Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Wounds of Job

What is the message of the book of Job, for those of us who are enduring unjust suffering? Perhaps we can hear what the Lord would tell us more clearly from summarizing the story from a slightly different angle.

Job was blameless and upright, and his righteousness was the boast of the angels of God. In the fullness of time, God humbled him to a lowly state, with Job becoming as poor as any man. Then God crushed him with horrible wounds in his flesh, so that he suffered agonizing pain. Though Job prayed that God’s wrath would be taken away from him, he finally resigned himself to God’s will - remaining obedient in the face of death.

His friends, who had once praised him, now hid their faces from him. They esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. They renounced him as wicked, and numbered him with the transgressors. The wrath of God was poured out on him. Job cried out to God for deliverance, but no help came. He had made great claims, as if he was in some special status before God, but events apparently proved that God’s affections were elsewhere.

His accusers were wrong. Job was more righteous than they ever knew, and in cursing Job, they had cursed God’s chosen agent – bringing God’s anger and judgment upon themselves. Yet Job himself, in the midst of his affliction, interceded and atoned for the sins of his friends, offering forgiveness for those who would come to him. In the end, God exalted Job to his former splendor. People came from far and wide to pay homage to him who the Lord had afflicted, laying treasures at his feet. And he brought many sons and daughters into glory.

In an almost stigmatic sense, Job was given the wounds of the Lord. Though he was blameless and upright from the beginning, his righteousness was elevated to a whole new level by participating in the redemption of the world.

What comfort is this to us who also suffer? I think of George MacDonald’s famous quote at the beginning of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain:
The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.
The curse of man becomes the gift of God, once we’ve drunk the cup to the bottom. It’s a hard and high calling, and we may scream to be left alone. Like Job, we may also cry, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him.” But we can take comfort in being in far better company than those who are at ease. Like Job, we must wait for our renewal to come, knowing that our redeemer lives. Then, though broken by despair, we will have our hearts kindled by a strangely familiar voice:
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he will interpret to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself – including, of course, the testimony of the prophet Job.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Victory of Job (Job 42)

The poem ends with Job’s confession that God alone is wise, that he had spoken of mysteries he did not understand, and that, upon seeing God’s glory, he is content with his smallness and his dust and ashes. Job’s friends are no doubt content – his foolhardy notion of putting himself in the right and challenging God has landed him with a rebuke. The curtain falls, and it’s all over but the epilogue.

But then God speaks to Eliphaz:
My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
This is indeed the God of Jacob. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Upon humbling Job for his attempt to put Him in the wrong, God then takes his side against those who would defend God from Job. Job is the one who has spoken the truth, while his comforters’ arguments are dismissed as folly. What on Earth is going on? What are we to make of this?

Though Job and his friends don’t realize it, God has been the optimist from the beginning. He is the one who affirmed Job’s righteousness against Satan’s incredulity – he even staked His reputation on it. The evil God brought against Job was to justify both Job and Himself. So Job was right that God was his assailant, and also right that God would vindicate him in the end. Job’s mistake was to infer injustice on God’s part. God’s assaults against Job were just indeed: He afflicted Job because of his righteousness for the purpose of his justification!

Job’s friends condemned Job, and, in so doing, condemned God’s anointed. Their accusations that Job must be wicked, in this light, come from the mouth of Satan himself. Bildad asked “how can he who is born of woman be pure?” but God’s response is “what God has made clean, do not call common.”

But I have a lingering question. Although we can see that Job’s friends were in the wrong, how on Earth were they supposed to know? Though the truth that they asserted was not the deep truth that God was revealing, they had no way of knowing this. Their theology was sound, and Job’s assertions of his innocence could easily have been pride and self-righteousness. How can we avoid doing the same thing?

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Answer (Job 38-41)

As Job predicted, once God enters the scene the debate is over. God does not endeavor to answer questions, but to ask a few of his own. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out in his Introduction to the Book of Job, God asks Job “who are you?” and Job can only reply “I don’t know.”

But the revelation is far richer than God simply putting Job in his place. Remember that Job began his complaint by cursing the day of his birth in language mirroring that of the account of creation. “Let there be darkness” rather than “let there be light.” It is this anti-creational element that Elihu warned would lead him to choose iniquity rather than affliction. Job had said:
Let those curse it who curse the day,
who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.
I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, and presume a few things about Leviathan. In the beginning of creation, the Earth is without form and void, with nothing but the tumultuous chaos of the sea. In the end of Revelation, we read that there was a new heaven and new Earth “and the sea was no more.” I think Leviathan, the mightiest of all sea monsters, is the embodiment of the unbridled chaos that is to be replaced with the order of God’s completed creation.

So for Job to talk about rousing up Leviathan is to invoke chaos to swallow up creation. It is to long for death, rather than life. Job never curses God, but he does come close to Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov, who said, “I reject His world.” God’s response is simply, “tell me a bit about this world of mine which you reject.”
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,

You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
It is a good, if incomplete, answer to the question of suffering. I may ask, “why would a good God create a world with so much suffering,” but I may then be asked, “how would you create a world with less?” What goes into creating a world? What considerations must one take into balance? We are not qualified to evaluate our universe against others we know not of.

God’s questions are also revelation, albeit revelation of mystery. Every question points to another glorious aspect of creation. Every question implies that there is an answer more beautiful and elaborate than we could ever imagine. It is in this context that God brings out Leviathan in all his terror and might, and yet still within God’s ultimate power and control.

God rebukes Job, not for sinning or acting in any way less than blameless, but for despairing. God does not answer his questions, but assures him at least that the questions do have answers. Job answers the Lord:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and am comforted in dust and ashes.
In the end Job repents, not of sin, but of despondency. He is reconciled to his suffering, not as God's judgment, nor his discipline, nor even his warning, but as God's will.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Holy Trinity

I received an icon I ordered for our dining room last week, and I thought I’d take a short break from blogging Job to talk about it. It’s a copy of the famous icon by Andrei Rublev (considered by many to be the greatest Russian iconographer) which he “wrote” around 1410. From what I understand, his work on this icon was what led him to be canonized as a Saint in the Orthodox Church.

On a literal level, it’s an illustration of the three angels that visited Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre. But who wants to be woodenly literalistic anyway? The thing that makes it so interesting is that the angels are depicted as a type of the Trinity. Each angel represents a person in the trinity, with every gesture, article of clothing, and even background object having symbolic significance.

If you’re up for a challenge, go ahead and try to guess who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Focus first on the colors – what might blue represent? What about red, and green? Who is looking at who? How are they holding their staffs? What might the objects symbolize?

The angel on the far left is the Father. He is shrouded in a shimmering robe, indicating the eternal mystery and majesty of the Father. He holds his staff straight upright, reminding us of his authority and perfect purposes. Behind him is a house, reminding us of the promise that “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” He wears blue underneath, the color of the heavens which represents his divinity. His eyes look to the Son, the second figure.

The angel in the center is the Son. He is dressed in red, the color of blood symbolizing his humanity, wrapped in blue. His gaze is toward the Father, since the Son does only what the Father tells him to do. Behind him is an oak tree, reminding us of the wood of the cross on which Jesus died. He holds his hand over the dish of food, bringing to mind the Eucharist where we spiritually feed on Christ.

The angel on the right is the Holy Spirit. He is dressed in green, the color of growing things, symbolizing the life that the Spirit brings. He also looks to the Father, since the Spirit of truth “goes out from the Father.” Behind him is a mountain, symbolizing the faith that the Spirit brings and the Church that he empowers. The mountain points to the tree as the Spirit’s hand points to the dish of food, reminding us of how the Spirit leads us to Christ.

The angels are in communion with each other, yet none of their backs are turned to us. Their circle is not closed – there is a place at the table for us to join in their fellowship. Rather than growing smaller with distance, the table is in reverse perspective – the picture isn’t pointing off into the horizon, but pointing at the viewer. We are meant to be drawn in to the fellowship of the Trinity, through the small door under the dish. We join into the fellowship of the triune God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s an amazing icon, and you can meditate on it for a long time. Most literal depictions of the Trinity really are rather bizarre, and the church (with good reasons flowing from the Mosaic law) has generally forbidden trying to depict in art the figure of the Father. Yet, though the literal meaning is the three angels, the icon is a far better portrait of the trinity than any picture I’ve seen.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Elihu the Enigma (Job 32-37)

Job finishes his diatribe, and his friends realize their words aren’t going to convince him. Then, mysterious and unannounced, comes a young man named Elihu. He has been listening to everything so far, and is really frustrated with the current state of the discussion. He’s mad at Job for insinuating that God is unjust, and mad at Job’s friends for their failure to engage Job’s arguments with any depth:
There was none among you who refuted Job
or who answered his words.

I will not answer him with your speeches.

I also will answer with my share;
I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
the spirit within me constrains me.
Elihu then addresses some of Job’s concerns. Job had accused his friends of being biased toward God despite the fact that the evidence was in his favor. Elihu insists that he is guileless and frank. Job had dreaded that any answer by God would be so full of power as to overwhelm any semblance of thought or discussion. But Elihu reassures Job that he not need be intimidated by a fellow man.
Behold, I am toward God as you are;
I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.
Behold, no fear of me need terrify you;
my pressure will not be heavy upon you.
The first thing Elihu takes issue with is Job’s frustration at God’s silence. How can Job know God is being silent? God speaks in many subtle ways, often unperceivable by man. Indeed, suffering and affliction itself can be a way of God speaking – guiding a man towards his glory.

The next problem Elihu has is Job’s implication that “it profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God.” Elihu replies that everything a man has comes from God. How can man think his actions obligate God to act a certain way? God is not concerned with our individual profit, but for his wise and just purposes throughout all creation.

The final critique Elihu offers concerns Job’s despair – cursing his own existence. He admonishes him:
Do not long for the night,
when peoples vanish in their place.
Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
Here Elihu really is leading Job toward deeper wisdom. His suffering is not so great as to nullify the goodness of creation, and it is folly for Job to long for death. Here Elihu insists that Job take seriously the glory of God:
Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
you whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind?

Teach us what we shall say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
Shall it be told him that I would speak?
Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?

And now no one looks on the light
when it is bright in the skies,
when the wind has passed and cleared them.
Out of the north comes golden splendor;
God is clothed with awesome majesty.
And, with that introduction by Elihu, the Lord himself comes booming onto the stage!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

We Esteemed Him Smitten by God (Job 19-31)

I’ve heard it said before (and often thought myself) that Job’s comforters seem to be giving good advice. Their case can be summed up like this:
  • God is powerful and wise beyond comprehension.
  • He works justice on the Earth – bringing the wicked to ruin and the righteous to glory.
  • Suffering is given to the wicked for judgment, and to the righteous for discipline.
  • No mere man can claim to be wise, powerful, or flawless in God’s sight.
  • Thus it is folly for a man to charge God with bringing unwarranted suffering.
  • If Job accepts God’s reproof and forsakes wickedness, God will take away his agony and bless him.
  • However, if Job justifies himself rather than God, he is wicked and arrogant, and deserves all he gets.
I really don’t think anything they are saying is wrong – it’s all sound theology. It’s all true. But is it the whole truth? Is it the deepest truth?

Yes the wicked are often brought to ruin. Yes, God sometimes brings them to their just deserts. But not always.
Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
and do you not accept their testimony
that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
that he is rescued in the day of wrath?

Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
Things are just not that simple. The wicked do prosper and the innocent suffer. Job maintains that his own suffering is such an example, and that God is not only allowing it to happen, but is actively causing the pain.
Know then that God has put me in the wrong
and closed his net about me.

He has kindled his wrath against me
and counts me as his adversary.
But rather than curse God, he swears by Him. Though God abandon him, Job will remain faithful.
As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me,
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.

Far be it from me to say that you are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.
Here is perhaps the most amazing paradox of the book of Job (and the most oft-quoted passage). God is Job’s enemy. God is the cause of all his suffering. Yet God is also his only hope.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
We can summarize Job’s case as such:
  • I have lived in righteousness before God.
  • God has attacked me with horrors and suffering that I do not deserve.
  • God treats me as his enemy, though he out to treat me as a friend.
  • Yet I will remain faithful to God though he is unfaithful to me.
  • God is infinitely wise, and must know that this is unjust.
  • Therefore, even though he is as an enemy to me, he is my only hope.
  • So I will trust God in his justice to rescue me from God.
Job's case makes a lot less internal sense. It is not a cohesive intellectual system. Yet he is on the verge of something far deeper than the true but shallow theology of his friends.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Protecting God From Liability (Job 8-18)

Job’s friends are indignant that he refuses to acknowledge any fault on his part. How can he assert his innocence when God is afflicting him?
Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.

For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure,
and I am clean in God's eyes.’
But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
Job’s response is fascinating:
If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.

Let him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of him,
for I am not so in myself.
From the outset he realizes that an argument with God is futile. God can crush Job without batting an eyelash, and could control Job’s own mind if he wanted to. It’s a paradox: Job is appealing to God’s justice to hold back his wrath and power enough to listen to Job’s complaints of God’s injustice.
Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be in the right.
Who is there who will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die.

Only grant me two things,
then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
and let not dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job’s entire position defies logic. He maintains simultaneously that God is sovereign over all things, that he himself is righteous and undeserving of suffering, that his own sufferings were yet given by God, and that God (in his wisdom and justice) will be swayed by the rightness of Job’s position.

Job’s friends reject this line of reasoning for clear cut answers. If God is sovereign and just, than they know Job must be in the wrong. It is here that Job turns to his friends and offers perhaps the most interesting argument in this book:
Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?

Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?

He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.
Will not his majesty terrify you,
and the dread of him fall upon you?
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.
In other words, God will not be impressed with their well-meaning defenses of His character if, in so doing, they defend injustice. Better to dance in the paradoxes of mystery then embrace a logic that calls evil good. Denying the reality of evil is no true theodicy.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

The Words of my Groaning (Job 3-7)

The poem begins with Job’s agonized lament where he curses the day he was born. It is a dark parody of the creation of Genesis 1. Job says, “let that day be darkness” and “let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none.” If such agony is the product of creation, then darkness is better than light, chaos better than order, and death better than life.

Eliphaz responds with a defense of God’s justice:
Who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
Furthermore, what right does man have to complain before God? Here Eliphaz quotes a voice of a great spirit, saying,
Can mortal man be in the right before God?
Can man be pure before his Maker?
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
How much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
Which spirit would say such a thing we are not told, but the sentiment (wise, rational, and theologically sound as it is) reminds me of the pessimism of Satan in the first two chapters. Eliphaz concludes that Job should accept his sufferings as discipline from the almighty, and trust in God’s future healing.

Upon hearing this, Job feels he needs to clarify things. This is not the pain of discipline – these are the poisoned arrows of utter destruction. Oh that God would simply get it over with!

There are some striking similarities with Psalm 22. Job’s groanings are “poured out like water” and he reflects in agony on the day of his birth. His friends smugly assert that God would rescue him if indeed He delighted in him. It makes me think about how Christ’s suffering may lie at the heart of the mystery of Job, and indeed of any theodicy. A righteous man suffers the brunt of God’s wrath: a profound mystery indeed.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Look Behind the Curtain (Job 1-2)

The book of Job begins with a two-chapter introduction to set the stage for the poem. We begin in the heavenly realm, where the “sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Presumably these “sons of God” are what we know of as angels, though this is not stated explicitly. Satan has been roaming all across the Earth looking at everything. God can’t wait to brag about Job to him:
Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?
Considering how often God is angry at man in the Bible, I’m rather startled when he gushes with pride over someone. The last time I remember this was with Abraham. Satan will have none of it. Job is a fair weather fan, he tells God. Make him suffer, and this supposed righteousness will evaporate.

Satan has a good point, and I wonder if we could ever take this consideration too seriously. I often hear people talk about how God will of course bring them to Heaven when they die because they are good people. The standard evangelical response is supposed to be “it doesn’t matter how good you are – you couldn’t possibly be good enough.” I understand the point, but I think we miss something if we jump to this. The fact of the matter is, as C. S. Lewis once said, that we often presume ourselves good when we are merely happy.

So God afflicts Job with tremendous suffering. He annihilates his assets, destroys his family, and infests his body with disease. And Job holds fast to his integrity – “in all this Job did not sin with his lips.” He’s proving to be the real deal.

Then his friends arrive:
They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Wow. That’s some impressive sympathy. Perhaps our posh modern culture has a bit to learn from the ancients, for whom intense suffering was a day-to-day reality.

The stage is set. Let the drama begin.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Is There No End to My Hypocrisy?

One big thing I’ve been harping on throughout my journey through Genesis is the need to resist constant allegorizing of the Bible into personal applications. Now, don’t get me wrong: the devotional reading of scripture is a perfectly valid and time-honored tradition. I am not condemning it outright. However, when this is the primary (or indeed the only) way we read the Bible, we risk missing out on the larger story it is trying to tell us. Our first question should always be “what is God up to?”, and only then will we be able to ask “how do we fit in?”.

So, with all that said, isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for me to approach the book of Job with the question “what do I do with the difficult parts of scripture” on my mind?

I guess, in a way, I am guilty as charged. But, in my defense, reading Job as part of the larger story is rather difficult. At what part of the story should we put it? When was it written? During the time of the patriarchs? During the kingdom of Israel? During the exile, or the post-exilic period?

The time that makes the most sense to my half-educated mind is post-exile. Job deals with the idea of the suffering of a righteous man. Almost the entire Old Testament associates suffering with God’s judgment of his people for their unfaithfulness and idolatry. It is only after the exile that they (as a people) are afflicted despite or even because of their faithfulness to the Lord. Plus, from what I’ve heard, the name Satan is a Persian influence. Job is one of only three books in the Old Testament that refers to Satan by name. If my guess is right, then we should read Job as an epic poem written by Jews grappling with the same issues that Job himself faces in the story. If God is as faithful (as we know him to be) and if we have rejected our idolatry (as we know ourselves to have done), than why are the pagans ruling over us?

Anyway, this is all fairly controversial: I’m just guessing as best I can. Regardless, right now I am taking it on its own terms, out of its historical context (because the historical context itself is arguable), to try to see what the poem has to say. Then (hopefully with fear and trembling) I will reflect on how it could be construed to speak to my own difficulties with some passages of the Bible.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006


Genesis is one of the most important books in the Bible - it would definately be in the top ten. It is a story that captures the glory and desparation of the human condition, as well as the fierce judgment and saving mercy of God. In case you missed any of the posts, here's a list, with asterisks beside what I think are the most interesting ones:
  1. Mommy, What's a Myth? (initial thoughts)
  2. The Opening Theme (1)
  3. *Let Us Do Good, That Evil May Abound (2-3)
  4. From Stealing Fruit to Killing Brothers (4)
  5. God Gives Up On Us . . . Almost (5-10)
  6. *The Curse in Retrospect (11)
  7. The Lord Does Something New (12-15)
  8. Sulfurtheropy (18-19)
  9. *It Counts As Righteousness (16-17,21-22)
  10. These All Died in Faith (23-25)
  11. The Violent Take it by Force (26-28)
  12. An Awful Dirty Trick (29-31)
  13. *The Face of God (32-36)
  14. A Brother is Born for Adversity (37-39)
  15. *Seated at the Right Hand of Power (40-41)
  16. When Brothers Dwell in Unity (42-45)
  17. End of Act One (46-50)
  18. The Story of Genesis (summary)
  19. Difficulties with Genesis (and what to do about them)

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Difficulties with Genesis (and What to Do About Them)

I really enjoyed my most recent journey through Genesis; it’s been rich and fulfilling. Yet I promised from the outset not to shy away from things that puzzle or trouble me. So here’s my attempt to keep my word.

Corporate Guilt and Generational Curses

On a gut level, I detest the story of Noah and Canaan. Noah’s curse, which results in Canaan’s land being forfeit to the seed of Shem hundreds of years later, looks to be a travesty of justice. And what about the women and children of Sodom? Sure there are no righteous men, but must their infants endure the judgment? Having read the Bible before, I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just wait ‘til the slaughter starts in Joshua.

Now, of course we need qualifiers. This was the worldview of the time. And in some ways it is rational – what we do does affect our children whether it is fair or not. Children endure the blessings and curses from the actions of their parents simply because they can not exist apart from their parents. It is the opposite extreme to our radical individualism. Yet it is still an extreme, and God does not have much of a problem with it.

One might also say that God had to reveal himself in stages to man: he couldn’t do everything at once. But we are still stuck with actions on God’s side that are unjust. If we simply discount this as imperfect revelation, by what principle do we do this? I cannot accept merely subjecting scripture to the spirit of the age, any more than my mind can reconcile attributing injustice to God.

A Tribal Diety

The picture of God in Genesis is wonderful in so many ways, but there are some things that are philosophically troublesome (and its only going to get more so for a good while). God is indecisive, he is surprised by things, he wants to do one thing (wipe out creation), then changes his mind. He is soft on Cain, but harsh on Sodom. He doesn’t seem to know what to do about Sodom without going there himself. In other words, he often acts like the ancient picture of a petty anthropomorphized god, and not what we read in, say, the Westminster Catechism:
God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
This picture didn’t just come from the first cause/unmoved mover of Platonic Philosophy (as intellectually appealing and Christianizable as it is). It is also the picture that emerges from the Jewish prophets. So how do we reconcile these portraits without playing Thomas Jefferson and cutting out the parts of the Bible we don’t like?

A Way Forward?

I know in the past, when faced with such difficulties, I've often looked for quick-fix solutions. There may be ways of stretching what is in the text to try to fit it into the mold of how we know God to be in other parts of scripture. I really don’t think we can always do this with intellectual integrity. If we insist that there are no inconsistencies then I fear we are defending the Bible by not really engaging it.

Perhaps part of the solution is to embrace a certain level of mystery. I’m all for that, but you have to be careful when playing this card. If used lightly, mystery can be just a cover up for “doublethink” – holding two contradictory ideas in your mind and choosing not to deal with the contradictions because the implications are uncomfortable.

Who can guide us through this? Perhaps we can take comfort in Jacob’s wrestling with God. We are striving as opponents, but not actually enemies. We are butting heads with the Bible because we love it, and we seek the blessing that we just know it will give us!

Rather than going on to Exodus right now, I’m going to seek a little counsel on how do deal with these important concerns. Let’s skip forward to the book of Job.

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The Story of Genesis

In the beginning of all things God creates the heavens and the earth, culminating in man – his signature on creation. The man and woman become suspicious of God’s intentions and believe he is withholding good from them. They acquire the knowledge of good and evil through disobedience, and subsequently find themselves to be on the wrong side of that distinction. They are then cast from the garden and put under the curse of death (along with the earth itself).

Man’s estrangement from God quickly blossoms into enmity toward his fellow man. An older brother becomes jealous of the younger and kills him. Soon the entire Earth is filled with violence, and God decides to wipe everything out. But, in the end, he spares Noah and the animals as representatives of what he still aims to accomplish in creation.

Man is still suspicious of God, building a tower toward heaven while making a name for himself. God foils man’s plans apparently to safeguard his power from usurpation. Yet he chooses a man named Abraham to bless with the very things he withheld from the builders of Babel. God intends to form a nation himself, and requires an attitude of trust not suspicion.

While he is grooming Abraham, he also must stop the spread of evil before it infects the entire project like before. Sodom and Gomorrah are desperately wicked (as shown by their lack of hospitality toward strangers), and he spares Lot and his family while annihilating the city.

Abraham achieves trust through his willingness to follow God and even sacrifice his son Isaac. In the end he is buried while still a sojourner in the land God promised, but he endured death in a posture of faith by buying a small plot of the land for a grave. God’s plan involves building a nation, so his son marries out of his own clan rather than intermingle with the inhabitants of Canaan.

Isaac has two sons – Jacob and Esau. There is again enmity between brothers (and even sisters), but in the end they are reconciled, in the context of Jacob’s wrestling with God himself. Jacob is renamed Israel – indicating both his feisty spirit that is willing to strive with God, and his faithful determination to grab hold of the blessings God will give. Israel does this in the spirit of trust that Abraham personifies.

Israel has twelve sons, ten of which nearly kill Joseph out of envy. In the end God both exalts Joseph above his brothers and reconciles him to them. He does it by using the very enmity (that is the embodiment of evil) as a building block for good. All while saving the earth from famine.

At the end of Genesis we have gone from a single man reconciled to God to an entire family of brothers reconciled to each other - with blessings spilling over to men and animals. The next step is to turn this family into a nation.

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