Posts tagged Job
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This has been true for thousands of years. It is also true that dishonest people seem to prosper while honest, hardworking people struggle. We know this. We see it all around us. It is the cause of personal pain and organized revolution. Unlike a Hollywood script, in life, too often we see the bad guy win.
And we see a variation on this theme in the Psalms. Over and over, David and the other Psalmists ask the same kind of question that Job asked – a question that really boils down to: “Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.”
And while much of the answer lies in our definition of “good” and “bad” things, the fact remains that we all know people who are making no effort to serve God and yet seem to have much better lives. The twist that we find in the Psalms, however, relates to the ultimate outcome – the long-term results – of living such a life.
What the Biblical authors like to remind us of is that people who pursue a prize other than God may well receive that prize. However, it is a prize that is fleeting – something that can only be enjoyed for the short amount of years that person has on this earth. God’s prize, of course, is eternal.
And it is from that perspective that David wrote many of his Psalms and which we also read from the other Psalmists as we began today with Psalm 73:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:26-28)
How on earth am I supposed to comment on 8 different songs all at once? To be sure, it’s hard enough to comment on three or four chapters of Kings or Judges. To try to bring any amount of summary to 8 Psalms is nearly impossible. However, there were a couple of things that jumped out to me from these ancient songs.
First, I think it’s fitting that the book of Psalms is placed just after the book of Job in the Canon (the official order of the Bible). Because, in some ways, Psalms picks up on the themes that we found in Job. Here is a “righteous”, or relatively upstanding man crying out to God for mercy. But there is something different about David’s pleas.
For Job’s part, he was a bit of a complainer. He had grievances against God and he wanted to air those. David’s posture is a little different. He seems to be writing with a sense of confidence. “Things aren’t great now,” he seems to be saying, “but I can’t wait to see how God intervenes in this!” Of course, as we’ve already read in the books of Samuel and the Chronicles, David had some major ups and downs in his life. You can almost imagine him thinking, “I’ve been through this kind of thing before.” There is something to be said about the peace that comes with experience.
But there’s something else going on here with David and I think it simply comes down to the way he is wired. You see, I can’t really fault Job for going into what seems like a deep depression during his ordeal. And, I wouldn’t fault David for responding similarly when he was having to hide in caves to keep from being killed by people that were either like family (Saul) or who actually were family (Absalom). But the same confidence that led a young David to walk alone into battle against a formidable killing machine named Goliath was on display throughout his life.
Whether is was simply personal hubris (at times, it probably was) or true faith and confidence in God, David seemed to always trust that things were going to get better. That’s what made David such a great leader. He was the guy that could look at a battlefield where his soldiers were falling right an left and could have the clarity of thought to come up with a new battle strategy – a game-changing strategy. This guy didn’t hang his head and pout.
He was willing and able to take the game on his back and carry the team (to mix metaphors). He was willing to storm the beach by himself if necessary. And it was this confidence and determination that caused other people to follow him. If you remember, David somehow managed to have a “band of fighting men” even when he wasn’t king. People followed this guy even when he had no authority to compel them to do so.
We are fortunate enough to get to read some of the innermost thoughts of this great leader over the next several days. To be clear, David didn’t write all of the Psalms, but he wrote a great many of them and likely wrote others that aren’t attributed to him. The book of Psalms then is a lesson in leadership as well as personal integrity, spiritual development and relationship with God. I’m looking forward to this leg of the journey!
And so we’ve come to the end of Job’s story. It’s a story which, at first glance, has a fairytale, “happily ever-after” ending. But consider this: Job may have ended up with a bunch of stuff and a bunch of kids, but he was still damaged goods. God didn’t resurrect the kids who had died. God didn’t wipe from Job’s memory the torment that he went through. He didn’t un-ring the bell that Job’s friends had rung with their accusations of him.
In fact, God didn’t even offer Job an explanation as to why these things had happened to him. Chances are Job lived the rest of his life wondering what in the world God was up to during that dark season of his life. He may have had emotional scars until the day he died. He most certainly had a sadness over the loss of his children that couldn’t be cured by any amount of stuff or even any other children.
In other words, Job was just like us. We are shaped by our experiences. We come to understand life a certain way because of the things that we go through. For Job, he had discovered that God’s plans are often unknown to us, but that didn’t mean that God revealed his plan to Job. I wonder if at least a small part of Job waited with anxiety to see if God was going to take it all away again.
I admire Job. I relate to Job. Though I’ve never had to go through the kind of torment that Job did and hope I never do, I understand that when things don’t go the way we think they’re supposed to, we somehow get lost at sea. We flail about, just looking for something or someone to grab onto. We flail and flail until, suddenly, the voice of God speaks and we wonder why we were ever so afraid – so lost. And in that moment, we are reminded that there is only one who has all knowledge. Our trust – our hope – must be placed in him.
Dude got owned (or whatever similar phrase is popular these days.) Nowhere does God bring it like he does in the book of Job. Job has spent 37 chapters arguing with his friends and with God about how he just wants to have an audience with the almighty. He begs God to speak! And when God does speak, he says, “Excuse me?” Then he manages to spit two chapters of full-on God-snark.
This could, of course, be a really easy day for a “be careful what you wish for” post. But there’s something else that got me thinking in chapter 38:
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass? (Job 38:25-27)
In other words, who does the stuff that you never think about? And that got me thinking about all of the things that I know God does and all of the things that I forget that God does and all of the things that God does that I don’t even know about! It reminds me of the Donald Rumsfeld quote (descended from ancient Persian literature) that “there are things we do not know we don’t know”.
It is in that realm of reality that Job has found himself. He has fully thought through all of the things he knows he knows about God and life. He has culled the depths of things he knows he doesn’t know and has sought to figure some things out. But there is a vast expanse of knowledge that Job (and you and I) not only don’t know, but that we don’t know that we don’t know.
This is where God’s infinite wisdom comes in – and it’s why God is so irritated with Job when he says,
Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me. (Job 38:2-3)
It’s not that Job is questioning God’s actions. It’s that Job is questioning God’s knowledge. Job has forgotten that there are things that he doesn’t know he doesn’t know. For example, Job doesn’t know that his story is going to be read by a bunch of people in 2012, including some who are going through a really tough time and can relate to Job’s words. He doesn’t know how his own story is going to end. He doesn’t even know what God knew about Job – that he would be an example of the ability of a human being to weather a storm and come out on the other side with his faith intact.
It’s my prayer, for you and for me, that God will continue to expand our knowledge of him and that he’ll continue to remind us that there are things we don’t know we don’t know. That will lead us to place our trust in the only one who does know.
This is becoming almost unbearable. The more I read, the more I want to scream, “You’re whole theory is based on a false assumption!” The assumption, of course, is that God makes good people prosperous and bad people have to suffer. It doesn’t work that way. Never has.
But as I read the words of Elihu, I’m reminded that even now, several thousand years later, many people still have not learned this lesson. In fact, if you turn on your TV on a Sunday morning and tune into any number of stations broadcasting a TV preacher, you will likely hear words very similar to Elihu’s:
He does not take his eyes off the righteous;
he enthrones them with kings
and exalts them forever. (Job 36:7)
If they obey and serve him,
they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
and their years in contentment. (Job 36:11)
In fact, I’m sure that some of those TV preachers have used these very verses (completely out of context) to justify their “theology” of prosperity. But the TV preacher and Elihu have missed it. They have completely missed it. God does not use stuff as an indicator of righteousness. Contentment isn’t his goal for his people. In fact, if you or I spend our days content and comfortable in this incredibly broken world, we have almost certainly missed it.
One only has to look at the life, the words and the actions of Jesus to understand that the closer you are to God, the more troubled you are by this world. The closer your heart aligns with the heart of God, the more it breaks when you look at the people of this world. The more your eyes are attuned to God’s vision, the more you are filled with compassion, empathy and pain for those around you.
Those who “get it” aren’t content with this life. And even though some may prosper financially, for those who “get it,” prosperity is never the goal, or the litmus test, in their pursuit of God’s ways.