginative, friendly individual.
Katy is now a beautiful, funny, and brilliant philosopher.
I have matured into to an energetic, outgoing, artist who can- and does- make friends with everybody.

But as much as we have changed, it is also remarkable to think about how we still have many of the same characteristics that we once had, and how our early struggles led to our current success.

Libby and Lena's quiet nature has allowed them to become exceptional listeners. They keep their friends close, and are there for them no matter what. And they have grown in creativity as a result of living in their imaginations all their lives.
Katy's tendency to isolate herself from other people has played an integral role in her intellectual growth, and has encouraged her strong independence. Because of  her previous low self image and social awareness, Katy had come to value her beauty and relationships.
I, too, highly value my friendships, as a result of having so few when I was young. And what used to be painfully heightened sensitivity has grown into empathy and a deep care for other people.

Remembering who we used to be, and seeing how far we have come, is mind blowing. And it is almost disconcerting to see how far we have come from where we had been.

Yet, as uncanny as the dramatic changes in our personalities are, the fact that we are still ourselves is reassuring.  And I am indescribably comforted by the knowledge that we will always be there for each other.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Universe is Beautiful

It is so easy to forget how massive, and how beautiful, our universe is. And, when looking at pictures of the galaxies, planets, stars, and supernovas, I have a tough time wrapping my mind around the fact that that is our universe, and not some digitally rendered image.

The Bible is My Favorite

You might have heard people say things along the lines of "life is happy and Bible stories are fun and if you follow Jesus everything will be o.k."  But I beg to differ...

The stories found in the Bible are not happy fairy tales we tell to kids before they go to sleep (although some people manage to make it seem that way); most of these stories are brutal depictions of life's toughest moments. 
I do not know who may end up reading this blog (and I am not going to assume that everyone who does read it believes as I do- in fact I hope not. I want some variety among my readers), but regardless of your religious, philosophical, or otherwise worldview determining mode of thought, I think that once you hear some of those stories, you'll agree that they're flipping awesome. And if you already know the Bible, you might find something new.

There are records of strong, sometimes unexpected leaders... Deborah, a woman- normally considered an inferior member of society- who leads an entire nation in war and national affairs.

There are back stories of famous people... Moses killing one of his fellow countryman, and hiding in a foreign land when the king finds out (the last thing he expected was to talk face to face with God)... Abraham (the first of the line of the God's nation, Israel) who told the rulers in the countries he visited that his wife was his sister- so they would not kill him to possess her- and wound up letting her be taken by unknowing, but otherwise honorable, kings.

There are accounts of flawed heroes... King David, a ruler chosen by God, who murdered one of his officers, and took his wife for himself.

And there are plenty of gruesome  things  such as an unassuming woman hammering a tent-peg into the head of an enemy king as he is sleeping in her tent... And an account of a tyrannical king who gets assassinated by a clever warrior-ruler... and this king happens to be so ENORMOUS that the sword that impales him gets swallowed up by his fat.

There's even a story of a bunch of young guys who get attacked by bears, because they insult a bald prophet.

This description barely even scratches the surface of how great the Bible is, but it should shed some light on why I like it so darn much.

You can expect me to go on many more rants on this subject.

Topaz and Bronze

In my search for a cool blog name, I decided to turn to one of my favorite things. The Bible.
See my next post for a description of why exactly it is so awesome (you may be surprised by what I have to say).

The section of the text that I would like to describe is a vision that is seen by the prophet daniel, after he has intensely prayed and fasted for his nation, which it is about to be devastated by war.

"On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river... I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from... around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. "

The identity of the man shown in this terrifying vision is pretty well debated by scholars. One theory is that this is an appearance of Christ. But whatever the case, it is a pretty intense scene.

Regardless of the meaning, I am always awestruck by this description. I am reminded by the majesty of this scene of the magnificence of the world we live in; as amazing as what we see around us is, there is so much that we are unaware of. Life is full of things that we know, and many things we are yet to discover.
But no matter how much I do or do not understand, there is one thing I do know...

Life is glorious.