Psalm 44:17–26; Job 8; Romans 13

Psalm 44:17–26: At this final section of this psalm, the psalmist is figuratively shaking his fist at God, reminding God that even though so many bad things have happened–explicitly or implicitly caused by God–they have remained faithful: “All this befell us, yet we did not forget You.” (18a) Not only did they not forget, but “Our heart has not failed,/ nor have our footsteps strayed form Your path.” (19) even though God has dealt harshly with them even “though You thrust us down to the sea monster’s place/ and with death’s darkness covered us over.” (20)

Then the psalmist  turns to logic, noting that “Had we forgotten the name of God/ and spread our palms to an alien God” (21) God, being God, would surely have noticed: “would not God have fathomed it?” (21a). And then, more harshly, telling God that they have been suffering for him: “For Your sake we are killed all day long,/ we are counted as sheep for slaughter.” (23)

Wake up, god! “Awake, why sleep, O master!/ Rouse up, neglect not forever.” (24) Then questioning again, why has God simply disappeared in this desperate hour of need: “Why do You hide Your face,/ forget our affliction, our oppression?” (25). Unlike many other psalms of supplication, which end on a note of assurance that God will indeed respond, this psalm ends on one last desperate plea, “Rise as a help to us/ and redeem us for the sake of Your kindness.” (27)

When we think God has utterly abandoned us, this psalm stands a s a stark reminder that we are not the first ones who have felt this way. No matter what our arguments to God–passion, logic, desperation–this psalm has been there ahead of us. And there is no darker feeling than to feel, even believe, that God has abandoned us at our darkest hour of need. But like the psalmist, our pleas end on the note of remembering that God loves us despite his seeming absence. A difficult prayer indeed.

Job 8: Job’s second friend, Bildad the Shuhite, elucidates the deuteronomic theology that is still pervasive today. The logic is simple as Bildad asks rhetorically, “Does God pervert justice?/ Or does the Almighty[a] pervert the right?” (3) Surely, he argues, your children must have “sinned against him,” and therefore God “delivered them into the power of their transgression.” (4)  All you have to do, Job, Bildad argues, is “make supplication to the Almighty.” (5) But then the “killer” qualifier: “if you are pure and upright,/ surely then he will rouse himself for you.” (6) But as the psalmist above has already reminded us, God is not a quid pro quo God. Even when our hearts are pure, God won’t necessarily be there.

But the idea that God could disappear or that bad things could happen to people who still love God is simply outside the scope of Bildad’s theology. Surely, his friend argues, Job must have forgotten or offended God somewhere along the line because what has happened to him, happens to everyone who offends God: “Such are the paths of all who forget God;/ the hope of the godless shall perish.” (13)

Bidad’s words, “See, God will not reject a blameless person,/ nor take the hand of evildoers.”  (20) echo down through the centuries to the present moment, and have left in their wake innumerable people, racked with guilt because they believe that they are not good enough to be acceptable to God. This cause-effect God is what our minds imagine to be true. But Job is the proof that the reality of God is far more complicated than that.

Romans 13: Having completed his long theological disquisition on the relationship of Jews and Gentiles with his marvelous advice on how to live the Christian life at the end of chapter 12, Paul turns to address what seems to be a list of questions that have been presented to him.

The first (and contentious) item is the Christian’s relationship with the authorities and the secular state, here Rome. Paul makes it clear: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (1) He has an optimistic view of rulers, as well, asserting that at heart they are concerned with justice: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval.” (3). And finally, appropriate to the this time of year, “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” (7).

This is one of those places where I don’t think Paul is completely right. His view of rulers is too optimistic, I think. Had the Founders hewed strictly to Paul’s statement there would not have been an American revolution. And I’m guessing that the German Christians of the 1930s and 1940s justified their acceptance of Hitler’s tyranny based on these verses, and all the world paid a heavy price. Rome was full of tyrants, and later when Christians were persecuted they defied Paul’s advice here when they willingly died for Christ’s cause.

I think the key to understanding Paul’s attitude here lies at the end of the chapter when he writes urgently, “the night is far gone, the day is near.” (11) Jesus’ return was imminent, perhaps in his own lifetime, Paul believed, and therefore the injustices of the present world could be endured for a short while. Don’t start your own revolution, he seems to be saying, because soon all the world will experience the revolution of Christ’s public return to earth.

Although Jesus did not return in Paul’s lifetime, his advice at the end of the chapter still stands as highly relevant to us as we still wait: “let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (13). Two thousand years later, our aim must always be to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (14)

Speak Your Mind