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.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

John Wesley: How to Read the Scripture

Today I head to West Ohio Annual Conference, where I will spend this week as a delegate representing my district. To me, Annual Conference is like a weeklong United Methodist party. I have gone every year since I was six months old, and it is by far my favorite week of the year. The only bad news is that I will not have any reliable way to connect to the internet, so this will be my last entry for a few days.

In honor of this thoroughly United Methodist week of my summer, I thought I would share John Wesley’s “How to Read the Scripture,” which I read for the first time last semester while I was writing a paper on Wesleyan hermeneutics. I have been wanting to post it on here since the beginning of the summer; it reflects the way I approach Scripture as informed by my faith tradition. While my academic training in biblical studies certainly informs my hermeneutic, I think it is also important to acknowledge the ways in which my upbringing and journey as a United Methodist also shape my understanding of Scripture. So, here it is:

“If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable,

1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose?

2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?

3. To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it? In order to know his will, you should,

4. Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.

5. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing "scripture can only be understood thro' the same Spirit whereby it was given." Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts.

6. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short.

And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation.”

From John Wesley, Preface to Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament
EDINBURGH, April 25, 1765.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1 Samuel 5-24: this is the one.

“When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The LORD has not chosen any of these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” – 1 Sam 16.6-13a NRSV

When Samuel sees Eliab, the firstborn son of Jesse, he is sure that he is looking into the eyes of the one God has chosen as king over Israel. It just makes sense—he is the firstborn, and after all, he looks like a king!
But God says, “Nah. Not this one.” Jesse parades his other sons before Samuel, and over and over again, God gives Samuel the same answer. One strapping young man after another, yet “the LORD has not chosen any of these” (16.10).

Finally, Samuel gets desperate and asks Jesse if these are all of his sons. Jesse seems surprised, but says, “No, there’s one more, but he’s the youngest and he couldn’t possibly be your guy.” But Samuel asks to see him anyway.

When little David shows up, something extraordinary happens. The voice of the LORD proclaims, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (16.12). With those words, God says, “The one you never expected to be king, the one you didn’t even give a chance, the youngest and weakest—this is the one, this is my chosen.”
God is full of surprises here. By choosing David as the king of Israel, God subverts every cultural norm and expectation. The people of Israel might be “like the other nations” (1 Sam 8.5) insofar as they have a king; however, God’s choice to appoint David the next king over Israel is a reminder that they are still God’s peculiar people—a people led by a king who is last but first, weak in stature but strong in the LORD, unexpected but chosen. And little David grows up to be mighty king David, the exemplar of kingship in the history of Israel.

This story is not an isolated incident in the history of God’s people. In fact, I think this story is a valuable glimpse into the reality of God’s election, the way in which God chooses and calls God’s people. Election is a complex issue with great social and theological implications, but in this story we are reminded that God chooses and calls those who we least expect. God chooses and calls the young, the weak, the marginalized—the ones we most often overlook and disregard.

Let me leave you with this thought that has been echoing in my mind as I have been reflecting on this passage: if God chooses the most unexpected and unlikely candidate to be king, how much more does God choose each and every one of us to be God’s people?

Hear the voice of God, saying to you and to all people, “this is the one.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Judges 20-1 Samuel 4: who is your Eli?

“Then the LORD called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’” –1 Sam 3.4-10 NRSV

I love this story. Every time I read it, I am drawn to Eli and the way he “perceives” the call of God and guides Samuel in hearing that call.

When I think about the role that Eli plays in Samuel’s life, I immediately begin naming people in my life who play this role in my own story—the people in my life who I consider mentors, who nudge me ever closer to God, who guide me in recognizing and listening to the voice of God, and who even speak God’s words into my life.

I can’t help but thank God for the incredible people  in my life who have been, who are, and in some cases who will always be an Eli to me. Just as Eli helps Samuel identify the voice of God, I think it’s important for us to identify the people—the voices—that God has placed in our lives to do just that. And of course, it is important for us to express our love and appreciation for the ways in which they have guided us along this journey called faith.

So—who is your Eli?