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.