Posts Tagged ‘Job’

JOB 38:1-7, 34-41

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    so that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
    or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods cling together?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens,
    or lie in wait in their covert?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
    when its young ones cry to God,
    and wander about for lack of food?

Why didn’t God come clean and just confess to Job that He had made a bet with Satan, and that the poor chap had performed admirably throughout his ordeal? “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let you in on the secret without ruining the game. You did just fine, and congratulations.” Why not? For the simple reason that the heavenly wager between God and Satan was not intended as an explanation of Job’s suffering, but rather as a device for disqualifying the popular theory that people suffer in this life only because they deserve it.

Because Job is presented as a righteous and blameless man, the author needed another way of launching him on his misadventure. And while the opening wager scene offends our modern moral sensibilities, it was really about the only way the author could set the stage without giving up entirely his core belief in the sovereignty of God.

Instead of either an explanation or a confession, the answering voice from the whirlwind raises Job’s awareness from a personal focus on his own troubles, to the expansive mystery and marvelous complexity of existence on the cosmic scale. God is saying in effect that He’s doing the best He can, and if Job thinks he can do better he should step up and take over. As the Buddha in India discovered at about the same time: Life is suffering.

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ISAIAH 49:8-16a

Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
    on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
    to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
    on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
    and lo, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

The writer known as Second (Deutero-) Isaiah flourished in ministry during the Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE) and lived among the community of those who had been taken from their homes in Jerusalem. Defeat by the Babylonian army and deportation to a foreign land induced an identity crisis of the first order. When your monotheistic beliefs trace the causality of what befalls you to the will of God, every upset and loss begs the question: Why?

Especially when a respectable reputation and your honest efforts at living right still land you in a dark and painful place, this question of the relation of your suffering to God’s will can cut deep into your faith. There were many contemporaries left behind in Jerusalem (Zion, the mount on which the temple was built had become a synonym for Jerusalem itself) who felt compelled to conclude that God had simply forgotten his covenant with Israel. Divine amnesia was at least more theologically sustainable than the idea that God had deliberately abandoned them.

Away in Babylon, Isaiah was hearing similar cries among the exiles. God had promised a long and prosperous future to his people. What happened? Were they being punished for some unbeknownst sin – perhaps for the sins of their ancestors? This was one answer. But Second Isaiah (along with a fellow exile who adapted the story of Job) insisted on the innocence of his generation, and outright rejected the popular idea that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.

Following an insight that would later have revolutionary implications in the Christian era, Isaiah turned the crisis of exile into redemptive suffering on behalf of the entire nation. His generation, a collective taken as an individual, had served as the ratifying sacrifice of God’s renewed covenant of blessing. Their affliction and loss had opened a new future of hope and salvation for everyone.

JOHN 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

If we didn’t know the background tradition of John’s Gospel, we would think that Jesus is calling attention to himself as the historical-specific savior figure who is the world’s only way to God. Isn’t that exactly what’s going on in this text?

Actually, this Gospel is rooted in a deeper stream known as the Wisdom tradition, which surfaces also in the New Testament letter of Colossians and elsewhere, but reaches back into the so-called intertestamental writings of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, and still farther back into the First Testament books of Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs and the Psalms. On the larger world stage, the Wisdom tradition moved across the cultures of Israel, Greece, Egypt and even into the Far East.

The basic idea of this great spiritual philosophy was about a creative principle behind the cosmos and everything we see. In Israel this principle was named Hokhmah, in Greece Sophia or Logos, in Egypt it was called Ma’at, and in China is was named the Tao. Often in feminine representation (but not always), Lady Wisdom was regarded as the intelligence, purpose, grace, and glory that holds everything in unity.

An arrangement of five apples on the ground, for instance, would be counted as six things – the five apples and the order of their arrangement. This was one aspect of Wisdom. But also, each apple is a certain arrangement of elements; and the tree from which it fell, the ecosystem around the tree, the provident planet of Earth, the solar system, our galaxy and universe entire – this vast complexity of patterns within patterns,  how it all holds together and turns as one, was contemplated as divine in nature.

                                                                                            

As we said, the Hebrews named her Wisdom and the Greeks honored him as Logos: the Word. And this is where John’s Gospel picks up the thread. In the opening chapter we are introduced to the Word that was with God, as God, from the very beginning, through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3). This Word, we are told in verse 14, was made flesh and lived (literally “pitched its tent”) among us in the person of Jesus. This passage, by the way, clearly has Sirach 24:1-12 as its inspiration:

Wisdom praises herself,
    and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
    and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
    and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
    and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
    and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
    and over every people and nation I have held sway.
Among all these I sought a resting place;
    in whose territory should I abide?

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
    and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
    and in Israel receive your inheritance.’
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
    and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
10 In the holy tent I ministered before him,
    and so I was established in Zion.
11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
    and in Jerusalem was my domain.
12 I took root in an honored people,
    in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

It’s important to remember that in John’s Gospel, Jesus – the historical-specific figure who is the chief protagonist of his narrative – is functioning as the human mouthpiece of this Wisdom/Word which is universally present throughout creation as the creative intelligence and will of God. It would have made no sense in the larger tradition to say that this Wisdom/Word was only here or there, in this individual person from Nazareth and nowhere else. Wisdom is everywhere, or nothing would exist.

Through Jesus (John’s Gospel is saying) the Word of God spoke with a power and clarity unmatched anywhere. While this self-same Wisdom/Word was driving the sprouting seed and guiding the stars in their courses above, in Jesus it was revealed as love for all the world, setting people free by the gift of God’s unconditional forgiveness.

In our passage, Philip asks to see “the Father” – this Gospel’s favored term for God. Jesus replies by inviting Philip to look through him (Jesus) to the divine wisdom of God’s love. The development of Christianity increasingly became about looking at Jesus instead of through him; making him into an object of worship rather following him as the way to love.