Psalm 46; Job 11:1–12:12; Romans 15:3–16

Psalm 46: This psalm of thanksgiving praises God who is “a shelter and strength for us,/ a help in straits, readily found.” (2) Given the tenor of other psalms that decry an absent God, it’s refreshing that at least in some circumstance, God is indeed “readily found.”

Because God is near and is our shelter in times of trouble, we are protected in even the greatest calamities—which the earthquake metaphor certainly conveys:
Therefore we fear not when the earth breaks apart,
when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas.
Its waters roar and roil,
mountains heave in its surge. selah” (3, 4)

The metaphor of mountains collapsing into the sea implies a dreadful situation of immense power. But whether we are talking about a national calamity or a personal one, we are assured “God is in its midst, it will not collapse.” (6) And the psalmist begs us to remember that in the end, it is our God of immeasurable power who remains in control of creation—even the man made disasters of war:
Nations roar and kingdoms collapse.
He sends forth His voice and the earth melts.” (7)

Our psalmist reinforces this image of God’s power by shifting from a seismic image to one of warfare, reminding us that “The Lord of armies is with us,/ a fortress for us, Jacob’s God. selah.” (8) In fact, we should pay close attention to what God has done and what God is doing:
Go, behold the acts of the Lord,
Who made desolations on earth,
caused wars to cease to the end of the earth.” (9, 10a)

In the end, depsite the illusion that we think we can, it is not humankind that can bring true lasting peace. Only God can do that:
The bow He has broken and splintered the spear,
and chariots burned in fire.” (10b)

Our duty is really quite simple because God is nearby no matter where we end up going. Now, God himself speaks:
Let go, and know that I am God.
I loom among nations, I loom upon the earth.” (11)

Because of God’s omnipresence and omnipotence celebrated in this psalm, we need know only one thing in the face of disaster, as the psalmist repeats the truism in the concluding stanza:
The Lord of armies is with us,
a fortress for us, Jacob’s God.” (12)

Of course behind all this there must be trust and hope.

Job 11:1–12:12: Silent up to this point, Job’s third erstwhile friend, Zophar the Naamathite, speaks mockingly:
Should your babble put others to silence,
    and when you mock, shall no one shame you?” (11:3)

In fact, he basically accuses Job of empty whining and asserts, “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” (11:6) In other words, “What’s your problem Job? You’re getting off pretty easy.” Fundamentally, Zophar asserts that Job is severely misguided in his feeble efforts to understand God’s reasons for his action to punish him. It is equally impossible to see into God’s mind. Zophar memorably tells Job (and us), “a stupid person will get understanding,/when a wild ass is born human.” (12), which is to say never.

Zophar’s solution to Job’s agony is really quite simple. All Job has to do is be honest with himself and come to God with a contrite heart:
If you direct your heart rightly,
    you will stretch out your hands toward him.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,

    and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.
Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
    you will be secure, and will not fear.” (11:13-15)

If Job follows these simple instructions, Zophar continues, then
your life will be brighter than the noonday;
    its darkness will be like the morning.
And you will have confidence, because there is hope;
    you will be protected and take your rest in safety.” (11:17, 18)

Zophar reminds me of the people who, when I was diagnosed with cancer, told me that “God never gives you any problem you can’t handle.” These well meaning but facile observations only demean my position before God. And this is exactly what Job points out when he responds with biting sarcasm to Zohpar’s advice:
No doubt you are the people,
    and wisdom will die with you.” (12:2)

Job points out that Zophar does not have superior knowledge:
But I have understanding as well as you;
    I am not inferior to you.
    Who does not know such things as these?” (3)

In other words, “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” In fact, Job, “a just and blameless man” (4) has called on God and reaped only one thing: “I am a laughingstock.” (4b) He tells Zophar, “Those at ease have contempt for misfortune/ but it is ready for those whose feet are unstable.” (12:5) Zophar hasn’t suffered like Job, so his platitudes roll easily off his lips. One is reminded here of Polonius in Hamlet as he dispenses easy advice (“To thy ownself be true!”) without understanding the real roots of Hamlet’s despair. Job is telling his interlocutor that until he suffers as Job is suffering he will fail to fully comprehend the real issue that Job faces.

So, too, for us when people dispense easy advice with no idea of the torment we may be feeling.

Romans 15:3–16: Paul encourages the disputing Christians at Rome “to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” (5) because this is the only way that “together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (6)

To me, this seems like a good point at which to conclude the letter. But Paul, being Paul, is like a dog with a bone. He simply will not let go and comes back around one more time, reminding this church that includes both Jews and Gentiles “that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order…that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (8) Paul then cites his various proof texts and again wishes his readers, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (13)

And, just to make sure they get his point Paul flatters his audience, telling them, “I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” (14) Nevertheless, he goes on, to tell them that “on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder.” (15) telling them also of his apostolic bona fides as a “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (16)

This passage gives us real sense of how desperate Paul was to bring the Good News to the Gentiles despite the obstacles that Jewish Christians kept placing in front of him. His supreme intellect is more than matched by his supreme passion. It is this combination that gives this epistle its insight and power.

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