Posts Tagged ‘responsibility’

JOB 1:1; 2:1-10

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

2 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LordThe Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Our conclusion in a previous Dispatch may have sounded fatalistic and inherently hopeless, but there is real wisdom in the principle of accepting life as it comes. This doesn’t mean that we must simply resign ourselves to the negative experiences of adversity, hardship, loss, and mortality as they come upon us.

If we should look more closely at our own tendencies and habits when suffering visits us, we might notice how often we fall alternately into denial (“It’s really nothing”) or inflation (“There’s no use going on”), without truly engaging the struggle that is uniquely ours. To accept life as it comes is to take the mixture of good and evil with full responsibility – not for having caused it, perhaps, but responsible for what we will do with it.

Job didn’t do anything to deserve his misfortune (the premise of the story), and yet he refused to either dismiss it as unreal or resist it as unfair. The great climax towards the end of the book, when God addresses Job directly out of the whirlwind of his disorienting experience, is prepared for already here at the beginning, where Job accepts his suffering as his own.

MARK 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

We introduced the possibility that the little girl and the woman in this story are really – that is, symbolically – two aspects of a deeper complex. As the “inner child” of the woman, the little girl awaits the gracious gift of health in the healing touch of Jesus. As the helpless and dependent part, all she can do is wait in expectant surrender.

As the “grownup” in the story the woman takes responsibility for her health, in getting to what she hopes will be the source of her recovery. She cannot simply wait for Jesus, but needs rather go out and find him. Two aspects: one that depends absolutely on the grace from beyond, and the other that determines to do whatever it takes to get healthy again. What we have here are the two sides of faith – faith as a complete and total release to the Divine beyond us, and faith as the planted foot that leverages our leap into that beyond.

The aspect of faith that we might think of as passive is less understood in our busy, action-oriented, and somewhat superficial culture today than ever before. This idea of inward release in trust to God as the ground of our existence and meaning is hard to grasp for those of us who have been shaped in our thinking by a philosophy that ascribes reality only to things tangible, measurable, and subject to definition. We can manage trust in God as a being, located apart from and above us in the order of existence. But can we entrust ourselves to God as the essential ground of our being? In this case, we don’t go out to meet God but constantly rely on and rest in the Divine.

PSALM 9:9-20

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
    Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
    See what I suffer from those who hate me;
    you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14 so that I may recount all your praises,
    and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
    rejoice in your deliverance.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.

17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
    let the nations know that they are only human.

The lesson from the story of David and Goliath can be summed up in the maxim, “Put your trust in God, but still take careful aim.” God doesn’t hand us every success in life, but He has blessed us with a hearty stock of instincts, talents, and brains to make our way through. It’s easy to fall to either extreme, where we put it all in God’s hands and relinquish responsibility, or rely exclusively and often tragically on our own strength and ingenuity. It can take a Goliath-sized crisis in life to teach us that our confidence must rest in something greater than ourselves alone.

David’s request to God, to “let the nations know that they are only human,” reflects his own personal lessons in humility. When very young, he had found strength and courage in knowing that God was near. Later, having made a fantastic moral blunder in cultivating an adulterous affair and then arranging for the murder of his mistress’ husband, David had to face up to the fact of his own condemnable motives for power. And toward the end of his reign, on the run from his own son’s overthrow attempt on the throne, David realized once again that he was not invincible. Through it all, he learned to rely on God more deeply and to seek God earlier in his need rather than waiting until he was desperate.

Being “only human” is not a bad thing, but we need to remember that we are not God.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Further reflection on this story prompts an interesting question: If David was so confident that God was going to give Goliath into his hands there on the battlefield, why did he collect five stones into his leather bag rather than only one? We might think that, had he been fully trusting in God’s power, one smooth stone would be sufficient.

But let’s look at it again. Could it be another lesson of this story that God doesn’t do things for us but rather works through the instruments of our talent, skill, freedom, and intelligence to bring about the closest possible approximation to what He would do were He in absolute control?s This suggests the further idea that God may actually be dependent on this fallible and frequently disappointing mix of human capacities for the forward advance of creation and fulfillment.

However far we may personally be willing to go with this notion, we can’t deny that the Bible consistently upholds the human being as the primary agent through whom God accomplishes His will. The kingdom of God that was central to Jesus’ gospel is manifested wherever otherwise ordinary people rise above their natural impulses to achieve extraordinary things. Rather than burying their talents, they use them and let them be used by God for the greater good. And because his aim was not always right on target, David packed away a back-up supply of stones … just in case.

JEREMIAH 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

2 Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
3     the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
    O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
    and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5 Again you shall plant vineyards
    on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
    and shall enjoy the fruit.
6 For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
    in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.”

Jeremiah was the son of a priest and very likely had been one himself, when he felt God’s calling out of the religious establishment and into the streets as a prophet. Mounting tension in Judah’s international relations was causing concern for many, especially as the superpowers of Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and Persia were becoming increasingly interested in its prime real estate.

The response from the religious establishment was effectively no response at all. Generally the belief was that God would protect his temple, the holy city, and its people from harm since they had been chosen for a long and bright destiny. God wouldn’t let his most important project fail, and since the Jews figured so centrally in that project, he wouldn’t let any harm come to them either.

But as we know, the city walls did come down and its temple was destroyed, an event that was not only a political catastrophe but an existential crisis of the first order. All at once, the fabric of meaning was ripped to shreds and the foundations of security were shattered into pieces. Jeremiah had sounded the warning, but no one listened. Now in the aftermath and amid the wreckage, he could only say, “I told you so.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he helped his generation through a process of serious self-examination. Their self-righteous complacency and sense of entitlement had made the nation vulnerable to collapse. It wasn’t the Babylonian army that overpowered them, and it wasn’t because God had abandoned them. Rather they had lost their vision, forgotten their divine appointment, and allowed their once-vibrant faith to recede from the edge of risk and fall asleep under the hedges of orthodoxy.

                                                                                                 

Only after coming to terms with their own responsibility in this tragedy could the survivors really find healing. This has always been true. When your circumstances close in around you, when it feels like God isn’t hearing your prayers and other people don’t care, it is tempting – almost irresistible – to look outside yourself for both the culprit to blame for your troubles and the savior who will rescue you from them. In either case, the locus of creative control is deferred somewhere other than where it really belongs, which is inside yourself.

That’s not to say that you must take the blame, or conversely pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Taking responsibility is importantly different from taking blame. Blame is really a story you tell yourself for the purpose of assigning a cause to your pain and anger. Beyond pinning your troubles on someone or something else, blame has the additional benefit of letting you do nothing but stand there and point. Or if you are blaming yourself, it can leech like a paralyzing anesthetic into your soul. As a consequence, your personal challenges can slowly evolve into chronic problems – not going away but instead getting worse.

To take responsibility you need to stop looking behind, around, or even up ahead for the solution you seek. While it is certainly true that these dimensions of your situation can contain insight, resources, and guidance, your salvation starts as you find your center and place both hands on your pain. However it got here, it is yours. Insisting that someone else did this to you doesn’t take away the responsibility of dealing with it.

The way of healing and freedom begins at the point where you realize that you have control over whether and to what extent you allow this ordeal (loss, hardship, betrayal, or abuse) to define you and determine the rest of your life.

Jeremiah grieved with his people as they stood in the rubble of their beloved homeland. He helped them take responsibility by accepting the reality of their experience. But then he challenged them to hold a different frame around their pain, one that could let them see that this experience was not just an ending but the start of something new.

PSALM 32

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful
    offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
    shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

An exceeding majority of human beings live out their lives “east of Eden” with a dark image of a wrathful deity criticizing and condemning their every step. Jean Paul Sartre, a principal voice in the early twentieth-century philosophy of Existentialism, daringly suggested that human beings are a living contradiction – “condemned to be free” and burdened with immense guilt for the “offense” of having to choose our way in this world.

Another voice of that period, Erich Fromm, commented on how an entire culture seemed willing to surrender its freedom to one authoritarian system or another, just to lighten this burden of insecurity. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it; only don’t hold me responsible, because I’m just following orders.

According to Fromm, religion has too often interfered with human development by playing the threshold guardian against our progress into maturity and responsible adulthood. So many of us never gain our liberation from guilt. Even as adults we are trying desperately to please God and win the favor of immortal life.

For its part, much of conventional religion supports this adolescent spirituality. Only in rare exceptions has it been willing to follow Jesus as far as saying, “You’re already forgiven. Now, let go of the past and get on with your life!”