Archives for May 2017

Psalm 58; Job 40; 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:2

Psalm 58: Alter warns us in his notes regarding this psalm that “the Hebrew text of this psalm, from this verse to the end, with the sole exception of the ferocious verses 7 and 11, is badly mangled. As a result, a good deal of the translation is necessarily conjectural or must rely on emendation.”

With that caution in mind we can wallow in some of the more dramatic imagery that this psalm employs to condemn hypocrites with power (politicians come to mind).

Our psalmist asserts that while leaders may speak of justice, their hearts are cynical and their deeds are wicked:
Do you, O chieftains, indeed speak justice,
in rightness judge humankind?
In your heart you work misdeeds on earth,
weigh a case with outrage in your hands.” (2,3)

One gets the impression that the psalmist has recently lost a case in court and this psalm expresses his outrage regarding the injustice of the verdict. He goes on to condemn these hypocrites as being rotten from birth and employs a viper as a simile, making sure that we understand just how loathsome they are:
The wicked backslide from the very womb,
the lie-mongers go astray from birth.
They have venom akin to the serpents venom,
like the deaf viper that stops its ears,
so it hears not the soothsayer’s voice
nor the cunning caster of spells.” (4-6)

Who knew that vipers have ears? Now that he’s described just how evil they are, he prays to God to bring disaster down on their heads in rather graphic terms:
God, smash their teeth in their mouth.
The jaws of lions shatter, O Lord
Let them melt away, like water run off.
Let Him [i.e. God] pull back His arrows so the be cut down.” (7, 8)

Just to make sure God gets the point, our angry psalmist uses the strongest curses and the vilest imagery he can think of:
Like a snail that moves in its slime,
a woman’s stillbirth that sees not the sun,
before their thorns ripen in bramble,
still alive and in wrath rushed to ruin.” (9,10)

But we must also always remember, as the psalmist does here, that vengeance, however sweet, is carried out by God:
The just man rejoices when vengeance he sees,
his feet he will bathe in the wicked one’s blood.” (11)

As far as the psalmist is concerned, only after God acts will he see true justice:
“And man will say, ‘Yes, there is fruit for the just.’
Yes, there are gods judging the earth.” (12)

Wow. Now this would make for one angry but very literary Facebook post. The lesson here is that we can express the angriest possible thoughts to God but it is God who must act, not us.

Job 40: Having made his speech about how God is really the one in control of creation, God now challenges Job—the “faultfinder”—to speak:
Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
    Anyone who argues with God must respond.” (2)

But Job refuses, telling God,
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but will proceed no further.” (5)

Nevertheless, God will not be put off and he challenges Job to Gird up your loins like a man;/ I will question you, and you declare to me.” (7) And then God asks a question that I think is completely modern and applies to each of us as much as it did to Job when we blame God for bad things happening to us:
Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (8)

How often we condemn God in order to justify our own acts and to place ourselves at the center of the universe. God is right. Will we condemn God in order to justify ourselves? Sure. We do it all the time.

But to Job’s (and my) great frustration, God does not answer Job’s central question about the justifiable basis for his suffering. Instead, he changes the subject as he goes on to describe one of the more mysterious animals in the Bible:
Look at Behemoth,
    which I made just as I made you;
    it eats grass like an ox.
Its strength is in its loins,
    and its power in the muscles of its belly.
It makes its tail stiff like a cedar;
    the sinews of its thighs are knit together.
Its bones are tubes of bronze,
    its limbs like bars of iron.” (15-18)

So what is this animal? Some have speculated it’s a grass-eating dinosaur. Others say it’s a hippopotamus. Or perhaps it’s just a mythical beast made up by the author to make God’s point that only the creator can approach it:
It is the first of the great acts of God—
    only its Maker can approach it with the sword.” (19)

And then one final question to make sure that we understand how we lack God’s power as he asks rhetorically, “Can one take it with hooks  /or pierce its nose with a snare?” (24) Obviously, the answer is ‘No.”

Huh? What is going on here? Is this the author’s way of telling us that there are some questions which God will not answer? Or is it that Job’s question is completely unanswerable and the only response we’ll ever get from God is the equivalent of “O look, a squirrel.” Job does not give us a very pretty picture of God, that’s for sure.

1 Corinthians 10:23–11:2: Paul  continues to wind up his long discourse on determining the practices we can continue and those we should abandon with the simple aphorism, “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” (23) And out of this comes what I think is the First Rule of Christian Community: “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (24) In other words, put the welfare of others ahead of our own. Easy to say, hard to do.

Paul then talks about eating meat being OK as long as we do not know it’s been offered as a sacrifice at the temple, but if we do know (or if our host tells us) then we should not eat it “out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I mean the other’s conscience, not your own.” (28, 29) I’m not sure exactly what set of circumstances today would parallel Paul’s advice here. So I’ll stick with Phis higher level of abstraction: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (31)

For me, the key lesson here is to think through the possible consequences and the effects on other people before speaking or acting. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to do that very often. It’s the old “engage the mouth before the brain” problem. As Paul makes clear here, this is a longstanding human trait.

 

Psalm 57:8–12; Job 39; 1 Corinthians 10:11–22

Psalm 57:8–12: Despite the depredations of his enemies, our psalmist—speaking in David’s voice—exudes the serene confidence that a deep and abiding faith in God brings. And out of that serenity arises worship:
My heart is firm, O God,
my heart is firm.
Let me sing and hymn.” (8)

This confident peace engenders the overwhelming desire to make music—and is one of the places that has cemented the popular image of David’s musicianship:
Awake, O lyre,
awake, O lute and lyre.
I would waken the dawn.” (9)

The question hangs. Have I placed my fears and trust in God such that the confident hope would cause me to “waken the dawn?” This is one of those places where we see the pure joy that comes from our relationship with a loving Father.

The remainder of the psalm is, I think, the song that David sings—one of untrammeled joy:
Let me acclaim You among the peoples, Master.
Let me hymn You among the nations.
For Your kindness is great to the heavens,
and to the skies Your steadfast truth.
Loom over the heavens, O God.
Over all the earth Your glory.” (10-12)

For me, this psalm is a beautiful reminder that God’s kindness and God’s truth go hand in hand. We cannot experience God’s kindness and generosity without completely open honesty and truth before him. No relationship with God is possible when it is founded on anything but absolute truth.

Job 39: The seemingly endless list of rhetorical questions that set God apart from Job (and all other humans) shifts from the forces of nature that were the theme of the previous chapter to the animal kingdom.

The opening question describes the wild animals giving birth and how this miracle of natural birth is God’s alone:
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
    and do you know the time when they give birth?” (1,2)

Most animals live free of man’s efforts to domesticate them. And yet without human intervention they flourish:
Who has let the wild ass go free?
    Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
to which I have given the steppe for its home,
    the salt land for its dwelling place?” (5, 6)

Likewise, animals such as oxen serve humankind because God has ordained it to be so:
Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
    Will it spend the night at your crib?

Do you have faith in it that it will return,
    and bring your grain to your threshing floor?” (9, 12)

God even looks after apparently stupid and even cruel animals:
The ostrich’s wings flap wildly,
    though its pinions lack plumage.
For it leaves its eggs to the earth,
    and lets them be warmed on the ground,
forgetting that a foot may crush them,
    and that a wild animal may trample them.
It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own;” (13-16a)

The poet reminds us that animals behave the way they do because God has willed it so, not because they have human capabilities of reasoned thought, “because God has made it forget wisdom,/ and given it no share in understanding.” (17)

In the same way, the behavior of noble animals that we employ is not due to our efforts but because it is God-created:
Do you give the horse its might?
    Do you clothe its neck with mane?
Do you make it leap like the locust?

It laughs at fear, and is not dismayed;
    it does not turn back from the sword.” (19, 20a, 22)

And finally, the soaring freedom of the birds in the air has nothing to do with humankind’s efforts:
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
    and spreads its wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes its nest on high?” (26, 27)

These verses are a profound and wonderful description of the incredible variety and behavior of animals that God has placed on the earth. As before, the rhetorical questions answer themselves. Absolutely none of the wonders on earth is the result of mankind’s doing. It is all God’s.

So, why do we take all this for granted today and assume that this panoply of life is a random evolutionary accident? Compared to God’s creative power that we see so eloquently on display here, we humans are nothing.

1 Corinthians 10:11–22: Paul, still in full remonstration mode, makes a statement that I have always questioned:
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (13)

Really? God will not test us via the trials and tribulations that come our way beyond our strength? Will we always be brave and stand up courageously through whatever life throws at us? Will there always be a way out as Paul asserts here? Can we always endure the pain that comes our way? The answer seems to be ‘yes’ as long as we are steadfast in our faith.

I assume this verse is the root of the saying—and one that I truly loathed— that I heard a few times when I was first diagnosed with cancer: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Frankly, Paul, I’m just not so sure about that. If we give into despair does that mean our faith is weak?

Paul does not elaborate beyond this assertion. Rather, he changes the subject and starts discussing the problems of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. He first points out that what we eat as Christians links straight back to Jesus Christ himself: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (16) Which should surely cause us to pause and reflect. Today, of course, this is symbolism inherent in the Eucharist.

Paul comes right out and says “that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.” (20) His simple rule is that “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (21) In other words, we cannot serve two gods.

Yet, we’re guilty of this bifurcated faith whenever we place something —money, power, dominance over others, and especially our own will—in a position of higher in priority than our faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes it seems like our entire lives have become some sort of schizophrenia as we try to balance our own desire for control with desire to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

Psalm 57:1–7; Job 38; 1 Corinthians 10:1–10

Psalm 57:1–7: The psalmist sets this supplication psalm at the time when David was in the cave hiding from Saul. So when the poet has David pray “for in You I have taken shelter,” in the opening verse we can take it quite literally. The poet then compares David to a small bird hiding under the wings of its parent—and such is our relationship with God:
and in Your wings’ shadow do I shelter
until disasters pass.” (2)

As seems typical in these David psalms, he cries out God but always with almost serene confidence that God will answer:
I call out to God the Most High,
to the god who requites me.
He will send from the heavens and rescue me.” (3,4)

In the meantime David remains in mortal danger as his enemies are described as metaphorical lions:
I lie down among lions
that pant for human beings.
Their fangs are spear and arrows,
their tongue a sharpened sword.” (5)

As we find so often in the psalms, speech is an equally dangerous weapon as the physical ones of arrows, spears and swords. In our own culture vile words are wielded everywhere, especially with the rise of social media. And words can kill just as effectively as weapons as we have learned in various cases of cyberbullying suicides.

But as always, David rests secure and takes a moment in the midst of danger to worship God and his overarching majesty:
Loom over the heavens, O God.
Over all the earth Your glory.” (6)

And even though his enemies have laid traps for him, David is confident that those same traps will become his enemies undoing:
A net they set for my steps,
they pushed down my neck,
they dug before me a pit—
they themselves fell into it.” (7)

Notice that the enemies do themselves in with no effort on David’s part. Would I were as patient as David when confronted with a dire situation. David’s confidence that God would act in his stead lies at the root of his great patience. May I be equally patient.

Job 38: We arrive at the famous climax of this book of speeches where God himself speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. Job finally gets his day in God’s court as God declares,
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” (2,3)

But before Job can speak, God lays out a series of stanzas that give us a beautiful picture of God’s action in creation. Each begins with a rhetorical question about creation ranging from the original creation to the sea to the stars as well as all kinds of natural events. And although our poet does not write an answer to the questions, the answer to each is obvious and always the same:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.” (4)

Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb?” (8)

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,” (12)

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?” (16)

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?” (22,23)

Has the rain a father,
    or who has begotten the drops of dew?” (28)

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
    or loose the cords of Orion?” (31)

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    so that a flood of waters may cover you?” (34)

Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
    or lie in wait in their covert?” (39, 40)

The obvious answer of course is that only God can do these things. Humans cannot. And these questions have exactly the same answer today. Despite all our technology, human efforts avail little. This is all God’s work. Or, for those who don’t believe in God, it is all nature’s work. But in either case there is the reality of a vast gulf between what God can do and what we, as God’s creatures, can do.

Our efforts to control nature are puny indeed. Which is why efforts to halt global warming or climate change will eventually come to naught. We and our technology are just not that powerful. This is a fact known to the ancient author of Job. But we keep having to learn the same things over and over with each successive generation. Which is also why God’s speech here at the end of this book retains such relevance and power today.

1 Corinthians 10:1–10: Paul now issues a pretty dire warning to the folks at Corinth, pointing out that “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” (2-4) Even though they were all baptized and all had the same spiritual leadership, and even drank form the same rock, which Paul rather unexpectedly identifies as Christ, “God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” (5)

Paul does not really have to explain why God was not pleased with many (most?) of the Israelites. Rather than following God they followed their own desires. So too at Corinth. Paul warns that “these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.” (6)

Paul, being Paul, cannot resist providing specific examples of the fate of idolators and specially those who “sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” (7) ‘Play’ of course is sexual immorality and Paul reminds his listeners that because of their sexual sins “twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (8) Again, he makes it clear that Christ was as present with Israel as he is with the people at Corinth, and “we must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.” (9)

So far this all seems pretty obvious. I’m not personally given to idolatry or sexual immorality, but then Paul adds a sin at the very end— a sin of which I’m truly guilty—and so are a lot of us: “And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (10) That complaining (especially about church) as a sin would be conflated with sexual immorality is a tough thing to accept, but there it is. Difficult to ignore.

Psalm 56:10–14; Job 36:27–37:24; 1 Corinthians 9:12b–27

Psalm 56:10–14: The latter alf of this psalm exudes confidence in a God that rescues us and perhaps more importantly, banishes fear. In short, our psalmist knows that God is on his side:
Then shall my enemies turn back
on the day I call.
This I know, that God is for me.” (10)

“God is for me” are four words I would do well to reflect on each day. That no matter the trials of the day, God has not abandoned me. Indeed, he is on my side. And when we are confident that God has heard us and is on our side we can respond in only one way and that is in worship:
In God, Whose word I praise,
in the Lord, Whose word I praise.” (11)

The thematic centerpiece of the psalm is right here:
in God I trust, I shall not fear.
What can man do to me?” (12)

Other people may come against me; indeed, even my own body rebels when I am sick. But in the end these tribulations amount to little because God is with me regardless of circumstances. Would that I reflect on this wondrous reality every day. For it is in the full knowledge of God’s presence that we can promise as the psalmist has promised:
I take upon me, O God, my vows to You.
I shall pay my thanksgiving offerings to You.” (13)

No matter what, God is our great rescuer. And in that knowledge we can sing with the psalmist,
For You saved me form death,
yes, my foot from slipping,” (14a)

But even better than rescue is the reality that we can walk with God every day:
to walk in God’s presence
in the light of life.” (14b)

And we know exactly who is the light of our lives: Jesus Christ. Hallelujah.

Job 36:27–37:24: Elihu appears unable to stop speaking, a condition known as logorrhea. At this point he is describing how God controls nature in ways that are beyond our understanding:
Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
    the thunderings of his pavilion?
See, he scatters his lightning around him
    and covers the roots of the sea.” (36:29-30)

Elihu believes that the dangers of nature are evidence of God’s anger at mankind’s evil acts:
He covers his hands with the lightning,
    and commands it to strike the mark.
Its crashing  tells about him;
    he is jealous with anger against iniquity.” (36:32-33)

Which of course remains a strongly held belief among many even today. The question naturally occurs: are tornadoes, hurricanes and the like the direct result of God’s anger? Elihu seems to think as he points out how we humans will never be able to comprehend God’s powerful movement in nature:
Listen, listen to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it loose,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.” (37:2-3)

For Elihu, thunder, lightning, snow, whirlwinds, ice, and rain are all controlled by God to a purposeful end. But even Elihu does not know to what purpose exactly as he asks,
They turn round and round by his guidance,
    to accomplish all that he commands them
    on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction, or for his land,
    or for love, he causes it to happen.” (37:12-13)

Today we know how the forces of nature operate although this knowledge does not help us control them to any great extent. Just ask any tornado or hurricane survivor. But Elihu’s observation that God is somehow speaking and acting through nature is still intriguing. Does God manifest his power in nature for correction or for love or for both? Or is Elihu just plain wrong here? Is God simply indifferent to how nature operates in the world?

Although we cannot answer those questions, Elihu advises Job—and all of us—to think on these things:
Hear this, O Job;
    stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” (37:14)

For Elihu, even more important than contemplation on God’s power is the reality that we, who are his creation, cannot control God. Elihu again implies that Job is foolishly arrogant for even trying to approach an incomprehensible and all-powerful God. Elihu asserts that the only response to God’s power is to fear him:
The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power and justice,
    and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
Therefore mortals fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (37:23-24)

But here I think Elihu is again off base. He is saying that God is so incomprehensibly powerful that we dare not even approach him with our questions or, like Job, attempts to state our case. That’s certainly not how our psalmist today sees it. And it’s certainly not what Jesus told us when he taught us to pray to God.

1 Corinthians 9:12b–27: Although Paul has stated that he deserves to be paid for his pastoral efforts, he wants to be clear that “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (12b) Nevertheless, just as temple employees get their food from the temple and those who tend altars “share in what is sacrificed on the altar…those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (13, 14)

However, Paul is quick to point out somewhat self-effacingly that he is not demanding to be paid by the Corinthian unless they wish to. After all, proclaiming the gospel is more important than being paid for it: “that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” (18)

He goes on to describe how he adapts to the needs and desires of different classes of people—slaves, Jews, Gentiles, the weak— in order to more clearly communicate the gospel message: “ I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (22, 23)

I believe that it is this adaptability of Christianity to meet the needs of people in the cultural and social context in which they live that underlies the great variations in cultures and classes that respond to the gospel message. Unfortunately, we now have a class in modern western culture that ignores its sinfulness and need for salvation, believing they do not need a “religious crutch.” I’m pretty sure that at some point in their lives they will find out that relying on one’s own wits and internal belief system will prove inadequate and they will indeed long for that “religious crutch.”

Paul concludes this section with the metaphor of athletes who “exercise self-control in all things.” Paul points out that they are goal-oriented and they work assiduously to that goal in order to receive a “perishable wreath.” Paul asserts he is equally goal-oriented and “I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air” (26) He exercises this self-discipline so that “after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (27) In other words, he is careful not to get carried away by an over-enthusiasm that loses focus on the core gospel message or worse, burns him out. Which of course is a problem among many pastors today.

 

Psalm 56:1–9; Job 36:1–26; 1 Corinthians 9:1–12a

Psalm 56:1–9: To put it mildly, the preface to this psalm is confusing. The NRSV has it as “according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths,” which makes no sense whatever. Alter suggests it’s “the mute dove of distant places,” which certainly sounds more poetic, if not just as mysterious. Our poet, writing in David’s voice, assigns the psalm of supplication to the time when David was seized by the Philistines at Gath.

For me, the mysterious introduction is more interesting than the verses itself, which trace a pretty conventional path. The psalmist describes David’s perilous situation as being under attack by enemies. God is the only one to whom David can turn:
Grant me grace, O God,
for a man tramples me,
all day long the assailant does press me.” (2)

As is typical in Hebrew poetry the verset is repeated as David turns to God:
My attackers trample me all day long,
for many assail me, O High One. (3)

The key message of this stanza comes at the next line:
When I fear, I trust in You,
in God, Whose word I praise.
in God I trust, I shall not fear.” (5)

When we are afraid, the only option is to turn to God in prayer. The lesson is for all of us is really quite simple: trusting in God drives out fear.

Now that trust in God has made him less fearful, our poet has regained his senses and he goes on to describe the proximate cause of that fear, which is the conspiracies against him and their attempt to kill him:
All day long they put pain in my words,
against me all their plots for evil,
They scheme, they lie low,
they keep at my heels
as they hope for my life.” (6,7)

The poet, speaking as David, asks not only for escape from his enemies but that God will execute vengeance on them:
For their mischief free me form them.
In wrath bring down peoples, O God.” (8)

After all, he argues before God, he’s suffered enough already and God should take that suffering and this tears into account:
“…put my tears in Your flask.
Are they not in Your counting?” (9)

Once again we are reminded that under the terms of the Old Covenant it was acceptable to argue for God to wreak vengeance against one’s enemies. But Jesus has completely changed the rules of that game.

Job 36:1–26: Apparently Elihu rates the longest speech in this Book of Long Speeches as he continues, now exalting the qualities of God, especially God’s intrinsic goodness:
Surely God is mighty and does not despise any;
    he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,

    but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
    but with kings on the throne
    he sets them forever, and they are exalted.” (5-7)

As usual, as far as sinners are concerned (and very much in keeping with the theology of the psalm above), it’s the straightforward deuteronomic formula. Listen to and follow God: Good. Disobey God: bad.
If they listen, and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
But if they do not listen, they shall perish by the sword,

    and die without knowledge.” (11-12)

Elihu then goes straight at Job, accusing him of unhealthy obsession and a desire to focus only on the darkness:
But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked;
    judgment and justice seize you.

Do not long for the night,
    when peoples are cut off in their place.” (17, 20)

To be blunt I think Elihu has a point. But Elihu’s diagnosis of Job’s plight is pretty much the same one as the pronouncements of the other friends. Job has committed wrong and is therefore being punished by God:
Beware! Do not turn to iniquity;
    because of that you have been tried by affliction.” (21)

Once again I think Elihu is confusing God’s intentions. He sees God as an active agent demanding justice for sins done by people who seek after evil. But my view is simply that in reality God allows evil to exist on the earth and bad things to happen to good people.

This brings us right back to the great unanswerable question of theodicy: If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist and why do innocent people suffer? Elihu at least offers one explanation, which while true in and of itself still fails to answer the core question:
Surely God is great, and we do not know him;
    the number of his years is unsearchable.” (26)

So, do we just leave it at that? I think if knew the answer we would be setting ourselves up to be equal to God. And then we would have no need of God. Which is exactly where many have gone, be they in Job’s time or in ours. They claim that because bad things happen (people don’t talk much about evil these days), God is either impotent or does not exist at all.

1 Corinthians 9:1–12a: Paul seems rather defensive as he defends his bona fides as an apostle and the work he has done: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” (1)  It would be great to know what accusations against him were written in that lost letter that he received from Corinth, which became the basis of this epistle back to them. That letter must have even included an accusation that Paul was in it just for the money and he was wrong in expecting any payment for his pastoral services: “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?” (6,7)

As usual, Paul turns to Scripture to buttress his case that he is right to be paid as a workman, even a workman for God: “For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” (9) We can see almost bitter sarcasm here. Paul points out that workers for Jesus are to be paid, just as any other worker would be paid as he answers his own rhetorical question: “Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.” (10)

Just to make sure the Corinthians get it, he comes right to the point: “If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?” (11) In other words, church people, pay your pastors!