Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 22

OT: Job 4:1-7:21

Wow, Job is a pretty powerful book. The only other time I read the whole thing through, I remember being on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I can see why. We all grapple at some point or another with these core issues of pain and suffering, and Job and his friends articulate our thoughts, our questions, and our explanations quite eloquently.

Is it bad that I can relate more to Job's friends than Job? I guess it is b/c I have played that role more than the Job role. In today's reading, Eliphaz steps up to the plate to answer Job's overwhelming outpouring of sorrow and bitterness. Though it seems that he is trying to be gentle, his words are a little too direct (which is also a problem of mine). The bottom line, though, is that Eliphaz is trying to give hope. Faced with the choice between God being wrong and Job being wrong, he has to assume that Job is wrong (4:7-9, 5: 3-7). After all, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his maker?" (17). It's honestly a good point. As evidence, Eliphaz makes many proclamations about God protecting the righteous and punishing the wicked, all of which seem very psalm-like. It is almost like he is rehashing everything he has heard before in "church." Perhaps his personal knowledge of Job's apparent righteousness (4:3-4) causes him to also delve deeper. Rather than stick at psalm level, he reflects on the fact that no man, even the most righteous, could stand before the perfection of God (4: 18-21).

And yet, the whole book makes clear that Job is not being punished for his sin. Rather, he is ultimately being tormented to bring glory to God. Now, I can see how that sounds perverse. And yet, when you accept the premise that there is an omnipotent, omniscient God who created man, I guess you also have to accept that He can do whatever He wants. It reminds me of the guy in the Gospels who was blind (either that, or lame). And Jesus' disciples asked who sinned to make the man blind. Jesus responded that his blindness was not a punishment for sin; rather, he was blind in order to bring God glory. Job's case seems like a more dramatic version of that same principle.

Meanwhile, Eliphaz keeps groping about, trying to figure it all out. Despite the sternness of what He calls God's "discipline," he firmly asserts that God will ultimately bring healing to Job. He says, "For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal" (5:18). And actually, he is not too far from the truth on that one.

Job, however, is not having any of it. The poor man--he is far too miserable to have someone preach to him, even if the accusations were true, which they were not. He spends his time trying to explain to Eliphaz that his pain and suffering is far too great to reason through it, and it would be soooo much better if he would just die. He wonders out loud what kind of God would let him suffer like this and yet not put him out of his misery.

And in fairness, those all seem like good points.

1 Cor. 14: 18-40, my three readers each have a shot to clear up what has been for me an insoluble mystery. Paul is still contrasting speaking in tongues with prophecy. In verse 22, he clearly states that "tongues...are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers." You got that? Tongues for unbelievers, prophecy for believers. "SO...." begins the next verse, "SO if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of you mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and...he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (23-25). So to paraphrase, "Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. But if they hear you speaking in them, they are going to think you are crazy. Prophecy is for believers, not unbelievers. But if an unbeliever hears prophecies, he will repent and come to God." Huh? Wouldn't that mean that prophecy was a sign for unbelievers, and not tongues? Am I being nitpicky here? That just seems to me like a direct contradiction. Maybe I'm reading it wrong. Someone enlighten me, please! I have stumbled over this passage every time I've ever read it, and then gone back and read it several more times without ever getting the slightest bit of insight.

Then there's some verses on the importance of an orderly worship service, "for God is not a God of disorder, but of peace" (33). Next, there is a stern admonition that "women should remain silent in churches...for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church" (34-5). Ouch. I'd love to gloss over that or to give some explanation that makes it seem less painful, but there really is none that comes to mind. All I can say is that Paul sure does word things harshly.

Oh, and I had mistakenly referred to the "women should be silent" passage in an earlier discussion on women's roles. This is not the one I was thinking about. It must be the one that says that women are not to have any authority over men. So stay tuned for that one....

Actually, you know what? Let's do this thing. I am going to try to steer a middle course, but for me, that usually means that I will simply offend people on both sides of the issue. All I can say is...please be gentle with me:).

In an age where a woman can plausibly run for President of the most powerful country in the world, these type of instructions seem...dated. Their seeming incongruity with how our society functions has led many Christians to argue that, like greeting each other with a holy kiss or women wearing head coverings, these instructions can fit under the category of "cultural." In that culture, it would have been "disgraceful" for women to speak or to not wear head coverings. In this culture, not so much. And honestly, I see their point.

One reason I have heard that the verses to women are still applicable is that Paul often refers back to creation to make his point. For example, in I Timothy 2:12-14, he argues, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." See, the reason goes back to Adam and Eve, not to contemporary cultural mores.

But here is the thing with that. Paul makes the same type of argument with head coverings. He says, "A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head" (I Cor. 11: 7-10). That goes back to creation, too! So, if we apply the argument consistently, then women should wear head coverings, too, shouldn't they?

I don't know; it all gets confusing to me. All I know is that I don't want to wear head coverings, and come to think of it, I don't have any desire to do announcements or a Lord's supper talk in church:). And I don't want to "oppress" women, or to repel women who need God, but can't stomach what they view as unfair gender rules. BUT...I also don't want to start explaining away the Bible's teachings as "cultural," just because they happen to contrast with my particular culture. The Bible is a hard book. Yes, ignoring parts of it make it more palatable, but if I was to start ignoring offensive parts, the first bit I would cut out was the "turning the other cheek part," followed by all the stuffiness about sexual immorality (actually, I do like that part, but cutting it out would make our position a lot easier), and I would probably conclude by axing the Old Testament, while I'm at it. The stifling instructions regarding women's roles would be but one of many on my list.

So instead, I try my best not to cut out any of it.

Except for greeting with a holy kiss and head coverings. Those, I am good with ignoring:). (It's not the most consistent position in the world, but I do try...)

Psalm 37: 30-40

The psalm finally concludes today. It is a great one, but long!

Proverbs 21:27

God does not accept the sacrifices of the wicked.

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