Daily thoughts during this worldwide crisis.
Build a boat. Eat this scroll. Go tell your mentor he and his sons are going to die. Leave your homeland and family and go where I show you. Take your shoes off. Go marry an unfaithful woman.
These are among the first recorded words God spoke to Noah, Ezekiel, Samuel, Abraham, Moses, and Hosea. If our only information about most of the characters in the Bible came from our own understanding, we would think they were crazy. From scruffy shepherds to princes and kings, from backcountry fishermen to educated Roman citizens, men, women, Jews and even an occasional Gentile, God called and use people from every part of society.
Most of the books of the Bible have compelling opening scenes that draw us in to the story. The Bible is neither boring nor easy. It is the grandest, most epic story ever told. It is the source of most of our other stories that we now consume as books and movies.
Who would not want to read a short story that begins with a man whose name means “salvation” is asked to marry an unfaithful woman whose name means something like “end” or “complete”? Just wait until we see what their children are called.
Given the last part of God’s introductory sentence we can be certain that whatever happens next will not be good for anyone. There is a foreboding about being in an unfaithful environment. Hosea is a call for justice, but first it is a call-out to those who fashioned an environment where injustice can flourish.
The word of the LORD that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.
When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD." So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
I so desperately want the answer be, “No, of course he doesn’t! What a stupid question.” I want Bildad to be correct in his answer to Job’s insistence on innocence. What he says makes perfect sense.
His arguments are the same ones I hear so often. “If you seek God . . . he will reward you.” “It will start small but will end in greatness.” “Where there is smoke, there is fire. We know you did something, or this wouldn’t be happening to you.”
The question that leads to such logic? “Does God pervert justice?” The mistake that Bildad was making was a mistake of time and scope. We live in “now” and in the “now” there are all sorts of injustices happening. We do not know why? Which leads us to scope. We tend to only consider the world we see and currently inhabit. There are those who attempt to help us see beyond – that God may be doing something we do not understand. In my experience that is not much comfort.
There are few things worse than being in physical or psychic pain and your best advice is, “Repent!” Verse four is especially brutal. At least we know what he was thinking.
But let us not be too hard on Bildad the Shuhite. He expresses what we all think. Even those going through difficult times. It is that question, “Does God pervert justice?” that trips up so many in their faith. We all know that the answer is, indeed, “No.” What we cannot manage is how that answer lines up with our lived experience.
For my part it is dangerous to decouple cause and effect, which Bildad uses to support his argument. It is also dangerous to think that God perverts justice. These truths work in most times and most places. But there will always moments like Job – the key, it seems, is to not let the darkness define our lives – it is temporary and has no real power.
Bildad also says, “For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow.” Be tenacious, stay faithful, keep asking worthwhile questions, be generous with mercy and careful with advice. (Yes, I get the irony of that last sentence. Can’t help it.)
Then Bildad the Shuhite answered:
"How long will you say these things,
and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you will seek God
and make supplication to the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and reward you with a rightful habitation.
And though your beginning was small,
your latter days will be very great.
"For inquire, I pray you, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have found;
for we are but of yesterday, and know nothing,
for our days on earth are a shadow.
Will they not teach you, and tell you,
and utter words out of their understanding?
"Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh?
Can reeds flourish where there is no water?
While yet in flower and not cut down,
they wither before any other plant.
Such are the paths of all who forget God;
the hope of the godless man shall perish.
His confidence breaks in sunder,
and his trust is a spider's web.
He leans against his house, but it does not stand;
he lays hold of it, but it does not endure.
He thrives before the sun,
and his shoots spread over his garden.
His roots twine about the stoneheap;
he lives among the rocks.
If he is destroyed from his place,
then it will deny him, saying, `I have never seen you.'
Behold, this is the joy of his way;
and out of the earth others will spring.
"Behold, God will not reject a blameless man,
nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
and your lips with shouting.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will be no more."
“Just look at me! Look at the state I am in!”
One of the unexpectedly difficult tasks we have as caring human beings is to look straight at the pain of others who have done nothing to deserve their condition. . . and not be terrified. It is truly a mark of maturity to be able to bear the pain of others without being pulled into the vortex of their personal hell.
The pain of others has the potential to exhaust us. One only need speak to those in caring professions or social workers to know this. It is difficult to be in the presence of those who scream their pain and pour out the emotional poison that must be discharged.
Job will be heard. He will have his say, “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” And if you think it is difficult to be around this, what do you think it is like to be in a state to say it.
Both Job and David say with amazement, “What is man . . .” On the lips of David, it is expressing amazement, “what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Psalm 8:4). On the lips of Job, it is a lament, “What is man, that thou dost make so much of him, and that thou dost set thy mind upon him.” (Job 7:17). When we are in enough pain, even the blessings of God can seem like a curse.
Job, nor his friends, never quit. They continue their discourse. If you are hurting, find someone grown up enough to let you scream. If you are a caring person, allow others to scream – it is not personal (even if it feels like it). This is how we get through it. This is how we get to that restoration that feels so impossible and far away.
Take a moment and read Job 6-7.
The poem that we call the book of Job in the Old Testament is timeless. We do not know when (or if?) this man named Job lived. We do not know when the poem was reduced (yes reduced) to writing. Can you imagine sitting around after a meal and after the conversation waned just a bit, someone began to recite the epic of Job? A poem that was kept in the collective memory of everyone you knew.
We all know “the story of Job”, but most of us do not know the poem. We have not heard it recited dozens of times. If we had, it would keep important questions in our minds. It would keep us in touch with that important part of our lives called grieving, or lamentation, or the injustice of “random events.” It would keep us from fearing what terrifies us – looking weak.
But alas, the church in the west has nearly cut itself off from these parts of scripture. We pull them out when someone dies and read a book about the suffering of Job and after a truncated time of grieving, get back to the grind of work and being happy at church.
This does not mean that we should perpetually wear black and demand the everyone around us be sensitive to our situation. It does mean that it may be healthier if we acknowledge and carry in a natural way our joy and our grief. We are complex beings and to deny (hide) parts of us will force it into parts our minds, bodies, and souls that will cause long term damage and express itself in dis-ease. It may be physical, mental, or spiritual – most likely, all three.
What this means for a church is that there will be some who are hurting who will inadvertently be pushed to the margins because there is simply no room for people who are injured. This is both a cultural and religious problem right now.
But a few words about Eliphaz’s response to Job’s anguish. I encourage you to read Chapters 4-5. For one who was willing to sit for seven days in silence, his initial response seems to me to be a little harsh, “You have comforted many with your wisdom, but now that it has happened to you, you are crying like a baby.” He goes on to suggest that Job needs to repent of whatever it was he did to deserve such a catastrophe. The difficult part of Eliphaz’s response is that he is mostly right. What is off base is his assumption that Job should not maintain his innocence.
This is the best that we can do sometimes. Neither Job nor his friends know of what they speak. They are trying. As we will see, what is remarkable is Job’s patience with his friends, and their patience with him. We can all muddle through together, but we must stay connected to do it.
I have worked so hard to keep this from happening. I have been good. I have been righteous. I followed the rules. I have been generous, a good spouse, a great parent.
And now. . . the one thing that I never wanted to happen, has happened. I promised myself it never would happen to me – I have seen it too much in others and what it does. I had nothing to do with, but it happened anyway! Death, divorce, illness, loss of a job, abuse, my friend murdered, rape, addiction, abortion.
“For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest; but trouble comes."
AAAAAGHH! – “I wish I was never born!” It just hurts too much to bear!
Psalm 88 is dark, but it is nothing compared to Job’s opening words. He has been sitting silent with his friends for a week. And now he pours this out on them. And in that is his eventual salvation – his friends listened. Of course, there is a long way to go. There is a lot of human wisdom and accusation to be shared. But this is where the healing begins.
It is painful. It is raw. It is terrifying. This is not hopelessness – this is a deep expression of injustice. Solomon says something similar in Ecclesiastes when referring to all the stuff we witness, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive; but better than both is he who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” (Eccles. 4:1-3).
There is so much about our culture (American, in case) that wants to deny expressing or even acknowledging such pain. What is worse, our form of Christianity, has made it worse. Of all people, Christians should lament. We KNOW this is not how it should be and rather than lament we paint a cheap façade of what we think we should present as faith to others. Lament is not failure of faith, it is having the courage to show it when even our fellow believers shrink away.
 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
 And Job said:
 "Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night which said,
`A man-child is conceived.'
 Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
 Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds dwell upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
 That night -- let thick darkness seize it!
let it not rejoice among the days of the year,
let it not come into the number of the months.
 Yea, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry be heard in it.
 Let those curse it who curse the day,
who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.
 Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see the eyelids of the morning;
 because it did not shut the doors of my mother's womb,
nor hide trouble from my eyes.
 "Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
 Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
 For then I should have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then I should have been at rest,
 with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
 or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
 Or why was I not as a hidden untimely birth,
as infants that never see the light?
 There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
 There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
 The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master.
 "Why is light given to him that is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
 who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
 who rejoice exceedingly,
and are glad, when they find the grave?
 Why is light given to a man whose way is hid,
whom God has hedged in?
 For my sighing comes as my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
 For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest; but trouble comes."