GOD, SAY WHAT?

Looking at Job Chapter Seven

 

saywhatJob begins chapter 7 continuing his discourse; yet the recipient will seem to change. While chapter 6 had Job responding somewhat to Eliphaz, chapter 7  Job’s peroration will become aimed at God. While verse 2:22 asserts, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong,” the reader now has to determine if the same can be true after reading chapter seven.

            The first pericope of chapter 7 (vv.1-6) begin with the parallelism that is common to Hebrew poetry and has been a feature of the book of Job. Verses 1 and 2 form individual parallel lines while verse 5 and 6 perform the same. Yet, tuck neatly in the middle of all the parallelism are verse 3 and 4. They are written in another vice of Hebrew poetry: chiasm. And, their place in the middle points to Job’s emotional state—because of the misfortunes mentioned in the surrounding verses [this is brought out by the use of conjunction ‘so’ beginning verse 3] (1-2;5-6).

Verses 3 and 4 and their chiastic structure:

             A1                                 B1

V3. so I am allotted         months of emptiness

              B2                                                  A2

      And nights of misery      are appointed me.

 

The center of the chiasm points to emptiness and misery as the emotional components of Job’s current life. Job interestingly forms the next pericope of 7 (7-10) into 2 chiasms—7-8 form the first while 9-10 form the later.

 

 

Verses 7-8:

              A1                                                                              B1

7 Remember that my life is but a breath   my eye will never again see good.

                B2                                                                           A2

8 The eye of him who sees me            will behold me no more.

 

For Job, a man whose life is emptiness and misery, his eyes will never see good again, nor will the eyes of him who sees him—while many attribute the ‘eyes of him who sees me’ as being God, it almost seems a better interpretation to see the ‘eyes …’ as anyone who now sees job including his friends who are taking part in the discussion. If we believe to be able to see all then we would have to concede that God would be able to see Job in sheol—see him anymore, his life is but a breath and will be no more. While it is tempting to want to make an appeal to James 4:14 when interpreting  ‘life is but a breath,’ we should refrain from using the New Testament in interpreting Job—a case could be made however when handling James 4:14 to make an appeal to Job 7:7.

Verse 9-10’

             A1                                                                                  B1

  1. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to sheol does not come up,

             B2                                                                                  A2

  1. He returns to no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.

 

 

We now have a man whose life is misery and emptiness, whose eye will never see good any longer, nor will anyone see him any longer because when one goes to sheol—this is not hell but simply the place of the dead—he does not anymore return [This predates resurrection theologies]. Because of this Job feels unrestrained in addressing God at t he beginning of the final pericope of verse 7: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth.”

            For Job, all of his problems are coming from God, and God does not—in Job’s eyes—want to let up. Job makes this clear in the last pericope of chapter 7.  Job, for all of his problems simply needs a break. He can’t sleep because—in his opinion—God sends bad dreams (v.14). Job just wants God to back off for long enough for him (Job) to swallow his spit (v.19).

            But, what is very interesting in this final passage is this man Job, who is upright and blameless, who is so upright that he makes sacrifices on behalf of his children in case they might have sinned, has now to come to the conclusion that he has sinned and that is the reason for his problems. He seems to have taken Eliphaz’s cause and effect theory to heart: Verse 20- Why do you not pardon my transgressions and take away my iniquity?

            Job has come from being upright to believe he has sinned so bad that God now is tormenting him. And for Job this torment will go on until death—For now I shall lie in the earth, you will seek me, but I shall not be (v.21).

            While we always speak of the “patience of Job,” as we read more into Job that patience seems to have been replaced with bitterness. Job sees himself as man tormented by God. As a result, he lives a life of emptiness and misery—remember this is a man who sum five chapters earlier had it all and was upright before God—he will go to the grave in this condition and all he wants is just a break for the amount of time it would take to swallow his spit.

            We have all been in that situation where it seemed that the ‘bad’ would not let up. It is at that time that cheerful hymns just do not seem to comfort. And, like Job, we seem to feel like the good and gracious God has it out for us. As well, we have all probably been angry at God. And Job is not the only person in the Bible who has felt betrayed by the almighty. Jerimiah said:

 

 

            O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived;

                You over powered me and prevailed.

            I am ridiculed all day long;

              Everyone mocks me (Jeremiah 20:7).

 

Bad things happen in a good world and to good people. There are not always, though they definitely can be, the result of cause and effect. And, we will at times get mad at God. As I have been meditating on this chapter, over in England baby Charlie Gard is dying—as a result of a genetic condition [there have been many court cases about him receiving help that would not help him], and it would be safe to assume that his parents, if they are Christians, might have a bit of anger directed towards God. Why would you God not step in and heal this genetic problem; why would you God not allow him to cross the big pond for treatment in the USA; Why would you not step in and let him come home and be well; why would you not step in and let him come home to die? The questions could go on and on, but the point is we all can get angry at God. Some people might not express it as forcefully as Job, while others might express it stronger. But, not matter how it is expressed, we have to see God as sovereign over all creation. We have to remember the word’s that Job has seemed to have forgotten, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [at this point he has not attributed the evil to God] (v. 2:10)? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord (1:21).

We serve a good God in an evil world. We, like Job, will receive good. But, like Job, we also will receive bad. While we love God, just like the family member we love, we will at times feel angry his way. But in all things we should remember, blessed be the name of the Lord.

 

Collect for today:

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the good Lord bless and keep you!

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GOD’S INFINITY: QUALATATIVE OR QUANTATATIVE?

handsIt is understood that God is all powerful as well as all knowing. The question that has to be answered is ‘how,’ in what capacity is God’s infinity to be understood?

No scripture confesses that “God does not know all things,”[1] wrote Ron Highfield. This statement while seemingly true, and I believe it is true, seems innocent. But, when we say God knows all things, the question that comes to mind is what “all” does God know and when does he know? Did God know of the Paris or San Bernardino terrorist attacks before they happened? Or, did God know about them perfectly as the unfolded, whereas man knew of them in some partial form as they transpired?

What needs to be separated and understood is do we speak of God’s infinity as quantitative or qualitative?  But can God’s perfect knowledge be limited to ‘what can be known at a given time.’ This allows God to respond to man’s actions and God’s infinite knowledge can remain intact. Right now it is 12:40 am. God has perfect knowledge of 12:40 am. But there is no knowledge of 12:41 as it is not yet 12:41. Thus God’s knowledge is perfect and up to date. Hmmm? God has perfect and infinite knowledge of everything that is; but can/does he have knowledge of what is not? 12:41 is not yet here so can there be any knowledge of it? God knows all things that can be known at any given time.

Psalm 147 states, “… his understanding is beyond measure.” But the question that has to be answered is this quantitative or qualitative? Can God know what is yet unknown, when he created beings with free-will? It seems that God’s infinite knowledge is best to be seen as qualitative. God can and does know everything at any given point perfectly. He knows everything there is to know about whatever there is to know at any given time. But, being as the future is not a point in time (the future is not anything, nothing is anything until the time it comes into being), in fact the future may not even come to pass, God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite in what can be know. His infinite knowledge is in regards to what is, as what is not cannot be known; the minute it become known it is.  It is unlimited in that God can and does know everything that can be known—what is knowable. It is infinite in quality in that God knows perfect. He is not bogged down in his knowledge with pre-conceived notions. The Apostle Paul wrote that now he—in essence mankind—knows ‘in part’ but at some later time the ‘partial things will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).  God’s knowledge is not partial as is man’s. Everything that is ‘knowable’ God knows and perfectly whereas man only knows in part and even then that knowledge is clouded. There is a difference in the quality of the knowledge. This allows for man’s free-will and God’s infinite knowledge—qualitative—both to remain intact.

Important for understanding evil is understanding God’s providence. It has to be understood that God can know infinitely everything that is knowable; he can do infinitely everything that is logically doable. Yet, man’s free-will choice is something not known even when man commits to it—though the intent can be known, it is only knowable when man engages his free-will choice. God’s immanence— immanence means that God is present to and in the natural order, human nature, and history[2]—has to also be kept in the equation. Understanding God’s infinite knowledge as qualitative as opposed to quantitative keeps God’s immanence in proper check for to venture to far along the lines of quantitative can led on to pantheism. Feinberg asserts, “As Barth frequently reminds us, in Christ God both draws near to us but remains also hidden. God is veiled in his unveiling and unveiled in his hiddenness”[3]

It can be argued then that God cannot control every event, as wells, it can be argued that God does not control every event. Both lead to their own particular conundrums. If it is argued that God cannot control every event then the conclusion can be drawn that God is not all powerful. If research then concludes that God does not control every event then it could be argued that God does not care. It would be hard to see a symbol of a benevolent God a God that does not care. Yet, if the free-will defense is factored into the equation the results change.

If man acts upon his own free-will it does not limit the power of God for God can act in response to what is knowable. It also sets up the premise that it is not God who does not care but man. For God has set his ways in the heart of man; man chooses to act contrary to God’s ways. Yet, when man engages a plan of evil God can and does act. There is an immense difference in the fact that God does not control every event and in that God cannot control every event.

King writes, “The Christian religion, in the modern period has been its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil. Innocent suffering both as a result of natural calamity and human malevolence is presumed to count decisively against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. A ‘God of Love’ such as Christians profess to worship, surely would not permit such wanton destruction of human life as represented by the Lisbon earthquake or the Holocaust.”[4]

Yet, when God’s omnipotence is seen as qualitative as opposed to quantitative this situation does not exist. God has the power to work in everything that is logically doable—it is not logical to stop a tsunami before it happens as it is not known until it happens, until it becomes known. Yet, God can, and does, work in all these situations.

The free-will defense keeps man’s free-will intact and as well keeps God’sinfinite knowledge and power both intact. As Plantiga asserts, “A world where creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil: and he can’t give these creatures their freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[5]

While Bonting believes in the existence of evil, it is creatio ex nihilo where he has the problem. “In my view the commonly accepted creation theology, creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is at fault because it implies that God created everything, including evil.”[6] Geisler combats this problem writing, “God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.”[7] He continues, “Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will.”[8]

With God controlling everything can there be free-will? With God controlling everything can there be real love for God, or is simple forced, built in, robot love? God created man with free-will; with free-will cane the possibility of man doing evil. For God to stop man from doing evil would be to go against the very order, free-will, that God created. With God’s infinite knowledge he can know everything that is knowable, and know it perfectly. With his infinite power he can do everything that is logically doable. God (1) cannot know evil until it happens because before it happens it is not knowable and (2) God cannot not stop the evil of man—even when it is knowable—because to do so would be to go against what he created and called good—freewill-beings.

For Plantinga, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”[9] Geisler sums it up well writing, “So more properly speaking, omnipotence means God can do anything that is possible to do, not what is impossible or contradictory. Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will. There are some things even God cannot do. He cannot force anyone to freely accept Him. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms.”[10]

Collect:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world
may be peaceably governed by thy providence; and that thy
Church may joyfully serve thee in confidence and serenity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1]William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield;  Gregory A. Boyd, Paul Kjoss  Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle Location 2788.

[2] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 29.

[3] Feinberg, 31. Referencing Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), pp. 368-372.

.[4] Robert King, “Review of Diogenes Allen’s The Traces of God,Princeton Seminary Review, vol. 3, no. 3 1982, 336.

  [5] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 30

[6] Sjoerd L. Bonting, “The Problem of Evil,” Sewanee Theological Review 47, no. 4 (2014):405.

[7] Geisler, 31.

[8] Geisler, 37.

[9] Plantinga, Chapter 4 under The Free Will Defense.

[10] Geisler, 38.

Lectionarily Speaking: ARE WE LETTING THE FIELDS TURN BROWN?

harvestAs the Season after Pentecost moves along toward the Reign of Christ, the sun of late Spring feels quite a bit like a mid-Summer sun. And, the plants, the gardens, are trying to hold their own.  Quite appropriate is this week’s gospel passage which includes Matthew 9:37-38—Jesus saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” While this particular verse holds special significance for me as my ordination service was set around these verse, for the church it holds an even higher significance.

            The church in general has become complacent with indoor Christianity: If we liken the church to a boat most are happy on a pew and sailing toward Heaven each Sunday morning, while the rest of the world goes on by. It seems that the early church, the missional church, under the missio Dei, has, in many instances, been left by the wayside. In a world where the fields need plowing, as well as planting, praying God to send workers into the field has seem to stop. Yet, the passages for this week show us another way, a preferable way.

            What if the 21st century church answered God as the people of Israel answered Moses in Exodus 19:8? “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” If the modern church took this stance Sunday morning sailing wouldn’t be enough. It would have to filter in Matthew 28:19—Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. It’s hard to go while you are simply sitting!

            The Psalmist wrote, “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant” (Psalm 116:16). But are we serving God, or letting the church serve us with fancy lights, videos, and rock concert atmospheres? While relax inside the church are we letting the fields, once ripe for harvest, turn brown? Are we serving the Lord when a world outside the doors of the church is hurting on a grand level?

            Christ said to pray for workers to be sent into the fields. For Christ, 2000 years ago just as now, the harvest was ready. Yet, are we ready for it? Do we “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 100:1), but make it low enough as to not attract the attention of a hurting world? Do “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), but keep that peace hidden from those whose lives need peace?

            Yes, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. But, we were told to pray for workers to be sent to the field. And, if we look close at this week’s Gospel passage, as soon as Christ said to pray for workers to be sent, he sent them. He sent them to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near! What if the modern church was to turn back to the missio Dei and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near? Christ has shown that if we pray for workers to be sent to the field he will send them. As we move to the Reign of Christ, let us pray the Lord to send workers into the fields and with a joyful noise proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality! Let us not become complacent sitting on a pew sailing toward Heaven; Peter only walked on water when he got out of the boat!

 

A Collect for Missions:

Almighty God, who called your Church to witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

 

Until next time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep you!

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HOLY TRINITY, ST. PATRICK, AND SHAMROCKS!

cloverThe church year moves right along. This week, as Pentecost has just been celebrated, the year looks at the Holy Trinity. We profess the Holy trinity each week in the Nicene creed when we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The are always together and in unity: God never has to call the Son and the Spirit in for an emergency meeting! It is awful hard for me as one of Irish descent to even think of the Holy Trinity without thinking of St. Patrick.  While it is debatable if St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the trinity—as legend has it—the shamrock has come to be both a symbol of the saint as well as the Holy Trinity!

If we think of that clover leaf, we can envisage the three leaves that make the clover, each leaf standing alone, yet together with, equal to, and in unity with the others. If we look at the lectionary readings for Holy Trinity Sunday we can see the three always together, working together, and in unity.

Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” While the Messiah is not explicably mentioned, we know from John’s Gospel that “All things were made through [the Messiah], and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Together, in unity the three work together, just as the three leaves of the shamrock work together to make up the shamrock; the same DNA. The creed says of the Father and the Son:

“God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”

The Spirt, the giver of life, proceeds from the Father and the Son—the Son is the bread of life, the Spirit is the giver of life; the Spirit must be then one with the Son—who is one with the Father. While leaf one is not leaf two, and leaf two is not leaf three—which also is not leaf one—the Son is not the Father and the father is not the Son, the Spirit is neither of the two and the two are not the Spirit, they are all three the one God: Hear O Israel, the lord our God, the Lord is one!

In the Bible there is only one command that is given to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity. This points us to the Gospel reading for Holy Trinity Sunday: Matthew 28:16-20. Baptism is to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” Again, we look to the creed: We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. One baptism, for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), yet in the name of the three—which are always together, as are the leaves of the Shamrock. And, it is through the one baptism that the Spirit—which proceeds from and is one with the father and the son—is received.

Whether St. Patrick went to Connaught where he met two of King Laoghaire’s daughters, Ethne and Fedelm; St. Patrick had been unable to persuade the king to convert, but he convinced the king’s daughters; during their time of instruction St. Patrick used a shamrock to visualize the mystery of the Trinity, how a single plant with three leaves is analogous to the one Triune God with three separate and distinct Persons, might be open to debate. Or, possibly—or possibly not— St. Patrick was traveling and happened upon a number of Irish chieftains along a meadow. The tribal leaders were curious about the Trinity and asked St. Patrick for an explanation. So he bent down, picked a shamrock, and showed it to them, and explained how the three leaves are part of the one plant, and how similarly the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are part of one Supreme Being. Even more debatable is whether St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland.

But, the certainty lies in the fact that the Holy Trinity has existed from eternity past into eternity future. Three, are always together; they were together at the creation. They were together at Jesus’ baptism—the dawning of the new creation. They are together at our baptism—they give us life and all that is needed to have a favorable outcome at the final judgment.

However you describe the Holy Trinity, the words unity and one have to be a part of the description. Does a shamrock do justice to the mystery of the Trinity? Probably not. But, our language has trouble describing all things God. We believe in God; we are saved by the work of Christ on the cross; our bodies are animated by the Holy Spirit.

Until Next Time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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REIGN OF CHRIST: Pentecost and Beyond

reignofchrist1Pentecost 2017 is now in the history books and for many it is a slow season—the season after Pentecost—as there are no ‘big’ events in the church year until the end of the year with the reign of Christ-or Christ the king. We spend the beginning of the year looking at the Advent; and too many times it seems we concentrate all of our spiritual energy from Advent to Pentecost—and for that matter focusing more of our energy on Advent and Christmas than on Easter through Pentecost. The season after Pentecost seems to get push aside. Yet, it moves toward the final date of the year—the Reign of Christ—and its teaching is rich.

We too often lose sight of the fact that the Gospels teach how Jesus—God—became King. And in the creeds themselves the middle part of the gospel message is left out. Whether you The Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed they go from being ‘born to the Virgin Mary’ to ‘suffering under Pontius Pilate.’  The miracles, the parables, as well as His teachings are sadly absent. If we rely solely on the creeds we would be left to see the Messiah as being born and being crucified and resurrected. The in between 33 years he really didn’t do much. Yet, as we look at the Season after Pentecost Christ did quite a bit and taught a lot as well.

We’ve made everything about a future hope that was to happen after the Ascension and forgotten that the Christ taught us to pray for Heaven to come on earth. We’ve re-interpreted many of the parables to be about the Christ’s second coming as opposed to their original context—his incarnation! For many the parable of the Ten Minas is all about the second coming, but it is better to see it as a parable about the first coming of the Christ. Of the ruler in the parable Christ says, “his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’” (v. 14). If we think about that in relation to Luke’s reporting that when as what they wanted done with Jesus and the yelled, “crucify him,” the Parable of the Ten Minas can be seen in a new light—a light that puts the parable squarely into Jesus’ incarnation, not His second coming: The King has come to an unfaithful Israel.

America’s, and really all of western, theology has an obsession with the second coming—fueled in part by the Left Behind series. As such, we tend to want to interpret everything in relation to a second coming. We celebrate the birth; we celebrate Easter—though sadly it has become a second-rate religious holiday; we look forward to the Second Coming. We practice the creeds—we skip 33 years of the life of the Christ.

As we move through the Season after Pentecost, let us see Christ in a different setting. Let us see Christ as he became King. Let it build to the year ending Reign of Christ. The first reading in Matthew for the Season after Pentecost is Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23). Matthew 9:35 states, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” The Kingdom Christ proclaimed was not a future event waiting to happen; He proclaimed a Kingdom in the here and now (Mark 1:15)! He was declared King at his baptism—sadly missing from the creeds! He proved his Kingship through his miracles and his teaching as one who had authority (sadly missing from the creeds!).

While the Reign of Christ ends the church year, the Season after Pentecost shows how the King came to rule. It shows how the King set up His Kingdom and proved he was the rightful King. He taught us to pray, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. The King was here to show us how to make that a reality. Many might see the Season after Pentecost as a ‘lull’ in the church year, but if we look at it as showing how Christ came to rule it can be one of the richest seasons of the church year!

 

Collect of the day:

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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