Saturday, June 25, 2011

Job 25-42: incomplete thoughts

Perhaps more than any other book, my journey through Job as part of the Shema Summer felt rushed. Four days does not do justice to this complex, fascinating book! But today I journeyed forward into the Psalms, carrying with me these incomplete thoughts on Job:

  • God points to creation as proof of God’s justice and sovereignty. Not only that—God speaks through creation (the whirlwind) as God speaks of creation. Wrap your mind around that. (God’s point exactly!)
  • Though Job questions God’s justice in the dialogues and Job’s friends defend God’s justice, it is Job who is declared righteous by God in the narrative that closes the book. It seems to me that this could be a good framework for thinking through how we should respond to situations and experiences of injustice, suffering, and tragedy.

As the Shema Summer rolls on, I carry with me these fragments of theological significance from the book of Job, looking forward to the day when I will return to these pages and linger a bit longer…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Job 11.5-6a: on wisdom, on truth

“But O that God would speak,
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For wisdom is many-sided.”
-Job 11.5-6a NRSV

“Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.”
-Psalm 119.97-104 NRSV

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
-Romans 11.33 NRSV

Wisdom is many-sided.

The law of God is to be longed for.

The knowledge of God is deeper than we will ever know.

The truth is symphonic.

Long for it it. Learn it. Live it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Job: the dialogic nature of the text.

I grew up hearing the Sunday School version of Job: a story of a man who remained faithful to God through trials and suffering. But last fall, I took a class on Wisdom Literature and encountered the deeper layers of Job: voices of God’s exiled people questioning and debating God’s justice—a debate between the radical and traditional schools of wisdom. The pre-exilic narrative portions of the text (Job 1-2, 42.7-17) depict the traditional theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice, while the exilic dialogues (Job 3-42.6) put these ideas on trial. In the dialogues, Job represents the radical school of wisdom, questioning traditional sapiential theology. Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Elihu, represent and defend the traditional school of wisdom.

In the end, the traditional school wins out, with redactors giving the traditional sapiential theology of God’s sovereignty and retributive justice the last word. While victory for the traditional school is important to note, one thing is even more significant: the dialogue and debate present in the book of Job. Of 42 chapters, 39 are comprised of dialogue and debate between competing schools of wisdom. The book of Job is proof of two things: first, there is room in Scripture for different (conflicting) perspectives; second, these different (conflicting) perspectives are in conversation with one another in the biblical text. These two lessons have changed how I engage the biblical text as a whole. Thanks to Job and the teachers and friends who have shaped my understanding of the Bible, I rejoice in the dialogue that is God’s Word(s)…

Scripture does not speak with one voice. Many voices speak within Scripture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ezra 7.10

This is going to be a short but profound entry, at least for me personally. Tonight, I will let the Scripture speak for itself.

“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.” –Ezra 7.10 NRSV

Study. Do. Teach.

I want to be like Ezra.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2 Chronicles 14-23: grace+commitment=joy

“They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. They took an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with horns. All Judah rejoiced over the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart, and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.” –2 Chr 15.12-15 NRSV

This passage makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, this joyous occasion is brought about by a violent victory over Zerah. Next, this joyful oath comes with a promise to put anyone to death who does not seek God with their whole heart. To be sure, this oath and the circumstances surrounding it are a bit…extreme.

But some other things in this passage struck me as being extreme in a more positive sense. First of all, the joy in this passage is contagious. Even though the people know that they are entering into a life and death commitment, they do so with such great joy— rejoicing with shouting and trumpets and horns. Seriously, when a celebration includes trumpets AND horns, you know it is a big deal.

Next, I noticed that this oath is serious business. It is certainly something to be celebrated, but it is also a very serious commitment. The people are entering into a life of seeking God— “with all their heart and with all their soul” (15.12 NRSV)—and they are putting their life on the line to make that commitment.

Here, it seems that God’s people have figured out—if only for a moment in time—how to live out both extreme celebration and extreme commitment. I think this is something we lack in our churches today. In an effort to increase our numbers, we create a watered down version of faith that is easy and convenient but lacks radical commitment. (For some reason, this phenomenon puts me in mind of TV dinners…) And because we lack the extreme commitment, we often miss out on the extreme celebration that grows from the gift of giving your whole life to God.

Now, let me go on record as saying that I am all about grace. I thank God that the very foundation of my faith tradition is the theology of grace. But this grace did not and does not excuse us from being radically committed to living undivided, consistent lives of faith. Grace is not an excuse, it is a gift.

In light of that gift, God calls us to joyfully commit with all our hearts and all our souls, just as the people did in this passage. Of course, there is one important difference: our oath comes with a promise of unconditional grace rather than a death threat. Does that mean our faith commitment is less serious? Absolutely not. If anything, it means we have more reason to celebrate.

Go be the seriously joyful people of God.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1 Chronicles 23- 2 Chronicles 3: seek wisdom. trust God.

“That night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ Solomon said to God, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to my father David, and have made me succeed him as king. O LORD God, let your promise to my father David now be fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?’ God answered Solomon, ‘Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.’ So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel.” –2 Chr 1.7-13 NRSV

I love this story.

God asks Solomon, “what is your greatest desire?” And Solomon’s answer is this: “wisdom and knowledge” (2 Chr 1.11 NRSV). This is what Solomon desires more than wealth and honor and everything else under the sun for which he could have asked the LORD. God seems to approve of Solomon’s answer, and says, “I will give you wisdom, knowledge, AND everything else—precisely because your greatest desire is to be wise.”

Part of the reason I love this story is because I love wisdom literature. But this dialogue between God and Solomon also resonates with me because I understand my own life to be a search for truth and wisdom and knowledge—all of the things that Solomon requests of God in this passage. God’s response to Solomon fascinates me—it seems like God is saying, “seek the truth and I will take care of the rest.”

On that note, this story reminds me of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6.33 NRSV). This is a connection made strictly on the devotional level, but I think it is a connection worth making. I would argue that both passages express God’s desire for us to seek truth—wisdom and knowledge, the kingdom of God and its righteousness—in all that we do, and trust God’s promise to take care of everything else.

What are you seeking? For what are you striving?

Seek Wisdom. Trust God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

1 Chronicles 13-22: warfare and worship

I am back from Annual Conference, and finally home for long enough to blog regularly again! Rather than trying to reflect on all the readings from the past week, I will just reflect on today’s reading and go from there (because seriously, 10 chapters each day is plenty to write about).

“David said to Solomon, ‘My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.’” 1 Chr 22.7-9 NRSV

As someone who reads the Bible through the lens of a commitment to peace, this passage caught my eye. Here, we see that the LORD will not allow David to build the temple because David has waged wars and shed blood. David is not worthy to build a house for God—the place where God will reside among God’s people—because he has lived a life of violence rather than peace.

Now, it is important to touch on the meaning of the word “peace” in this context; in The HarperCollins Study Bible, biblical scholar Ralph W. Klein points out that in this passage, the word “peace” literally means “rest” (588). Here, “peace” means a time of rest from war, not a radical commitment to nonviolence.

However, regardless of the exact definition of peace in this passage, one thing is clear: there is a connection between warfare and worship. David’s warfare—his acts of violence and bloodshed—disqualifies him from building the temple. His violence prohibits him from building the place that will become the center of the communal life of the people of Israel, the place where God will dwell among God’s people.

In the same way, I would argue that when we act violently, we limit our ability to worship God well. Violence is not limited to the physical—we do violence with words and actions, and all too often with silence and inaction. By doing violence, we not only harm others, we harm ourselves. And as we do harm to others and ourselves, we forget who God is because we fail to see the face of God in the faces around us. We become numb to the touch of the Spirit, unable to listen to the voice of God, precisely because we have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As David passes the torch of temple building to Solomon, we are reminded that our actions and our worship are undeniably linked.

May our lives reflect our worship, and our worship shape our lives.