Archives for April 2017

Psalm 55:16–20; Job 34:1–28; 1 Corinthians 7:25–40

Psalm 55:16–20: Now we come to the imprecation section of this psalm of supplication. Our psalmist has been wounded in some way possible both physically and emotionally. The betrayal by his best friend weighs heavily, as well. So he sets up the usual binary model of evildoers and his wishes regarding their fate, contrasting this how he himself seeks after God:
May death come upon them.
May they go down to Sheol alive.
Fir n their homes, in their midst, are evils.
But I call to God,
and He hears my voice.” (16, 17)

The most interesting part of this section is the psalmist’s apparent self-awareness:
I complain and I moan,
and He hears my voice.” (18)

What’s striking here is that God is still listening through our grousing. We do not have to put on some sort of pious act to get God’s attention. In fact, I dare say God is listening more intently than ever when we are feeling bitter and can only come to him with our complaints.

Our poet goes on to give God complete credit for his rescue from his enemies:
He has ransomed my life unharmed from my battle,
for many were against me.” (19)

Unlike many other psalms of supplication, our poet lists his enemies and makes sure we understand that they are apostate and will never turn their hearts to God:
Ishmael and Jalam and the dweller in the east,
who will never change and do not fear God.” (20)

Should we be as specific in our own prayers? I’m pretty sure we should not make conclusive judgements such as “who will never change.” Although once again, we need to realize that our poet is writing in a state of intense emotion. I certainly know I’ve made pronouncement like this one when I’m in a state of emotional outrage. Unfortunately, unlike the psalmist, I tend to make judgements about people I love rather than on my enemies.

Job 34:1–28: Elihu is not finished with his speech, although he seems to have softened his attitude somewhat toward the people he earlier called stupid: “Hear my words, you wise men.” (2) (or perhaps he is just being sarcastic.) He poses the choice we all must confront:
Let us choose what is right;
    let us determine among ourselves what is good.” (4)

He then goes on to forget about choosing and spends his time castigating Job’s declarations of innocence, basically accusing Job of rejecting God altogether:
For [Job] has said, ‘It profits one nothing
    to take delight in God.’” (9)

Elihu’s position is that it is God who is right, not Job. After all, he exclaims, “far be it from God that he should do wickedness,/ and from the Almighty  that he should do wrong.” (10) He then states the deuteronomic quid pro quo that was the basis of Jewish law and the widespread evidence around us that we reap what we sow:
For according to their deeds he will repay them,
    and according to their ways he will make it befall them.
Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
    and the Almighty will not pervert justice. (11, 12)

But I think this is where Elihu goes off the tracks. I certainly agree that God is incapable of doing wrong. However, that does not answer the core question of this entire book question about a God who allows wrong to occur—which of course is exactly the deal God reached with Satan concerning Job.


But Elihu forges onward anyway, using an argument based on the logic that God rules all creation and therefore by definition is just:
Shall one who hates justice govern?
    Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty,” (17)

Moreover, God is all-seeing and therefore cannot not allow evil to fester:
For his eyes are upon the ways of mortals,
    and he sees all their steps.
There is no gloom or deep darkness
    where evildoers may hide themselves.” (21, 22)

God shows no partiality, Elihu continues, and as far as the wicked are concerned. They, including Job, are simply receiving their just desserts:
Thus, knowing their works,
    he overturns them in the night, and they are crushed.
He strikes them for their wickedness
    while others look on.” (26, 27)

Elihu’s unstated conclusion is that there is no question that Job is wicked before God, that he remains in complete denial about that fact, and therefore has deserved the punishment he received. After all, a just God cannot do otherwise. Of course Elihu has no concept of a loving God, only a just God who cannot abide wickedness.

1 Corinthians 7:25–40: Once again, Paul makes it clear that he is expressing his opinion regarding male/female relationships of various kinds. Most famously, he advocates a status quo approach to marriage: “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” (27) Which also makes it clear that bachelor Paul has a rather dim view of the institution of marriage, which to me anyway, seems somewhat contrary to Jesus’ view.

I think it’s also important to realize that Paul was writing in a context that assumed Jesus’ return to earth was imminent and all this relationship business was a temporary situation at best: “in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are.” (26) And, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (31)

Nevertheless, Paul puts his finger rather precisely on a deep truth regarding marriage: “Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life.” (28) But as we know, Paul’s own life was not exactly distress-free either. He pretty much sums up his world view at verse 38: “So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.”  And if a woman becomes a widow, she is free to marry again, but as far as Paul is concerned, “in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is.” (40)

Paul’s low view of marriage is one of the animating principles underlying the Roman Catholic view that priests must be celibate. But I also think one should never forget that like Paul, that the advice celibate priests give regarding marriage is based on theory, not experience.

Psalm 55:9–15; Job 32,33; 1 Corinthians 7:17–24

Psalm 55:9–15: Our psalmist is asking God to deliver some seriously bad consequences on the evil-doers who have created hate an dissension in the city (Jerusalem?). Once again we encounter the predominance of speech as both the source of wrongdoing and the instrument of punishment:
O Master, confound, split their tongue,
for I have seen outrage and strife in the town;
day and night they go round on its walls,
and mischief and misdeeds within it,
disaster within it,
guile and deceit never part from its square.” (10-12)

I doubt we could find a more perfect description of the bloviation of politicians and other power-seekers within Washington DC than right here in these trenchant verses.

By this time, our psalmist has regained his personal courage even in the face of all this wrongdoing:
No enemy insults me, that I might bear it,
no foe boasts against me, that I might hide from him.” (13)

We encounter a sudden shift in the psalm’s focus as the poet suddenly describes what I take to be a personal betrayal by a former friend as he recalls the far better times from their past relationship:
But you—a man to my measure,
my companion and my familiar,
with whom together we shared sweet counsel,
in  the house of our God in elation we walked.” (14, 15)

There’s some ambiguity here. Has this man joined the pack of evil-doers? Or is this recollection simply a non-sequitur stuck in the middle of this psalm?

Job 32,33: Our author provides some background for the next speech. Elihu is younger than Job and his three friends. And he is having a serious problem with Job’s last speech: “He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” (32:2,3) But anger trumps politeness as Elihu lets them all have it in his speech that occupies these two chapters.

Elihu is disillusioned, thinking that age brings wisdom, but concludes after all the other speeches that “It is not the old  that are wise,/ nor the aged that understand what is right.” (32:9) He seems to be addressing the three friends first, dismissing their various empty arguments re the cause of Job’s suffering, observing that “there was in fact no one that confuted Job,/no one among you that answered his words.” (12)

So, with these preliminaries out of the way, Elihu is ready to offer his own opinion:
I also will give my answer;
    I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;

    the spirit within me constrains me.
My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent;
    like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.” (17-19)

Job is Elihu’s primary target although he approaches his elder somewhat gingerly:
See, before God I am as you are;
    I too was formed from a piece of clay.
No fear of me need terrify you;
    my pressure will not be heavy on you.” (33:6,7)

Elihu opines that Job has set himself up as being equal to God, a position he thoroughly rejects:
But in this you are not right. I will answer you:
    God is greater than any mortal.
Why do you contend against him,
    saying, ‘He will answer none of my words’?” (33:12,13)

He goes on to describe how he believes God speaks to people through dreams and nightmares:
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on mortals,
    while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens their ears,

    and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn them aside from their deeds,
    and keep them from pride” (33:15-18)

Elihu asserts that pain is another one of God motivational tools:
They are also chastened with pain upon their beds,
    and with continual strife in their bones,” (33:19)

But if people repent then good things happen as “he prays to God, and is accepted by him,/ he comes into his presence with joy,/and God repays him for his righteousness.” (26) Which is exactly the approach the Pharisees took in Jesus’ day—and we know how well that didn’t work out.

But Elihu is certainly convinced of his own wisdom and he (rather arrogantly, IMHO) challenges Job:
If you have anything to say, answer me;
    speak, for I desire to justify you.
If not, listen to me;
    be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” (33:32-33)

Really, Elihu? Do you think you are so smart? We’ll see.

1 Corinthians 7:17–24: Paul counsels Christians to accept our circumstances and status as individuals: “let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” (17) Not surprisingly he uses the example of circumcision, which at his time was a major controversy. His point is simple: it’s too easy to focus on relatively trivial issues when in fact “obeying the commandments of God is everything.” (19)

Paul’s underlying point is that we can be effective Christians whatever our position, even slaves. Should a slave gain his freedom, Paul continues, “make use of your present condition now more than ever.” (21) From a Christian perspective, “a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.” (22)

While we may have a difficult time dealing with a slave/free antithesis, it’s clear that we are all equal in Christ, regardless of our social status. Unfortunately, this truth is as hard for us modern Christians to accept as it was for the Corinthians. We see this non-equality on full display in churches where the homeless are less than welcome in worship.

Paul asks us to accept our circumstances. Does this mean that we should not run for Church Council because we’re not a natural leader? Or that we cannot sing in the choir (or play in the band) because we are not professional musicians? I’m curious to see where Paul takes this argument in the upcoming chapter.

Psalm 55:1–9; Job 31; 1 Corinthians 7:1–16

Psalm 55:1–9: We know instantly this is a psalm of supplication as our psalmist underscores his urgency with a pretty blunt appeal for God to hear him:
Hearken, O God, to my prayer,
and do not ignore my plea.
Listen well to me and answer me.” (2,3a)

His desperation comes roaring through in a catalog of fears created by the evil that surrounds him, creating a severe physical reaction, even to the point of awaiting death:
In my complaint I sway and moan.
From the sound of the enemy,
from the crushing force of the wicked
when they bring mischief down upon me
and in fury harass me,
my heart quails within me
and death-terrors fall upon me,
fear and trembling enter me,
and horror envelopes me.” (3b-6)

I have never been on a battlefield and have never felt fear as intense as it’s described here. But I have to imagine this is a perfect description of the fears that must envelope a soldier who is under attack.

And in the midst of that terror there is only one wish that he would ask God to grant: escape:
And I say, ‘Would that I had wings like a dove.
I would fly off and find rest.” (7)

And if not able to fly away like a dove, then at least to be able to escape to somewhere else, even into the wilderness—to be anywhere else than where there is fear. This is a feeling I know I’ve had:
Look, I would wander far away,
and lodge in the wilderness.” (8)

But even there terror exists, although our psalmist seems to shift to fears created by nature rather than the advancing enemy:
Would make haste to a refuge for me
from the streaming wind and the storm.” (9)

What’s important here, I think, is that we can pray to God, even demand that God hears us, when we find ourselves in a desperate situation. To call to God and bluntly tell him our fears is perhaps the most honest prayer of all. Yet we hesitate, afraid to reveal the depth of our fear, preferring to put up a brave fornt. But remember: God can see right through our brave front and into the depths of our terrorized heart.

Job 31: Job asks the question that is the at the core of theodicy: why does God allow evil not only to exist, but allow evil to fall upon the righteous who follow God?
Does not calamity befall the unrighteous,
    and disaster the workers of iniquity?
Does he not see my ways,
    and number all my steps?” (3,4)

Like all of us, Job is perfectly content to endure God’s judgement if he has sinned. But if he has been righteous then God is being grossly unfair:
If I have walked with falsehood,
    and my foot has hurried to deceit—
let me be weighed in a just balance,
    and let God know my integrity!—” (5,6)

Job catalogs the various sins he could have committed that would indeed deserve God’s harsh judgement, including adultery (9), allowing other men to rape his wife (10), been cruel to his slaves (13), ignored the poor and needy (16-21).

Or, he could have committed the sin we are all guilty of: greed and self-centeredness:
If I have made gold my trust,
    or called fine gold my confidence;
if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great,
    or because my hand had gotten much;

and my heart has been secretly enticed,
    and my mouth has kissed my hand;” (24, 25, 27)

Job acknowledges that all these sins deserve God’s judgement:
this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges,
    for I should have been false to God above.” (28)

Job comes to the climax of his speech as he realizes that God is not only silent, he is not even listening and in fact has been unjust to him. God has allowed evil to come upon him without ever revealing why:
O that I had one to hear me!
    (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty  answer me!)
    O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!” (36)

At some point in our lives, we are Job. We feel God is not only unjust, he is not even listening and has acted arbitrarily and cruelly. Job is our voice of desperate frustration. And it is in God’s silence in the face of obvious evil and deep unfairness that many abandon faith and belief in a loving God altogether. Can we blame them?

For it is on this pessimistic note of a God who punishes for no reason at all that we read, “The words of Job are ended.” (40) For indeed, there is nothing more to say.

1 Corinthians 7:1–16: Now we come to one of Paul’s more controversial passages: his essay on marriage, which like a Catholic priest, he opines without having had the personal experience. I think Paul’s overarching objective is to somehow halt sexual immorality in the church by reminding people about the rights and duties of marriage, specifically that it is a binding yet reciprocal contract: “But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (2, 3)

Paul uses the unfortunate word, ‘authority,’ to describe the mutual relationship of giving to each other that is at the center of marriage: “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (4) I think the term we use today is “mutuality.” Nor should one partner withhold sex from another “except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again.” (5)

Paul also makes it clear that this is his opinion, not necessarily a command from God: “This I say by way of concession, not of command.” (6) He goes on to assert—again as his opinion—that widows would be better off not remarrying, unless of course they are “aflame with passion.” [Great phrase!]

He also recommends that divorce is to be avoided, and especially that “that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (11) Or, if the wife separates, she should remain unmarried or try to reconcile with the husband. Unfortunately, IMHO, the Catholic church has turned Paul’s advice into Canon Law that treats divorced persons as unworthy of the sacraments. This is not how I read this passage.

Same goes for the Protestant belief in “unequal marriage” where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not. This has been carried to extremes in some quarters. Many evangelicals are aghast when a son or daughter in the church marries an “unbeliever.” I know that when I married a Catholic woman there were those who thought I was “unequally yoked” because they did not think Catholics were actually Christians.

Paul again makes it clear that all issues relating to marriage are his opinion: “To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” (12) Besides, there’s a definite upside: “Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.” (16)

But unfortunately, because they are in the Bible, which many people take absolutely literally, they forget this is Paul’s not necessarily binding advice.  Instead, Paul’s words have too often been taken to extremes and unfair judgement rendered.

Psalm 54; Job 30; 1 Corinthians 6:9–20

Psalm 54: This psalm refers to the incident recounted in 1 Samuel 23 when David, on the run from Saul, hides among the Ziphites, who promptly betray his whereabouts. Thus, David is in pretty desperate straits and in this psalm of supplication, he prays to the only one who can rescue him:
God, through Your name rescue me,
and through Your might take up my cause.” (3)

That David prays for rescue via God’s name reminds us of the power of names, and especially in Israel, where the name of God could not be uttered. Even today, Jews acknowledge the power of God’s name by writing ‘G_d.’

David makes it clear that he is being pursued by those who would do him harm. Moreover, they are God-haters, which can be the only reason for their relentless pursuit:
For strangers have risen against me,
and oppressors have sought my life.
They did not set God before them. selah.” (5)

The puzzling thing here is that the psalmist has David say ‘strangers’ are pursuing him, when it was Saul, who obviously was no stranger to David. Poetic license, I guess.

As almost always the case in psalms of supplication, David prays with confidence, knowing that God will indeed rescue him:
Look, God is about to help me,
my Master—among those who support me.” (6)

And as is also almost always the case, the psalmist, speaking as David, seeks God’s vengeance on his enemies—remembering always it is God alone who carries out vengeance:
Let Him pay back evil to my assailants.
Demolish then through Your truth.” (7)

What a great concept! That enemies would basically self-destruct in the harsh light of God’s truth. This is vengeance I think we can honestly pray for when grievous wrongs have been committed against us or others: that in the light of God’s truth the wrongdoer would receive his just desserts.

As for David—and for us who pray in times of great need—we pray with confidence and recall how many times God has come to our rescue before:
From every strait He saved me,
and my eyes see my enemies’ defeat.” (9)

Job 30: Job’s lament continues as he shifts from the fondly nostalgic recollections of his previous life to a stark description of his present state. His world has turned inside out. He is mocked by those who once respected him:
But now they make sport of me,
    those who are younger than I,” (1)

Even those who are themselves despicable and driven out of respectable society now stand higher in ranking than Job and they mock him. Job is now even less than they:
They are driven out from society;
    people shout after them as after a thief.
A senseless, disreputable brood,
    they have been whipped out of the land.
And now they mock me in song;
    I am a byword to them.
They abhor me, they keep aloof from me;
    they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me. (5, 8-10)

And Job certainly knows the cause of his present circumstance:
Because God has loosed my bowstring and humbled me,
    they have cast off restraint in my presence.” (11)

Even worse than mockery, these worthless people physically attack him with impunity:
On my right hand the rabble rise up;
    they send me sprawling,
    and build roads for my ruin.
They break up my path,
    they promote my calamity;
    no one restrains them.” (12, 13)

Job’s desperation and the sense that he has been utterly abandoned by God leaps from the page:
I cry to you and you do not answer me;
    I stand, and you merely look at me.
You have turned cruel to me;
    with the might of your hand you persecute me.
You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it,
    and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.” (20-22)

If we ever wanted a template for an angry prayer that shakes our fist at an apparently cruel God, it is right here. Many Christians are afraid to shake their fists at God’s seeming indifference and yes, cruelty, fearing that they would somehow offend God and bring even greater woe crashing down around them. But when God seems to turn his back on us I think Job proves that we can express our anger and desperation with compete freedom. With Job we can rail at God’s seeming unfairness that reverses everything we know and love:
But when I looked for good, evil came;
    and when I waited for light, darkness came.” (26)

1 Corinthians 6:9–20: It seems to me that Paul took some pleasure in his list-making, especially when referring to sins and sinners. Here, he warns the Corinthians that “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God” (9a) and then proceeds to inventory the many forms of wrongdoing: “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (9b,10)

But there is always Paul’s note that these sins are in the past, and that now we have been “washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (11) we must abandon them. Moreover, in this washed and sanctified state we should be paying closer attention to our personal habits.

It is facile to assert that now that we have been justified we can go about our former practices and then just ask for God’s forgiveness. Rather, as Christians, we are to be pure for the simple reason that “your bodies are members of Christ.” (15) If we consort with prostitutes, then “whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her.” (16) [Although Paul cites the scripture,“The two shall be one flesh,” which I always thought referred to marriage.]

But the new reality is that “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (17) Therefore, Paul argues—pretty persuasively, I think—that we need to always bear in mind that “that [our] body is a temple  of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own.” (19) Our bodies are a wonderful gift from God, and it’s more like we are renting them from God rather than owning them. As ‘renters,’ then, we should treat God’s possession with thoughtful care. Say what you will about our culture’s obsession with health. It is at least a tacit acknowledgement of Paul’s assertion that our bodies are precious gifts.

Nevertheless, I still refuse to eat kale.

Psalm 53; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 5:9–6:8

I’m now writing form my new home in Madison, Wisconsin.

Psalm 53: We’ve encountered this pessimistic view of humanity previously in Psalm 14. Our author finds zero redeeming qualities in those who reject belief in God:
The scoundrel has said in his heart,
‘There is not God.’
They corrupt and do loathsome misdeeds.
There is none who does good.” (2)

In an echo of the story of Noah, God seeks out one good man, but unlike that story, there is not even one righteous person to be found:
The Lord from the heavens looked down
on the sons of humankind
to see, is there someone discerning,
someone seeking out God.” (3)

Alas, the case looks pretty hopeless as our poet repeats the grim findings that no good man can be found:
All are tainted,
one and all are befouled.
There is none who does good.
There is not even one.” (4)

As the psalmist reflects on this grim reality we come to realize that he is describing the apostates of Israel who have corrupted the entire society. He employs a simile of bread, which here has a completely opposite meaning of what we think of when Jesus says he is the Bread of Life:
Devourers of my people devoured them like bread.
They did not call on God.” (5b)

There is only one possible hope as he concludes on a despairing note:
O, may from Zion come Israel’s rescue
when God restores His people’s condition.
May Jacob exult.
May Israel rejoice.” (7)

Our poet could write these words today as we look around at the apparently hopeless condition of the world as it vainly seeks to find peace and justice by substituting small-g gods such as technology and individual liberty for God through Jesus Christ. Only God can resolve the desperate situation that this psalm so tersely and bleakly describes.

Job 29: Job continues to defend himself in the face of the accusations and wrong-headed diagnoses of his erstwhile “friends.” There is a bitter wistfulness as Job recalls his far happier times when he walked with God:
O that I were as in the months of old,
    as in the days when God watched over me;
when his lamp shone over my head,
    and by his light I walked through darkness;
when I was in my prime,
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent;” (2-4)

Back then he was surrounded by his loving children and he was respected by everyone:
the young men saw me and withdrew,
    and the aged rose up and stood;
the nobles refrained from talking,
    and laid their hands on their mouths;
the voices of princes were hushed,” (8-10)

Job believed he was the quintessential man of righteousness and justice, and in keeping with the constant refrain of the Old Testament, he was an advocate for the poor and the stranger:
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
    my justice was like a robe and a turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
    and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy,
    and I championed the cause of the stranger.” (14-16)

Job gets in a nice dig at his inquisitors by noting how in former times when he spoke there were no replies or accusations from know-it-alls such as those he is now enduring:
They listened to me, and waited,
    and kept silence for my counsel.
After I spoke they did not speak again,
    and my word dropped upon them like dew.” (21, 22)

The chapter concludes with Job fond remembrance of being the chief of men—a man of constant encouragement, respected by all:
I smiled on them when they had no confidence;
    and the light of my countenance they did not extinguish.
I chose their way, and sat as chief,
    and I lived like a king among his troops,
    like one who comforts mourners.” (25, 26)

The question hangs here: Is Job merely being nostalgic for the good old days? Was he as pure and kind as he portrays himself? Or are his accusers correct? For me, the challenge of this chapter is to ask myself if, as I grow older,  have I painted my past behavior in rosier terms than what my actions really were? This chapter forces us to think back and realize that nostalgia paints a happier picture: we remember the good that we did while we tend to forget the many occasions when we sinned.

1 Corinthians 5:9–6:8: Paul refers to the first letter he wrote to the Corinthians, which is lost: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons.” (9) He makes it clear that he is not referring to the “the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters,” (10) but to sexual immorality and other sins right there in the church at Corinth: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber.” (11)

Goodness knows we’ve seen plenty of sinning in our own time among those that profess to be Christians, especially erstwhile evangelical leaders and TV personalities. But I also remember a case in the church I grew up in where the choir leader had an affair with a member of the choir.  So, the problem is longstanding and continues simply because we are all sinners.

Paul advises those in the church to “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (13) There are modern churches where this is still done. But I think there’s a real dilemma here. Do we show grace on the sinner or drive them out for fear of further corrupting the body? Paul is clear about where he stands, but I’m not comfortable with that stance. I’d rather err on the side of repentance and grace.

Like our modern age here in America, Corinth is a litigious society and lawsuits abound. People in the Corinthian church are taking cases to civil court and this greatly distresses Paul, who believes grievances should be resolved within the church: “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints?” (6:1) In fact, he is rather incredulous that resolution cannot be achieved among Christians: “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?” (6:5) In other words, Paul pleads, resolve your disputes among yourselves.

I presume these verses became the inspiration for the development of Canon Law and a means of dispute resolution within the Catholic church. However, we also know that grievous sins such as the scandals of abuse by priests were not resolved within the church and were hidden from pubic view. I think Paul’s advice is generally sound here, but there will always be exceptions where the outside world must intervene.

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

 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 Saturday 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—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 as I shook my fist at God.

And 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 unreconcilable conflict. And 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. Here in Corinth, rather than focusing on Jesus Christ, the 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, it is a confounding stupidity to those who do not believe—and a 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.

Psalm 49:1–14; Job 15,16; Romans 16:8–20

Psalm 49:1–14: This psalm sounds like it wandered away from the book of Proverbs as it dispenses the pithy epigrams that characterize that book. The poet states quite simply that he is wise and is about to dispense some much-needed wisdom upon his listeners:
My mouth speaks wisdom,
my heart’s utterance, understanding.” (4)

But, happily, this is a psalm so there’s musical accompaniment:
“I incline my ear to a saying,
I take up with the lyre my theme.” (5)

In a note that seems appropriate to these fraught times, he asserts that his environment, surrounded in evil as it is, does not intimidate him:
Why should I fear in evil days,
when crime comes round me at my heels?” (6)

Then, in an observations we would do well to shout from the rooftops here in Ygnacio Valley, comes the wisdom, specifically about the limitations of wealth:
“Who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches—
yet they surely will redeem no man,
will not give to God his ransom.” (7,8)

Wealth cannot bring immortality, although many try by leaving their names on buildings or bequeathing vast art collections. But as our psalmist observes, it’s all an empty gesture:
To redeem their lives is too dear,
and one comes to an end forever.
Will he yet live forever?
Will he not see the Pit?” (9,10)

Nor is there immortality in wisdom itself. Death is the great equalizer and the money goes to the heirs:
For he sees the wise die,
both the fool and the stupid man perish,
and they abandon to others their wealth.” (11)

Rather, our poet asserts, “Their grave us their home forever,/ their dwelling for all generations.” (12a) There is no arguing with the bleak conclusion that wealth does not yield immortality: “This way of theirs is their foolishness,
and afterm in words alone, they show favor. selah.” (14)

Think of how much more peaceful this American culture would be if people truly understood that striving after wealth is a fool’s cul de sac?

Job 15,16: Eliphaz the Temanite lets Job have it in no uncertain terms. Job’s arguments and questioning are not only bad for him, but they are undermining other people’s religion:
But you are doing away with the fear of God,
    and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,

    and you choose the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;

    your own lips testify against you.” (15:4-6)

He accuses Job of being arrogant and pretending to have greater knowledge than his friends. Then, Eliphaz plays the “I’m-older-than-you-are-so-I’m-wiser-than-you” card:
The gray-haired and the aged are on our side,
    those older than your father.” (15:10)

He then issues a dire warning that Job will experience the same fate as others who have railed against God:
Because they stretched out their hands against God,
    and bid defiance to the Almighty,
they will not escape from darkness;
    the flame will dry up their shoots,
    and their blossom will be swept away  by the wind.” (15:25, 30) 

Eliphaz caps his tirade by telling Job he’s basically doomed:
For the company of the godless is barren,
    and fire consumes the tents of bribery.” (15:34)

Job responds in frustration at the endless droning lectures of his “friends:”
I have heard many such things;
    miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?

    Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?” (16:2,3)

Ignoring all the windy advice, Job continues to rail against God:
“Surely now God has worn me out;
    he has made desolate all my company.
I was at ease, and he broke me in two;
    he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces.” (16:7, 12)

And has only death to look forward to:
For when a few years have come,
    I shall go the way from which I shall not return.” (16:22)

I wonder why we do not read Job more often at church? Are we afraid to ask the questions that Job asks or shake our fists at God the way Job does?  Are we afraid that our faith or the faith of others will be undermined and break? Too often, I think we are satisfied to sing those happy praise choruses which just paper over the existential angst that is part and parcel of our quotidian lives. Any person who has not from time to time thought that God is a capricious jokester in terms of the obstacles and woes that we encounter in life is simply not being honest with him or herself.

Romans 16:8–20: Paul’s long farewell continues apace as he names the long list those whom he considers his friends in Christ. And he offers a benediction I would do well to emulate at this point in my life: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (16)

But Paul, being Paul, cannot resist offering a few final words of advice: “I urge you, brothers and sisters,[c] to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.” (17)

Even those who are obedient to Christ are included in this final spasm of advice-giving: “For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.” (19) But we should not be cynical. There is no better way to lead a Christian life than to be “wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.” Except that it requires serious discipline—both physical and spiritual.

Psalm 47; Job 12:13–13:19; Romans 15:17–29

Psalm 47: We can hear the loud singing and even shouting in this exuberant psalm of thanksgiving. (It also justifies hand-clapping during worship!)
All peoples, clap hands,
Shout out to God with a sound of glad song.” (2)

And God is a key part of the celebratory worship for “God has gone up with a trumpet-blast,
the Lord with a ram’s horn sound.” (6)

The reason for the singing and shouting is simple. All Israel is praising God for his protection and enabling their victory over their enemies:
For the Lord is most high and fearsome,
a great king over all the earth.
He crushes peoples beneath us
and nations beneath our feet.” (3,4)

Perhaps most important here, the people realize that this is not something they accomplished on their own, but rather that God has chosen them, loves them and has helped them:
He chooses us for our estate,
pride of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.” (5)

And in response to God’s love and his provision, our psalmist writes with unbridled enthusiasm:
Hymn to God, hymn,
hymn to our king, O hymn.
For king of all earth is God,
Hymn joyous song.” (7,8)

Our poet expands the horizon of celebration by telling us that God is not Israel’s exclusive property but that “God reigns over the nations and sits on His holy throne.” (9) God’s kingship over all the earth—over all his creation—is the core reality of God’s being and the reason why he sent a Savior to rescue all humankind, not just the Jews.

Nevertheless, the celebration concludes with a reprise of God having chosen and protecting Israel through the efforts of its military:
The princes of peoples have gathered,
The people of Abraham’s God.
For God’s are the land’s defender.
Much exalted is he.” (10)

This psalm is an excellent example of expressing the joy in knowing—truly knowing— just who God is and how he protects us just as he protected Israel.

Job 12:13–13:19: Job continues his lengthy disquisition on the nature and characteristics of God which impacts all creation:
With God are wisdom and strength;
    he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, no one can rebuild;
    if he shuts someone in, no one can open up.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
    if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.” (12:13-15)

But an angry Job observes that God is also capricious, and brings calamity even to those who trust in him:
He deprives of speech those who are trusted,
    and takes away the discernment of the elders.
He pours contempt on princes,
    and looses the belt of the strong.
He makes nations great, then destroys them;
    he enlarges nations, then leads them away.” (12:20,-21, 23)

Job also notes that God both creates and destroys entire nations. And when we examine history which is chockablock with the cyclical growth and eventual decay of empires and nations we realize just how true Job’s statement is. Nor should we here in America think that somehow our nation is exempt from decay and downfall. Perhaps it’s just because I’m old, but I certainly detect the first stages of that eventual downfall here on our shores.

Again telling his friends that “What you know, I also know;/ I am not inferior to you” (13:2), he states that “I would speak to the Almighty, / and I desire to argue my case with God.” (3)

At this point he hurls insults back against his three interlocutors:
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
    all of you are worthless physicians.
If you would only keep silent,
    that would be your wisdom!” (13:4,5)

Now, that’s one great insult! I wonder if I’ll ever have the opportunity to use it.

Job believes he is entitled to a fair trial and he is ready to stand in the dock, even to the point of death:
See, he will kill me; I have no hope;
    but I will defend my ways to his face.” (15)

In the end Job is doing what we all want to do when we believe we have been unfairly singled out by God for unwarranted punishment. We want justice and we want to make our case in God’s court:
I have indeed prepared my case;
    I know that I shall be vindicated.
Who is there that will contend with me?

    For then I would be silent and die.” (13:18, 19)

But will Job’s frustrated wish be granted?

Romans 15:17–29: Paul states that “I have reason to boast of my work for God” (17) for the simple reason that he has been designated as apostle to the Gentiles: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles.” (18) He is also careful to note that he will not get in the way of others engaged in a similar mission but will work only in areas where the gospel has not yet spread: “I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation.” (20) Too bad many missionary activities in the 19th and early 20th centuries did not follow Paul’s sage advice but rather competed with each other, e.g. in Africa. One has the distinct feeling here that Paul feels that others have been working in his vineyard and even corrupting his message. But the key for Paul is working in virgin territory.

At this point we find out that Paul is writing to a church he has not yet visited: “This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you.” (22) But he fully intends to come, which of course he eventually does, although not in the way he planned.

What’s intriguing here is that he plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain. He makes this point twice, first at verse 24 and then again at 28: “I will set out by way of you to Spain.” Whether Paul ever made it to Spain has been the subject of intense speculations—most Spaniards preferring to believe that Paul made it to that edge of the Roman Empire. We’ll never know for sure since Spain is not mentioned in the book of Acts. My own view is that he never made it.

Instead of heading to Rome and Spain, Paul tells them, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” (25, 26) Unfortunately, we are too well aware of what happened in Jerusalem with Paul eventually arriving in Rome as a prisoner.

The key message for me here us that even if our plans are to do God’s work they will not necessarily turn out the way we had hoped. It’s the old saying: if you want God to laugh just tell him your five-year plan.

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.

Psalm 45:1–9; Job 9; Romans 14:1–12

Psalm 45:1–9: The superscription of this psalm indicates its unique within the psalmic corpus: it is “a song of love.” Unlike other psalms, it opens with the psalmist, who appears to be the court poet, interjecting a personal note by effectively introducing himself to the reader and telling us just how skilled he is:
My heart is astir with a goodly word.
I speak what I’ve made to the king.
My tongue is the pen of a rapid scribe.” (2)

He then moves quickly into unctuous flattery of his patron, presumably the king:
You are the loveliest of the sons of man,
grace flows from your lips.
Therefore has God blessed you forever.” (3)

Our poet continues in this rather syrupy vein by praising his king’s military might both in actuality and metaphorically as he describes the king’s outstanding leadership qualities:
Gird your sword on your thigh, O warrior,
your glory and grandeur.
And in your grandeur pass onward,
mount on a word of truth, humility and justice,
and let your right hand shoot forth terrors,…
…into the heart of the king’s enemies.” (4-6)

Then he comes right out an says it: The king has the same wonderful qualities as God himself and that’s why he sits on the throne:
Your throne of God is forevermore.
A scepter of right, your kingship’s scepter.
You loved justice and hated evil.” (7,8)

And because of these qualities, the king apparently (or at least in the eyes of our poet) has God’s full approval and blessing:
Therefore did God your God anoint you
with oil of joy over your fellows.” (9)

Now that we know the king is anointed effectively by God, our poet will continue with his fawning paean as he describes the wonders of the king’s clothes and his “ivory palaces.”

Well, perhaps I am being too harsh. After the agony of the preceding psalm, it’s actually quite nice to enjoy a sunny if rather over-the-top poetic interlude.

Job 9: Job replies to Bildad’s theology that God loves the pure and Job or his children must have gone astray to make Job impure before God. And Job is buying none of it as he poses the question that remained unanswered until the incarnation of Jesus Christ:
Indeed I know that this is so;
    but how can a mortal be just before God?” (1)

As we know, none of us can be justified before God.  Job makes it clear that God is God and in the end fighting God is a hopeless cause:
If one wished to contend with him,
    one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—” (3,4)

As he describes God’s ultimately unknowability by mere humans, Job says something—if we are honest with ourselves—that we have all thought at some point. God is unapproachable and cannot be contended with. God’s mercy is our only hope:
How then can I answer him,
    choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
    I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.” (14, 15)

Job then offers an insight into the nature of God that we really do not want to admit. But when bad things happen for no apparent reason, it seems to be the only explanation. We easily conclude with Job that God really does not give a rip about us:
It is all one; therefore I say,
    he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
    he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.” (22, 23)

The earth is a fallen, evil place. God’s marvelous creation gone awry—and God is not about to leap in and help:
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
    he covers the eyes of its judges—” (24)

Wow. These are dark statements: God “mocks the calamity of the innocent” and “the earth is given into the hand of the wicked.” Yet, if we are honest with ourselves there’s no question we’ve often thought what Job has had the courage to utter aloud.

Job decisively rejects Bildad’s assertion that if we are just happy before God then all will be well:
If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint;
    I will put off my sad countenance and be of good cheer,’
I become afraid of all my suffering,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.” (27, 28)

As far as Job is concerned, he stands condemned before unknowable and arbitrary God because God is God and humans are not. The underlying theme here is that God views his creatures, if he views them at all, as mere playthings to be trifled with. Clearly, there is nothing new about 21st century cynicism regarding the nature of a distant and even cruel God. It is all right here.

In the final words of the chapter, Job’s only hope us that he could approach God without fear but only,
If he would take his rod away from me,
    and not let dread of him terrify me,
then I would speak without fear of him,

    for I know I am not what I am thought to be.” (35)

What sad hopeless words: “for I know I am not what I am thought to be.” And yet, in Job’s suffering all pretenses are stripped away and in our own suffering we realize we are far less consequential and wonderful than what our self-image conceived us to be. Suffering forces brutal honesty to the surface.

Romans 14:1–12: Paul focuses on our tendency to judge others when we feel judged: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat” (3) As far as God is concerned, both sides are welcome before him. In other words, there are differences in the church due to the different natures of the people in the church.  Paul puts these opposing attitudes nicely: “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.” (5) We all have different outlooks and Paul is basically telling us, “Deal with it” and/or “Roll with the punches.”

The reason for accepting the quirks and annoyances of others is really quite simple. In Christ we are no longer our own persons operating under the illusion that we are in control of our own actions, never mind our own destinies. Rather, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord...” (7,8)

And be careful, he warns. We are accountable for our actions before God. As we judge others so shall we eventually be judged by God: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (10) In short, it’s not worth it to judge others. God has a very long memory of what we do and who we judge.