Psalm 50:1–6; Job 19; 1 Corinthians 1:10–20

 Originally published 4/15/2017. Revised and updated 4/15/2019.

Psalm 50:1–6: This introductory section of the psalm opens with a theophany. God appears in Zion (Israel) and is going to speak to the entire world:
El, the Lord God
He spoke and called to the earth
from the sun’s rising place to its setting
From Zion, the zenith of beauty
God shone forth.” (1, 2)

As theophany is not a quiet affair our poet almost gleefully describes God’s unfathomable power as a pretty noisy and dramatic entrance:
Let our God come and not be silent.
Before him fire consumes,
and round about Him to the heavens above…(3, 4a)

The psalmist then reveals God’s purpose in appearing and speaking: “…and to the earth to judge His people.” (4b) This psalm was surely on Jesus’ mind when he gives the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 25. The author of Revelation was also surely aware of this psalm. For here, God has come in judgement beginning with Israel and then of the world. God’s first words are to Israel itself and to those who have kept the Covenant:
Gather to Me My faithful,
who with sacrifice seal My pact.” (5)

The poet intervenes with the reminder that in the end it is God who judges us:
And let the heavens tell His justice,
for God, He is judge. selah.

These verses are good to recall for those times when we focus too much on the love of God, sidling up to him as some kind of affectionate pet, forgetting that while God is indeed love he is also judge. And we will all stand in judgement at the end of history.

Job 19: Job has had it up to here with his chatty, judgemental “friends:”
How long will you torment me,
    and break me in pieces with words?” (2)

Job believes something that the three friends do not: that it is God who has delivered him to his present straits. The cause of his woes, Job believes, is not his sins of commission or omission:
If indeed you magnify yourselves against me,
    and make my humiliation an argument against me,
know then that God has put me in the wrong,

    and closed his net around me.” (5,6)

Job then goes on in a long disquisition where he once again shakes his fist at God:
Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered;
    I call aloud, but there is no justice.
 He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass,
    and he has set darkness upon my paths.
 He has stripped my glory from me,
    and taken the crown from my head.
 He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
    he has uprooted my hope like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me,
    and counts me as his adversary.” (7-11)

What resonates strongly with me on this Holy Week is that these are words Jesus could easily have spoken on the cross. At that moment he would be far more justified than Job to bewail the God’s abandonment. But Jesus did not elaborate on God’s unfaithfulness—there is only the single cry of Psalm 22:1. Maybe Job’s friends are right. Maybe he’s just a complainer. One thing I do know: were I in Job’s place I’d be protesting my innocence just as vociferously and I would be shaking my fist at God.

Here’s the seeming contradiction. Despite all that God has caused to happen to Job, Job knows that God is God and moreover, that it is God who in the end is his redeemer and that one day he will see God:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (25-27)

This is the challenge of faith and the core of theodicy. A good and gracious redeeming God allows evil to occur to us and others, that the friends to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with our actions or sins. Bad things such as natural disasters occur and evil men stalk the earth as God remains silent. And yet. Yet, God is our redeemer who loves us. This is the great irreconcilable conflict. And we know that if we humans could truly resolve this dilemma then God would no longer be God.

1 Corinthians 1:10–20: Paul comes right to the point of his letter to the church at Corinth: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (10)

Even if the letter to Corinth were to prove nothing else it proves that divisions and quarrelling within the church trace right back to the church’s earliest years. Rather than focusing on Jesus Christ, the Corinthian church is divided into factions each rooting for a particular leader: “What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” (12) We see symptoms of that same phenomenon today when people decide whether or not to attend worship based on which pastor is preaching.

Paul is cleverly self-deprecating as he ironically states that he’s glad he only baptized a couple of Corinthians “so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.” (15) —which would create an even greater problem. Paul is making it crystal clear that we should not confuse the messenger with the message “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” (17)

Unfortunately, the church today is chockablock with celebrity preachers like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and Creflo Dollar who have allowed their personalities to overshadow the message of Christ. Leaders are human and unlike Jesus, most of them don’t mind the popularity.

With this chastisement about confusing messengers with message ringing in the ears of the Corinthians, Paul turns to the nature of the message itself. Its key aspect is that the message of the cross and the risen Christ is that it “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (18) In other words, the Christian faith is a confounding stupidity to those who do not believe. What was true then is equally true today. lot of the people, who persist in treating God as a myth embraced only by stupid, weak people, continue to post on my Facebook feed.

As Paul famously notes, God’s wisdom is viewed as foolishness by the world, but the converse is also true: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (20) I have a feeling Paul will have more to say about this matter.

Speak Your Mind

*