Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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How To Treat A Fool

Faith & reason

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b, 7, NRSV)

“Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.” (Prov. 26:4, NRSV)

OK, wait for it…WAIT for it…

“Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Prov. 26:5, NRSV)

Events of the last few days have led me to ponder when to apply each verse; or more precisely, when, because of compassion (1), should I stay in a conversation, with the hope that, at least, seeds of the kingdom of God, rumors of glory, might be planted, OR…when should I extricate myself from obtuse fools and unedifying conversation? The story begins about a week I ago.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Miller, a pastor of the thriving Glenkirk Church in the quiet, suburban city of Glendora, authored a book: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” (Abingdon Press, 2013). Jim Miller, my former presbytery colleague and current Facebook friend, asked me recently to “like” the “Hardwired” Facebook page. Last week, I read the book on my Kindle. A variety of worries and concerns met me as I read, though now after reading the book a couple more times, I have a more appreciative view of the book.

I began a blog post to respond to the concerns I had about the book. Often when I make a post, it is as long as a term paper, and requires two or three days to write. I was determined that I was not going to produce a critique that long; when I make a long post, I try to make one that works on several levels, has humor, a spiritual point, unexpected content, and is seeded with a few spiritual time-bombs that will go off later, opening up unexpected prospects for the reader (I believe this is why this blog is read in so many countries). I gave myself one afternoon to write the post. However, as the afternoon wore on, I saw that for me to be fair to the author, and understood by my readers, a long post would be required after all. So after writing several pages, I just threw them in the trash. I would just try to continue to exemplify in my blog posts, my approach to Christian apologetics, or what I prefer to call commending a Christian faith and worldview.

Then I thought I might receive some help from an online discussion. I was a member of a group that I had never used. You might think that with “apologetics” in the title, the group would be mostly sympathetic to Christian faith, though of course, some members might not be Christians. You would be wrong. I asked what members thought of the book, “Hardwired”, and then asked a longer and more nuanced version of this question: “Isn’t the use of the metaphor, ‘hardwired’, a double-edged sword? When used outside of the original context of computer science/artificial intelligence, it seems to be a pseudo-scientific term that gives an unearned patina of science to arguments. It was used in this way first by anti-religious materialists.” At first, I received some short, helpful responses. Then the anti-Christian trolls came out from under the bridge, so to speak. Anything I said was deemed so obviously false that it did not need to be refuted. Responses that I made that got too close to their targets, were met with lazy misunderstanding or attempts to distract me (and the group) with irrelevant questions. You’ve probably seen in political discourse, that sometimes questions about an issue are met with just changing the subject by bringing up another issue. One member exemplified the very worry I had, by attempting to debunk religious beliefs by explaining how they are hardwired into us because they have an evolutionary survival value. Insults to Christian faith, and a kind of bullying that involves the words “of course…”, flowed freely for the next 24 hours. My instinct is too stay with a conversation and too never give up. But this conversation had sunk into a morass of willful misunderstanding and foolishness. And so, I applied the proverb, “Do not answer fools according to their folly…” With Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), out of the room, I was bold to also remember this verse: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” Leaving the reversionists behind, I ‘unjoined’ the group with “extreme prejudice” (to paraphrase the film, “Apocalypse Now”).

Remembering that, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'” (Ps. 14:1a. NRSV), the question before us is: When should we apply Proverbs 26:4, and when should we apply Proverbs 26:5? I do believe that all humans bear the image of God, and so, even foolish or evil ones have dignity, and should be treated with respect. Two thoughts come to mind. 1) One of the principles of L’Abri Fellowship, founded by Dr. Francis and Edith Schaeffer, is to give an honest answer to every honest question. There is a presumption of staying with the conversation, even if the answer is, “I’ll get back to you on that, after I’ve done some work on it.” But, if the questioner is insincere, unwilling to seek and acknowledge truth, then one’s time and energy is better spent elsewhere. 2) Dallas Willard, in the DVD series accompanying his final book, “Living In Christ’s Presence: Final Words On Heaven and the Kingdom Of God” (InterVarsity Press, 2014), said that he will not debate with atheists/agnostics/materialists/etc., but that he will engage with them in a common search for truth.

Another way of thinking about this is to remember that Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15a, NRSV). Some of us are ostensibly more oriented to the truth-speaking command, and some, to the love command. We need to live out both parts of the instruction, or we risk being cold and pedantic, on the one hand, or mushy and intellectually flabby, on the other hand. It seems to me though, that without love, one’s truth-seeking becomes distorted, and one’s truth-speaking drives people away. And, love entails willingness to help people acquire the knowledge that they need (1).

(1) See my post of 10/12/14: “Lack of Knowledge Is a Compassion Issue.”

“To watch over mouth and tongue
is to keep out of trouble.
The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,”
acts with arrogant pride.” (Prov. 21:23-24, NRSV)

This post was powered by the CD, “The Banner Days Sampler” (2014) by The Banner Days, the CD, “Modern” (1999) by Battered Fish, the CD, “Love Songs And Prayers [A Retrospective]” (1994) by the Choir, and the CD, “Brutal Romantic” (2014) by Brooke Fraser.

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Jack! Hairless!

“He loves me
And here am I;
Sick in bed
But dancing in my head.
He loves me
And here am I;
Sad tonight
Dancing in the morning light.” – Miss Angie (1999)

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16, NRSV)

Jack Hairless1

Jack Hairless2

Well, not completely hairless. But perhaps you can see in the pictures above that Jack, the Bible Study Dog, has lost hair on the crown of his head, on his chest and front legs. What you cannot see is that he has lost all of his hair on his stomach, some hair on his back legs and a little patch on his rear. His hairline is receding on his head and on his sides. It looks like an encroaching desert. The vet says that Jack Lewis has a bacteria. She would like to do a biopsy, which is very expensive. The good news is that Jack doesn’t have MRSA. My research has shown that Jack Lewis may have a condition that sometimes spontaneously reverses (I suspect that that happens more often with prayer!). So we are not, at this point, going to get the biopsy.

However, Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD), does not seem to have any discomfort. He doesn’t scratch excessively. The BSD is the same alert, eager, high energy dog, with culinary and social interests, that he has always been. We started the Thursday night Bible study again two weeks ago. The BSD was in high form: greeting people, trying to untie shoe laces and dozing off on someone’s lap.

All of this reminded me of the verse above. We are wasting away on the outside but are being renewed (constantly being made new, refreshed) on the inside. Jack Lewis looks like he is falling apart but he is happy and alert on the inside. The analogy breaks down when we remember that Jack is not having any pain and even a bad cold or tooth ache tends to rob us of our happiness.

The larger context for our text includes St. Paul referring to the persecution, hardship and affliction that the true apostles have endured. And then there are these perhaps surprising words: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor. 4:7-10, NRSV) Though we go through awful affliction, nonetheless God places a limit on his servants’ challenges: we are “struck down, but not destroyed”. And further, there is a purpose for our weakness: “so that it may be clear” that our gifts and ministry belong “to God and [do] not come from us.” I comfort myself with this, as I seem to face still another new health challenge after each one is resolved.

And then there is this: an eternal perspective makes a huge difference. Without an eternal perspective, is life even bearable? “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NRSV) Compare your suffering to eternal glory. Look at the contrasts: temporary vs. eternal, seen vs. unseen, slight momentary affliction vs. an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. If we really believed this, we would live with confidence and courage.

I got to go. Jack wants me to go to bed; he insists on sleeping tightly wedged against my leg. I guess we comfort each other in our different ways (licking is not one of my love languages!).

This post was powered by: the song, “Dancin’ In My Head” from the album, “Triumphantine” (1999), by Miss Angie, the album, “Moontraveler” (2008), by Aaron Sprinkle, and the albums, “The Changing of the Guard” (2010) and “IAMACEO” (2013) by Starflyer 59.


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Jack

dog1

dog2

Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog (BSD) has been quite sweet to me the last few days. He is eager to lie down with me whenever I get into my recliner chair. He wedges himself in tightly beside my leg. This afternoon, while my cell phone was charging in another room and Jack Lewis was sleeping on my lap, I just could not disturb Jack to answer the phone. Jack Lewis catches a ball, sometimes in the air, when I throw it around the kitchen. Today, the BSD, rolled over for me to rub his stomach, which is very unlike Jack. He also came in to my office and laid down on his office bed while I was working. The amazing symbiotic relationship between dogs and humans, that God has provided, was on full display.

Why is Jack so sociable these days? It may have something to do with the reality that I am a little more mobile because my doctor is allowing me now to be “90-10” weight-bearing. Just the higher energy level in the house is stimulating, and yet, comforting to the BSD. The two pictures above, taken when Jack was just a few weeks old, helped to motivate me to rescue Jack (he had been abandoned). These pictures of Jack are the only pictures of Jack I have on my computer. I hope to get some recent photos up, with the help of techie friends.

Jack Lewis is now about two years old (some people say three years, but they are incorrect). He is completely black, except for some white hair on his chin. The vet guessed that Jack is a Dachshund – Jack Russell Terrier mix. Jack has the long body and front bow legs typical of dachshunds and the head, chest and temperament of a terrier. Some people were worried that the Bible Study Dog was gaining too much weight, but at 22 lbs., the vet says he is right on target. Jack is a small dog, but he envisions himself as a large dog, a mighty predator, and a faithful and frightening alert dog. I think he sees himself like this:

dog black2

But actually, Jack Lewis looks very much like this:

dog black

And when Jack Lewis stretches himself out on the floor to study me (see my post, “Prayer – Part Dos/Deux/Zwei/Due/Two” of 7/26/14), he looks like this:

dog black3

Jack Lewis has a reputation as a sleek, handsome dog. One day as I was coming home, a young man was leaning over our fence. He said, “Is that your dog?” I said, “Yes.” After asking about what breed of dog Jack was, the man said, “That is the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen!” Many people in our neighborhood know Jack. People walking their dogs address Jack by name, sometimes stopping to allow canine greetings. One neighbor lets her large dog into our yard occasionally to play with Jack Lewis. Everybody loves Jack.

However, recently, the BSD has been losing his hair on the top of his head. At some times of day, Jack looks startled or frightened because of his pale cranial pallor. Or he appears for a moment to be a non-canine animal, like a bat or some small creature from the movie, “Jurassic Park”, or some hitherto unsuspected urban prowler. He also seems a little feral (I love that word) or wild. I am reminded that in addition to Jack Lewis’ sociable, domesticated, human-oriented side, Jack also carries his genetic inheritance of the untamed wild dog. It seems easier to see this when he looks a bit strange.

I had a professor in theological seminary who said, “The longer I live, the more God seems weird or strange to me.” I take this to mean that some of the categories we have for understanding God, while remaining true as far they go, seem inadequate for understanding God as we walk with him and see his surprising actions and plans. To learn from the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit we must be open to surprise, paradox and mystery. Someone that you love remains, at least partially, a mystery (“Wow, I never knew that about you!”), while someone that you do not love (are indifferent to) is addressed with box-making, controlling language (“You always…”, “You never…”).

God has revealed himself, especially in Jesus Christ, as our Father, Guide, Provider, Forgiver, Lover, Protector who is all-knowing and all-powerful and always good and loving. He causes all events to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Jesus does not call his disciples merely “servants” (John 15:15, NRSV), but “…friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15c, NRSV) Jesus genuinely desires our fellowship with him (Revelation 3:20).

And yet, if we are to receive from God that which we do not already think and feel, God must be for us a bit wild (see my post, “Fake Wizard or Awesome God?”, about paragraph 17, of 8/3/14), even strange. Not only is God our Friend and Savior; he is also holy, other. We are made in the image of God and are now being made like Jesus, but nonetheless, we are not God. God is Other or as Martin Buber or Karl Barth or some postmodern theorists would say, the Other (don’t worry, there won’t be a test on this).

Consider these words of God, spoken through the prophet, Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV)

That’s about as Other as one can get! Part of what we mean by ‘holiness’ is who God is in himself, his difference, his otherness (for explosive and compelling pictures of this look at Isaiah in the temple in Isaiah 9 and Moses before the burning bush in Exodus 3).

bush

But here comes a twist…wait for it… God is not worse than we thought or imagined, but better! Look at the verses before our text:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD,
that he may have mercy on them,
and to God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isa. 55:6-7, NRSV, emphasis added)

And then a verse after our text:

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isa. 55:12, NRSV)

It’s a good thing that God is God and I am not, because he is so much more forgiving than I am. It’s also good that his plans for me are much better than I can imagine. God calls us all to turn from our idols that do not satisfy (see my post, “What We Are” of 5/28/14) and receive the abundant life that is God and that is better than we can imagine. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.” (Isa. 55:1-3a, NRSV)

dog black4

This post was powered by, “The Best of Kansas” (1984) by Kansas and, “Live From The Strip” (1999) by Kate Miner.


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The Word of the LORD or Bored With the Lord?

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I have been talking to Jack, the Bible Study Dog, today, as I often do when we are home alone. I’ve been sayings things like: “Jack, you know it’s Bible study day, and I know that you are looking forward to jumping up on people, untying shoe laces, trying to steal food, playing the predator game (it’s too complicated to explain now), praying in your own way and listening to Master talk (and talk…).” I talk to Jack not because I’m crazy or think that Jack understands what I’m saying or much of what I’m saying. It’s just that he appears to listen so intently and eagerly and there seems to be a certain intelligence in his eyes. Oh, sometimes Jack seems to look at me with a cynical or indulgent stare. This has me thinking about the way that we attend to the Word in worship and in Bible study.

Previous generations of Christians, including the Puritans in America, listened to sermons that lasted for hours. Puritans also could understand and converse  about sermons with complex outlines and, for us, dense logic, even if they were farmers or not college-educated. We are not even expected to listen to a sermon or teaching for more than 50 minutes in some churches today. A few years ago 15 or 20 minutes, at the most 30 minutes, would be more common. I know the old saying, ‘The head cannot absorb what the seat cannot endure.’ I also remember being taught in Christian Ed. class that, if one must choose, it is better for the pastor to make the room too cold for comfort, rather than too hot for comfort.

That reminds me. Do you remember the story of Eutychus? Well, St. Paul was let off the ship and stayed in Troas for a week. On the last night, the Christians “…gathered together to break bread…” (Acts20:7b, ESV) and Paul “…prolonged his speech until midnight.” (v. 7d) On top of Paul’s long-windedness, “There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.” (v.8) You can see where this going can’t you? Long message, night-time, heat, oxygen deprivation… You’re getting sleepy, very, veeeery sleeepy… When I count to three… Anyway, “[ ] a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.” (v.9) BAM! A bit of a severe result of falling asleep during a teaching, don’t you think? “But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.'” (v. 10) We are told that, undeterred, Paul “…conversed with them a long while, until daybreak…[!]” (v.11b) And the congregation, having other things to think about, in addition to Paul’s, no doubt ‘deep’ teaching, “…took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” (v. 12) I have nodded off while someone “talked still longer.” And if the room is stuffy, well, that doesn’t help either. But I aspire to be alive to the WORD and engaged with teaching at every opportunity.

I think of texts like, “How sweet are your [God’s] words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103, ESV) or “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105, ESV) Also, read Psalm 119:97, 111, 129-130.

There will come a time of a New Covenant when “[ ] no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:28, ESV) The forgiveness part and the “remember no more” part are available now on the basis of the death of Jesus for our sins and that when the Father looks at Christians he sees them clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The other is not yet or not completely yet. We still need regular teaching of God’s word and we still need to say to one another, “Know the LORD.” St. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, the last time he was able to visit them, that, “I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27, ESV) Jesus commanded disciples that they should make disciples by, not only baptizing, but by “teaching [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)

Believe it or not, I have occasionally noticed eye-lids drooping while I am teaching. I do all I can to be a volcano of diverse, edgy and creative teaching. But, alas, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Still the Word is so alive, “sweeter than honey” and a “lamp to my feet.” Sometimes, when I read the Bible at the end of the day, it wakes me up and I can hardly sleep because I  many wonders in Scripture and I feel so alive! “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NRSV) Yikes!! It’s not just that I read the Bible, but the Bible reads me. It’s not tame; it’s not safe. It is more dangerous than a double-edged sword. I remember that J.B. Phillips, the translator of a popular paraphrase of the New Testament, said something like that translating the New Testament was, for him, like working on uninsulated electrical wiring in an old house with the electricity still on. Exactly.

Now, if only I can stay awake… And put first things first!

The post was powered by “Then Is The New Now” (2002) by Denison Marrs and “With Abandon” (1999) by Chasing Furies.


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Fake Wizard or Awesome God?

tornado-and-lightning

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – G.K. Chesterton (Introduction to the Book of Job, 1907)

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible wrestles with the question of ‘Why do righteous people suffer?’ Also, reading Job, we find ourselves wrestling with the mysterious ways and hidden purposes of God, and also, with how we might respond existentially to our own searing suffering or the suffering of others. G.K. Chesterton again: “The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, the Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” (The Defendant) I propose to make a bit of progress in unraveling the riddle of lived life before a majestic, mysterious God in a world that has just the odd features that it has. I will do this by rehearsing part of the story of Job, and then, comparing and contrasting Job and his God with my interpretation of the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz.

But first, let me say that there are a variety of arguments I could make in response to the problem of evil in a world created by a good and all-powerful God. For instance, I might wonder how a materialist would explain true evil in a world made up only of matter and energy. If then she shifted ground, and worried about how one could reconcile an all-powerful and good God with the amount of purposeless suffering in the world, I would ask how she can know that any instance of suffering is purposeless in a world created by God. We could talk about how consequences to actions (some of which will not be desired) are necessary for true choices/decisions, that is, free will. We could go into an explication of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible. I might recommend The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. Doubtless, I would talk about the problem of good. But that is not my focus in this post. Maybe another time…

Job lived in an unattested place called ‘Luz’. He “…was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1b & c, ESV) He had seven sons and three daughters (vs. 2). Job was very wealthy. He possessed: 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys and lots of servants (vs. 3). Job’s children were a central project for him. The children would often hold feasts together. When the feasts had run their course, Job would offer burnt offerings for each of them, thinking, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” (vs. 5c, ESV) Don’t you feel a ‘but’ coming?

The scene shifts to God’s throne. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD and [the] Satan (or the Accuser/the Adversary, see ESV margin. The def. article may be applied every time ‘Satan’ appears. Thus he would be like a prosecuting attorney.) also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:6-12, ESV) All of Job’s possessions and his ten children are taken from him. A second divine court scene begins in chapter 2, with the same form as the first, except that God notes that Job has maintained his integrity and Satan is allowed to take Job’s health but not his life. The theme in a recent post about seeking God’s face and not just his hand, what he does for us, is explicitly inquired about: Will Job/people fear/love/serve God for no reason, for nothing? Job passes the first test (losing family and possessions) but whether he passes the second test is ambiguous, depending on where in the book one reads.

Look at Job’s initial response to disaster. Truly at this point Job will fear/serve God for nothing, for no thing. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22, ESV) I used to perform a song by Honeytree. The lyrics are these words of Job.

Job’s loss of all that he has, except his life and his wife, is a disaster, or rather a series of disasters. But the way it happens is a comedy too, almost like one of those Carl Hiaasin novels in which the villains are, little by little, progressively destroyed by a Rube Goldberg chain of events. I imagine this all happening in super slo-mo. As each of Job’s flocks is destroyed or stolen, in ingenuous ways, the attached servants are all lost; all except, of course, one servant to tell Job the most recent bad news and increase his misery. This is not the time to ask, ‘What else could go wrong?’ And finally, OF COURSE, all of Job’s children are killed at one of their feasts when the roof falls on them and, of course, just one servant survives to come and tell Job the bad news. There is Job now, with “loathsome sores” (2:7) all over his body, having lost all, except his wife who he might have been willing to do without. She hectors Job: “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.'” (2:9)

Three friends of Job show up to comfort and sympathize with him (near the end, a fourth, Elihu arrives). They can’t recognize Job from a distance. They throw dust up in the air, rip their clothes and sit silently with Job for seven days and nights. Sometimes, in the presence of great suffering or grief, just quiet presence is best. Rushing in to impose explanations is often not welcome. Sometimes, like the three friends (we’ll see), we speak to impose answers to selfishly deal with our own discomfort, confusion and doubts.

“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man is conceived.”‘” (Job 3:1-3, ESV)
Cursing and cussin’ was an art form in the Ancient Near East. Job is, perhaps, saying that he would give up all the good he has experienced in his life if that would also mean that he need not experience the recent disasters. I have felt this way before and I have heard others express similar feelings. But it’s amazing what a little good health will do to change one’s mind!

What do you suppose will happen when Job or you talk this way? You’re right of course! Friends and family will say that one ‘can’t’ talk that way. And if one casts doubt on the justice or goodness of God, then people will labor to provide explanations for the suffering, partly to comfort their own souls. Most of the Book of Job (chapters 3 – 37) chronicles the arguments, back and forth, between Job and his friends.

There is a strong thread that runs through much of the Bible. If one keeps the covenant with God, does good and keeps the Law, one will be blessed in life on earth with possessions, health, protection, happiness, etc. On the other hand, if one breaks the covenant, does evil, breaks the law and sins against God and humankind, one will be cursed in life on earth with poverty, disease, war, misery, etc. This is a simplistic summary of this thread, but there is a tendency. This thread is sometimes called the Deuteronomist because of the association with the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy tells of how Moses led Israel to renew their covenant with Yahweh just before they entered the land which Yahweh promised them. They shouted the vivid blessings from one mountain and the blood-curdling curses from another mountain. But some Israelites, especially in Wisdom literature, noticed that life didn’t always work out as neatly as the Deuteronomist indicated. Even if the Majority Report, so to speak, proclaimed that 99.9% of the time the LORD blessed the righteous and punished the wicked, writings like Job, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms, noted that that is not always the case. Even Jesus taught that the Father sends rain and sun on the righteous and unrighteous, that a man was born blind not because of his sin or his parents’ sin, but that the glory of God might be seen in him (Jesus healed him), and that the men on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not particularly wicked.

The speeches that Job’s friends launched at him were mostly from a Deuteronomist viewpoint. Job has some secret sin. Job is sinful for saying he hasn’t sinned; he is self-righteous. Job questions the wisdom of the Almighty. God is good, just, etc. And so on, chapter after chapter. Some of their speeches about God sound so true and orthodox! Some of them are true, just incomplete or given in the wrong spirit or given at the wrong time in the hearer’s life.

As the conversation continued, Job’s hopes and articulation of them developed. He said things like this:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27, ESV)
A Christian who reads these words may be forgiven for a shiver or hairs standing up on one’s arms. One thinks immediately of the Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. God took on flesh and came to earth in Jesus of Nazareth. The Hebrew word translated ‘Redeemer’ is, if I remember, ‘ga-ol’, which includes the idea of a mediator who places his hands on two parties, bringing them together or sealing a covenant or agreement. One can see why, in his situation, Job would want a ‘ga-ol’ and also see why he would, in Job’s own body, want to see God “for myself.” Job continued in a similar vein:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find [God],
that I might come to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the
greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:3-6, ESV)
From what I know of life with God, I must say: watch out what you ask for! Those who know the story, know that God does show up. But we must look briefly at why I place The Wizard of Oz along side The Book of Job. Then we will tease out two views of God’s response to Job. I hope that after all this, we will be able to see a simple point that we will, nonetheless, have occasion to use in future posts.

Consider some surface connections between Oz and Job. Dorothy is taken to the land of Oz; Job lives in the land of Uz. Dorothy is conveyed to Oz by a tornado; God shows up to question Job in a tornado. The Wizard lives in The Emerald City; “..around the throne [of God in his heavenly throne room] was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” (Rev. 4:3b, ESV) When Dorothy and friends arrive in the Wizard’s throne room there is a frightening display; “From the throne [of God] came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…” (Rev. 4:5a & b, ESV) Maybe there is a parallel between ‘the yellow brick road’ and heaven’s streets that are ‘paved with gold’.

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and many sequels, was a skeptic toward God and had a quarrel with him. It seems to me that The Wizard of Oz is Baum’s commentary on Job. Taken that way, God does not have the power to rescue, and when he appears before Job he just frightens him silly and does not give an answer with content. In the Wizard, Dorothy, the cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow finally discover that the Wizard can not save them and that all good that they find is inside them or already around them. The Lion has courage when he believes he has courage; the Tin Man has a heart when he believes he has it; ditto for the Scarecrow and his brain; Dorothy can go home when she simply clicks the ruby shoes together and says “There’s no place like home.” BTW, I was going to dis Toto as foo-foo compared to the tough and clever Jack, the BSD. However on further reflection, I have to give Toto props for not focusing on the illusion, but seeing things as they are and exposing the fraudulent Wizard.

Would Job have been satisfied to learn of the heavenly cause (a dare by Satan) of his troubles? I doubt that I would. What Job really needs is to have his vision of a good but majestic, awesome and holy God restored to him. The questions of God to Job do exactly that. Would you rather have the answer to a quiz question or have the overwhelming presence of God? Please read as much of God’s questions in Job 38-41 as you can. How do you feel now? More alive? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7, ESV)

I am fascinated that God appeared to Job in the tornado/whirlwind. It was not a dust devil like we have here in the Mojave Desert. It was something dangerous as befits a dangerous God. Somewhere G.K. Chesterton wrote something like, that those who worship a God of tornados, must at least some times, root for the tornado. There is something invigorating about that. Of course, I do want people to be injured, die or lose property. And of course, God also comes to us in a still small voice and other gentle ways. And yet… If we are to survive the overwhelmings of the world, we must be overwhelmed and saturated by the Presence, the Holy Spirit, the living water, the abundant life, the love and the burning heart of God. If we try to tame or domesticate God, we become bored, apathetic, listless and courage and heart leaks out of us. For more on the theme of overwhelming, which I frequently use, check out: The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life by David F. Ford (Baker Books, 1997).

I can’t leave this subject without reminding us of the lovely passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. The children have entered Narnia and are just beginning to learn about the lion Aslan (who is a Christ figure). “‘Is – is he a man?’ asked Lucy. ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you that he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver, ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ ‘I’m longing to see him,’ said Peter, ‘even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.'” (pg. 75, Penguin Books, 1950)

Two writings by G.K. Chesterton that are somewhat like my thinking about living with questions and suffering are: “Introduction to the Book of Jobhttp://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/job.html and “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare” This essay and book are available cheap on Amazon for Kindle.

We are coming to the end of my longest post so far. My parents are from Oklahoma, which is tornado country . My wife, Terry, is from Kansas, which is really tornado  country. I have been too close for comfort to several tornados, but probably never in great danger. One summer, we visited Terry’s family in Kansas. I saw a lot of t-shirts on people and at the mall that combined the themes of Kansas, tornados and the Wizard of Oz. I still remember two of them. One said, “Dear Auntie Em – Hate you, Hate Kansas, Took the dog – Dorothy. The other one said, “Dear Dorothy – Hate you, Hate Oz, Took the Shoes – Toto” Hey, that’s Kansas humor for you. Did I tell you that some of the good ol’ boys in Terry’s family like to chase twisters? Well, they do.

It’s been hot here, over 100 F. Jack Lewis is a smart dog: he avoids going out in the heat, and when he does, he stays in the shade. A few days ago I was reading one of my daily devotional books, this one from C.S. Lewis. The subject was forgiving. Lewis wrote that, rather than start with forgiveness of major villains, we start with the people around us: family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. This seemed like something I should do. Meanwhile, while I read and napped for several hours, I assumed that Jack was in the spare room. When Terry came home, Jack ran in with her. Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says that dogs live in the present moment and do not tell themselves stories about the past. They respond to energy that comes from humans now. So, Jack came in and jumped in my chair with me, as though I had done nothing wrong. I don’t say that Jack forgave me, but that he didn’t hold a grudge. There is something to be learned from that.

Oh yeah, the end of the story. God said Job was right and his friends were wrong, and if they wanted to be forgiven, they must ask Job to make sin offerings for them. Job was given back his good health and became much wealthier than he had been before. He was given some incredibly beautiful daughters. But I fear he was stuck with his old wife. If you want to dialogue with me about meanings of The Wizard of Oz or about whether Job was an historical figure, let me know and we can do that outside of this web site.

Today’s post was powered by: “10,000 Charms” (2002) by the Robbie Seay Band and by “Live Under the Red Moon” (2006) by the Call.