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Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Parable for Christmas, Unexpected but Appropriate

Luke 10:25-37 (English Standard Version)

25A)">(A) And behold, aB)">(B) lawyer stood up toC)">(C) put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do toD)">(D) inherit eternal life?" 26He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" 27And he answered,E)">(E) "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, andF)">(F) your neighbor as yourself." 28And he said to him, "You have answered correctly;G)">(G) do this, and you will live."

29But he,H)">(H) desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus replied, "A manI)">(I) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance aJ)">(J) priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewiseK)">(K) a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But aL)">(L) Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him andM)">(M) bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out twoN)">(N) denariia]">[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" 37He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."

What's that? The Prodigal Son is not a Christmas parable? Take another look! The priest and the Levite both went to extremes to cross on the other side of the road so they wouldn't be too close to the man who had fallen under attack by roving bandits. Some readers of Luke have been highly critical of these religious men, but what if he was already dead. He would thus be a corpse and it was forbidden for priests and Levites to even come close to a corpse, let alone touch one. So while we may be tempted to lampoon them as hypocrites and maybe they put more emphasis on rule-keeping than compassion, they weren't technically in the wrong. It was not Jesus' point to criticize them so much as it was his point to show a new way - the way of compassion.

The Samaritan saw the wounded man and was moved by "compassion." And he came close - close enough to touch. Maybe he was touching a dead body. Even if the body was alive, he was bruised, bloodied, dirty. And there was risk. What if the bandits laid in wait and fell upon the Samaritan as well. All these concerns be darned, this man was moved by compassion and he came close.

The coming of Jesus is God "moved by compassion." God was so moved out His deep love for humanity - lost in sin as humans were (and still are) - that God departed from the glory of Heaven to take on fragile, dirty, fallen human skin. God came close - close enough to tough. Jesus is God, up close and personal.

I totally disassociate the commercial/secular holiday of Christmas and the faith celebration we observe to commemorate Jesus' birth. To me they are two separate things that happen at the same time. My wish is that people would hear the scriptures that tell of the angel coming to Mary and of Jesus' birth in the stable and the coming of Magi from Persia, and people would pause to consider the reality of God.

God is personal. In my thoughts and in my preaching lately, I keep coming back to this - a lot of people miss the fact that God wants a personal relationship with men and women, boys and girls. I don't care how secular Christmas is. I would like to see people get past the tradition and actually listen to God's word in the scriptures. And then as they hear God speaking to open their hearts to a true encounter with God.

It's not something that is fixed in time. O three years ago I had a real spiritual experience and I'll always remember it fondly and with wonder. That type of understanding stays in the "three years ago." A true meeting with God as I understanding is something that transforms the individual and from the epiphany going forward, that individual is never the same. How he sees people and how thinks about and relates to God is forever altered. How he views himself and his place in the world is never the same.

Throughout the year, my wish and my work is for people to meet God. At Christmas, if the holiday is a vehicle the Holy Spirit uses to help nonbelievers realize the significance of Jesus God-come-close (close enough to touch) then there is reason to praise and celebrate with holy joy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Too Joyful for Fatigue

I have Christmas fatigue. My son has decided he loves Christmas music - the popular stuff a couple of radio stations are currently playing 24/7. I am thrilled that he has a love for music and so I happily switch to those radio stations when he's in the car with me. And when we are in the kitchen. And when we play with his toy cars and toy super heroes. Yes, he's listening to "Rockin around the Christmas tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" every waking moment. Thus he hears the songs over and over and soon knows them well. Then he gets excited because a familiar song comes on.

So, I have Christmas fatigue. I love the parties because it means I am with people and I am an extrovert and I am relational. Plus, there's a lot of food. I could go to Christmas parties every day of the week. But, I am tired of "Jingle Bell Rock"; I am tired of watching the same Christmas movie my family insists on watching every single year at Thanksgiving. I am tired of all Christmas movies and I am tired sentiment. And Christmas cards. And green and red.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a scrooge. I am not in a crabby mood. I haven't shouted "humbug" at anyone. I am usually wearing a smile, a genuine, heartfelt smile. There are too many blessings in our town, in our church, and in my family to be a sourpuss. I don't want to skip Christmas, just the hoo-ha, the frivolous build-up.

I also have Job fatigue. I thought about writing a column entitled "What would Job put on his Christmas list?" I expect that in 2010, I'll read as much about Job as I have in 2009. I'll probably blog less about that particular book of the Bible, but my interested in that book of the Bible has not waned. I just need a break. There are probably myriad points where Job and Christmas intersect. I just can't see them right now.

So, that's Job fatigue and Christmas fatigue; I could probably come up with a few others, but I want to share something I am surprisingly not tired of. I am not tired of scriptures texts dealing with the coming of Christ. This is the 13th year I have preached through Advent and Christmas. That is a lot of sermon prep related to Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2 and the prophecies in Zephaniah, Micah, Isaiah, and the Psalms. In many years past, I have stared at Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and thought "what can I say about this that hasn't been said 1000 times before?" Writing Advent sermons was a labor where preaching (and sermon writing) is usually an unparalleled joy.

But not this year! I have found unexpected renewal in texts I have studied for nearly a decade and a half. What is it about my life now that finds such freshness in Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and John the Baptist? I am not altogether sure. Life circumstances constantly change as one grows older. In recent years I have become much more of a reader and traveled to new places. I hope that my spirit is growing, maturing in Christ, and I am more able to hear the Holy Spirit. The gift (and the difficulty) of growing in the Spirit is one finds how little one truly knows and how immature one truly is.

I wish for you a merry Christmas. More than that I wish for you a word from the Holy Spirit so that the words of Matthew and Luke and the Psalms and the prophets will be new and enlivening. I have found joy and excitement in the Bible like I never have before. That is what I wish for you, dear reader. Thank you for reading my writings in 2009 and for your feedback, your encouragement, and your witness as you follow Jesus in your life. May 2010 be a year in which together, we see the scriptures come alive in our lives as we serve the Lord and love the world in His name.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Correlation Between Suffering and Sin

Luke 13:1-9 (This is copied from the site and is the NRSV)

13At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The crowd assumes that suffering is a result of sin - that is, God brings suffering on someone for his or her sins. The suffering that comes may be unrelated to the sin, but nonetheless, God punishes for sin. So, if I am involved in corruption or spousal abuse or racism, I may contract cancer or I may be in a car accident that leaves me paralyzed. The disease or the accident would be unrelated to my specific sin, but God brought about the misfortune because of my sin. That's a crude synopsis of punishment theology (or retributive theology), and it is what is at work in Luke 13:1-2 (and also in John 9:2 where people assume blindness is attached to sin).

Jesus blows up the idea of retributive theology by challenging the crowd to stop considering the sins of others and start repenting of their own misdeeds (see also Matthew 7:3-4). In Luke 13:3 and again in verse 5, Jesus assumes the sinfulness of all who listen to him. It would be the same in contemporary situations. People are sinners and it is a lot easier to speak judgmentally about the sin of people around me than to come clean about my own and to deal honestly with God regarding my own sin. To me, it is clear from all the passages I have cited or alluded to here that Jesus does not cotton to his followers self-righteously looking down on others. We are to love others and consider our own mistakes and repent. We are to be in a state of constantly turning to God.

Fred Craddock (Interpretation: Luke) writes that the question of 'why' assumed in Luke 13:2 is an ancient question "finding classic expression in Job, Pslam 37, and Psalm 73." Some people believe in this punishment theology so strongly, when they go through hardship they assume God is punishing them. Others, equally committed to this theology, believe it is wrong to help people who are under the burden of misfortune because they are being punished by God. Their poverty, their homelessness, their pain is God's hand of discipline and we mustn't interfere with what God is doing! That's not the way Jesus operated, but it is the way a lot of his followers seem to think.

Jesus announced God's favor on the poor, the maimed, the blind, the crippled (Luke 4:18). "That in itself should have broken any insistence that one's financial, social, or physical condition is always a direct reflection of one's spiritual state" (Craddock, p.168).

Craddock goes on to point out further that when we start trying to figure how God is punishing this guy or that guy, we are distracted from the primary issue: every person is obligated to live in repentance before God. "Life in the kingdom is not an elevated game of gaining favors and avoiding losses. Without repentance, all is lost anyway" (p.169). Walking with Jesus is not about gaining 'points,' or 'jewels in one's crown' as the saying goes.

The job of Jesus-followers is to proclaim forgiveness of sin in Christ and in the name of Christ to love the suffering people of the world. The closer we get to those who suffer, the closer we are to God.

Do people who claim to be Christian truly want to be close to God?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Five Reasons Today was a Great Day

First, my friend showed up at Bible study with the Green letter (eco-conscious) Bible. I am not an advocate of the Green Letter Bible, but in a recent blog I recommended people get study Bibles if it would prod them to open up scripture and read it. My friend thought I was succumbing to the latest liberal fad and he told me so. I rejoined that he ought to read it before he knocks it. Now, if he knocks it, I can't respond because I haven't read it. But, I am really just happy to be in a Bible study with a guy who is trying to hear God, trying to figure it out. That's very cool. I suspect he will still be more conservative than me, but that's fine. I hope we can learn from one another.

Second, a woman came into church and all I will say is someone in her family has been going through a lot. My wife and I have prayed often for that situation, as this woman has prayed frequently for us. Well, she said the family member had a really good day today. Lately that's been rare, and I could see in her eyes a lightness where there is usually burden. That was absolutely beautiful to see.

Third, a woman came into church pointing at me saying, "You said it! You said you wanted us (church members) to us our talents on the mission field, and I heard, and I am going." She went on to say how at her workplace there was a call out for people to go on mission to Uganda. She had the exact skill set needed. She knew the Holy Spirit (not me) was telling her to go. Then, she saw the price and knew it would be impossible. The next day, she got word that her skill set was in such demand, her department would pay her way. At that point, she had no choice and signed up. I feel so blessed to be a part of such mission-minded church. The prayer of commission (laying on of hands) is becoming a regular part of our worship we have so many people going!

Fourth, I had a good day with my son - from start to finish. This is huge because we've had our confrontations. I am extremely close to my little boy, but I am an intense person and he's strong-willed. Sometimes, we really clash. Today, we walked in great harmony and I am thankful.

Fifth, I was in a shopping center near our home when I happened to see someone who has been attending our church for some time. He told me he wants to join and he wants to be baptized! How awesome - a baptism. This is what we are all about.

As a bonus, my aunt and grandmother came over to join my dad and the boys and I. And tomorrow, my wife comes home. Yes, it has been a good day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The book of Job came from a distinct theological worldview. To oversimplify it, if one does what is right, God will bless that person. If one does what is wrong, God will inflict suffering on him. Job suffered immeasurably. Therefore, Job must have sinned horribly.

Job’s friends along with the young critic Elihu insist on this theological worldview. Job, also a product of this worldview, cannot accept it. Whatever he may have done wrong, he knows the suffering imposed mercilessly upon him is not his fault. By insisting that what everyone has known to be true isn’t true, Job stumbles into a radical paradigm shift. It seems to him that God in fact does not punish the evildoers and reward the righteous. God is arbitrary and Job is suffering needlessly.

In the end, Job is vindicated. God does not agree with the numerous accusations Job hurled heavenward. God does not affirm what Job has said. God affirms that Job’s theological orientation was correct. Job remained pointed toward God. In that he wa sin the right. Furthermore, God does crush the presumption of the theology piously voiced by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

And strangely, three are never heard from the final chapter. In Job 42, we see no mention of Satan. Elihu has nothing left to say and is not even so much as an afterthought. And, Job’s wife does not reappear. Curious.

Even more unexpected is the rush of characters we have not met to this point. Is it appropriate to be introducing new people, 41½ chapters into a 42-chapter book?

“All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They offered him sympathy and comfort concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah, and a gold earring” (42:11).

Where were the relatives when Job’s life fell to pieces? On the one hand, they didn’t judge him theologically the way his friends and Elihu did. Moreover, they didn’t discourage him the way his wife did. Nor did they doubt him as Satan had. On the other hand, they didn’t help him until now. The financial gifts (a qesitah is a monetary unit of unknown value) would secure his future. But why didn’t this extended family provide a defense against the onslaught of theological harangues from the three and young Elihu?

I think the reason is they couldn’t. These family and friend who obviously loved Job and had no heart to accuse him even if he had turned out to be in sin weren’t ready to question the theological assumptions that ruled their world. The theology of retribution (diving rewards for righteous behavior, divine damnation for sinful behavior) was the rule of faith. The book of Job was a minority voice, an alternative theological vision for the faith community circa 5th century BCE.

The paradigm shift is artistically displayed in the final lines where we learn that Job fathers 10 more children. Already this book has stepped way outside of what had been established and accepted lines. Already this book has declared that everything we assumed about God isn’t all there is to know about Him. God exceeds our knowledge and all of us – the criminal and the saint, the scholar and the barroom brawler, the street urchin and the king are small in God’s presence. That’s understating it. We are miniscule in God’s presence.

Still, God notices us and takes interest in us. And, God loves us (though it would be stretching credulity to claim that Job asserts God’s compassionate love for us). Reading Job alongside Song of Songs, we know God is a passionate lover. Reading both books alongside Genesis 1-2, we know humankind is the apple of God’s eye. Indirectly, Job 38-41 does affirm this.

The final step out of convention’s established walls comes in Job 42:14-15. Job’s three daughters are awarded an inheritance along with his seven sons. That did not happen in the ancient world. Furthermore, of Job’s 10 children, the only ones the narrator bothered to name were the daughters. There’s no reason given for not naming the sons. The final word is a whimsical, quizzical way of reminding the reader, if the message hasn’t already gotten through, question everything. Theological rules won’t contain God. Assumed truths cannot be trusted. To know God, one must commit to holiness (virtuous living) and fallback on prayer when holiness fails. And it is more important that the prayer be embarrassingly honest than properly orthodox. It is more important that prayer from the heart than from the rule book.

I believe that is the final word in Job.

The Green Letter Bible and Study Bibles in General

I mentioned recently to someone that I am thinking of getting the Green Letter Bible. The person I was talking to responded, "I like the Bible I have." I respected his answer to me. I detected in his tone a disinterested dismissal, as if her were saying, "I am not into all these fad Bibles, the Green-letter Bible, the Poverty and Justice Bible. I don't need them." He did not say those things but I think that's where his thoughts were. And if I am right, I absolutely respect him. There are a lot of groups out there that want to make the Bible their agendas.

Christians are not to do that! We are to conform our lives to God's agenda and the leadership of God's Spirit. This means studying the Bible with an inquisitive mind, critical thinking, and a malleable heart. We conform to the word; we don't conform the word to our ways of thinking.

I was talking to another person, a pastor about the Green Letter Bible. It's supposed to be a Bible that highlights (in green) what God's word has to say about care of the Earth. Her response was "Isn't the entire Bible supposed to be green." She wasn't dismissing the Green Letter Bible for the same reasons as the other guy I talked to but she seemed just as disinterested.

OK! That's two Christians I respect, and neither had any excitement over the Green Bible. On the other hand, another Christian I respect greatly, a pastor, has a copy of the Green Letter Bible and he loves it.

I am in a fortunate position in that my church gives me a budget for resources. I feel like as a pastor I should be informed about the resources that are out there for evangelicals. Right now, Green is in; even conservative politicians are trying to be seen as eco-friendly. So, I think it is wise for me to see what I can learn from the Green Letter Bible.

However, I can't buy everything that comes along! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know my most recent post is about the Poverty and Justice Bible. I still have the Oxford Annotated Bible I got in seminary 15 years ago. And my Grandmother-in-Law, a devoted Christian and true Pentecostal gave me a Full Life Charismatic King James Study Bible one year. My book shelf has a row of Bibles and concordances.

Is this excessive?

I don't think so. And I don't think it would be excessive even if I was not a pastor. It would only be too much if I never read the materials. It would be flat out sin if I just stacked the books there so people would be impressed by my diligent scholarship. (Actually that would just show me to be completely out of touch. No one outside of academic or clergy circles cares at all how much a pastor reads).

No, I think the accumulation of these study Bibles is a good thing because they inform me in my study of scripture as a preacher and as a believer. I love read the Good News Bible in Today's English Version that I was given when I baptized in 1981. My wife and I read from it every night. And sometimes, I'll borrow her study Bible when I am working on something. I encourage Christians who can afford to do so to buy the different study Bibles if they will be committed to reading the articles and commentary provided.

I know not everyone can afford 6 study Bibles. If you have one Bible and you read it faithfully and you connect with other Christians and discuss God's word on a regular basis and do it in prayer, you're going to grow in faith. But, many of the readers of this blog do have means. Their TV's, boats, cars, and 4-bedroom houses attest to the fact that they can easily afford a couple of study Bibles.

If the study Bibles will help someone awaken to issues that are of particular importance to God, then that person would be wise to make the reading of that study Bible (scripture passage, notes, commentary, and articles) a regular part of his or her faith life. A disciple of Jesus Christ is wise to let the study Bible be a part of his or her Spiritual growth. There's no need to chafe against the study Bible or dismiss it as trendy.

Use it.

We are to conform to the scripture itself. But the accompanying notes, articles, and commentary are tools to be used to build discipleship.

Poverty and Justice Bible

I recommend the Poverty and Justice Bible. It's from the Bible society and can be ordered for about 25$ on the Sojourner's website. In it, all the verses (well most of the verses) that deal with poverty & justice issues in the Bible are highlighted in orange. Over 3000 verses are highlighted.

Geek that I am, I immediately turned to some passages of Jesus' healing and found them not highlighted. I thought they should be because in the first century, someone afflicted with blindness or another incurable ailment would have been relegated to the fringes of society. So, they would have been marginalized and they would have been victims of injustice that Jesus freed. Why they weren't highlighted, I don't know.

That said, the Poverty and Justice Bible is a great help to the Christian who is truly interested in knowing God's heart. God is for the poor and God is for the hungry and the needy. That is not debatable. Read the passages highlighted in the Poverty and Justice Bible. If we take God's word seriously and we read these words of scripture, our lives will change. Our values will change. Our choices will change.

I am particularly grateful that my copy came just two days before Thanksgiving. I know Jesus appreciated a good party and there are times when feasting is appropriate. The food orgy I will experience with beloved family members over the next couple days is something to thank God for. However, the new Bible reminds me to keep the poor ever in my thoughts, and those thoughts guiding my actions.

I am equally grateful that I got to go on a mission trip to Arkansas earlier this year, serving the rural poor. And my wife is leaving next week for a mission trip to Ethiopia. She's going out of a love for orphans. We have a heart for the poorest of the poor. And our church, HillSong in Chapel Hill, has been an enormous support (through prayer and material support).

So, today, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I have. And I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of God's work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Unsafe God

A New Word

I have just begun Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I am only 10 pages into the book. So I don’t know how profound what I am about to share is in relation to Dostoevsky’s story. But, as to my own thoughts and conclusions in my reading of the book of Job, it is poignant.

The first character Dostoevsky introduces is a young impoverished man named Raskolnikov. From the outset, Raskolnikov’s inner monologue is tortured. He makes the observation that I think strikes the climactic theological note in Job 42. Raskolnikov muses, “… I wonder what men are most afraid of … Any new departure, and especially a new word – that is what they fear most.”

The italics are the author’s, not mine. In America, we seem obsessed with the newest and latest. One of the features of ESPN the Magazine is “Next.” The editors try to identify the next generations of great athletes, the next Michael Jordan or the next Tiger Woods. American ethos would generally reject Raskolnikov’s assessment that we fear paradigm shifts more than we fear anything else.

However, Americans’ obsession with the new and the fad is itself a paradigm. The new word is not the actual answer to the question “what’s next?” The new word is heard when our culture moves on to a different question. We wake up one morning and realize that over the past 3 decades we have stopped asking “what’s next?” That is when we will have been through a paradigm shift, and we absolutely are terrified of it.

The real American Idol (and here I refer to ‘idol’ in the Biblical sense, something that is worshipped in place of God) is liberty. In our cultural ethos, liberty or freedom is valued over everything else. We are addicted to the notion that we are free to ask “what’s next?” We are scared to death that if we stop asking that question, we won’t be completely free. And we contently live under the deception that we are completely free.

When the book of Job became a scroll that was a part of the canon, the holy writings of the people of Israel, the prevailing theological framework rested on the idea of retribution. Sinners are punished. Righteous people are rewarded. People were generally more interested in living within that belief system than actually dealing with the reality of a relationship with God that could not be predicted.

Job discovered that while there is some merit to that theological framework, God would not conform to it. The rules (sinners-punished, righteous men rewarded) revealed truth about God some of the time; maybe even much of the time. But, the man Job discovered that some of the time, righteous people suffered. Some of the time, flagrant violators of God’s laws prospered. Much of the time, the truth was gray, not nearly as black and white as the rules seemed to indicate.

The redactors (editors) lived in a day when God’s chosen people were coming out of the disillusioning Babylonian exile. Their return to the Promised Land happened in waves and with the blessing of the pagan Persian king. There was no Moses parting the Euphrates River. Nehemiah was a slave. He was a slave with a very high position in the King’s court, but indentured nonetheless. He did not boldly thrust plagues upon the land in confrontations akin to those of Moses and Pharaoh. He meekly sought the favor of King Artaxerxes. It is as if the rebuilding of Jerusalem was as much as result of Artaxerxes magnanimity as God’s sovereign will.

Sages and priestly editors living in this world had trouble because their Exodus, Red-Sea parting theology didn’t exactly fit. God wasn’t working through signs and wonders. God was working in the heart of a gentile king. How would those who interpreted the word and the world help the people of God process the situation theologically?

The story of Job suddenly had a relevance it had not previously enjoyed. If Job took place in the days of Abraham and was told as a fireside story for 2 millennia, why had it not become a part of Israel’s scripture? Why was it just a story passed on by bards? Job called into question assumptions about God and the world. Job dared to say the world is unpredictable and we can’t just rely on the rules. We actually have to seek out God!

The people did not want to seek out God. They wanted to rest secure in the rules they knew about God. To actually be in relationship with God was terrifying. Noah discovered this. So too did Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Likewise Samuel, David, and Solomon. To be sure all of these also discover the wonder of a relationship with God. But as incomparably awesome as it is to be close to God and to talk to God and hear from God, we are reminded by Beaver (in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) God isn’t safe. God is good, but not safe.

In the whirlwind, Job draws close to the unsafe God. Job speaks to and hears from the unsafe God. Seeing that and seeing the way the book of Job dump ice water on the theological presumptions of 5th century BC Israel, we affirm Dostoevsky’s poor Petersburg Student. Yes, Raskolnikov, this new word is what we fear most.

But if we can move past this fear, we can move to that place where Moses takes off his shoes. We move to that place where young Samuel hears the midnight cry and it isn’t Eli. We move to that place where Solomon has enough presence of mind to ask God for wisdom of all things. We move to Elijah’s silence and Job’s whirlwind and Daniel’s lion’s den. We move to that place where we stop reading descriptions of God and we start giving personal eyewitness testimony. We stop discussing ideas about God and we talk directly too Him.

When we enter relationship with God we’ve moved through the ultimate paradigm shift. Once we go there, nothing the world offers is satisfying; nor is it all that unsettling. How could it be? How could anything in this world shake the faith of one who has spent time in the courts of Heaven? To walk in the quiet of the morning talking with the unsafe God is the greatest height to which a man or woman can ascend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Blog

I recommend the Poverty and Justice Bible. It's from the Bible society and can be ordered for about 25$ on the Sojourner's website. In it, all the verses (well most of the verses) that deal with poverty & justice issues in the Bible are highlighted in orange. Over 3000 verses are highlighted.

Geek that I am, I immediately turned to some passages of Jesus' healing and found them not highlighted. I thought they should be because in the first century, someone afflicted with blindness or another incurable ailment would have been relegated to the fringes of society. So, they would have been marginalized and they would have been victims of injustice that Jesus freed. Why they weren't highlighted, I don't know.

That said, the Poverty and Justice Bible is a great help to the Christian who is truly interested in knowing God's heart. God is for the poor and God is for the hungry and the needy. That is not debatable. Read the passages highlighted in the Poverty and Justice Bible. If we take God's word seriously and we read these words of scripture, our lives will change. Our values will change. Our choices will change.

I am particularly grateful that my copy came just two days before Thanksgiving. I know Jesus appreciated a good party and there are times when feasting is appropriate. The food orgy I will experience with beloved family members over the next couple days is something to thank God for. However, the new Bible reminds me to keep the poor ever in my thoughts, and those thoughts guiding my actions.

I am equally grateful that I got to go on a mission trip to Arkansas earlier this year, serving the rural poor. And my wife is leaving next week for a mission trip to Ethiopia. She's going out of a love for orphans. We have a heart for the poorest of the poor. And our church, HillSong in Chapel Hill, has been an enormous support (through prayer and material support).

So, today, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I have. And I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of God's work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Continued Listening to and Talking to God

I am sitting in my parents' dining room. My sister and my sister-in-law (and her 2 kids) are here, as are my wife and our two kids. And, my parents and my grandmother. The only one not here is my brother who will join us briefly tomorrow before he and his family head to his wife's folk' place in the South. It is Thanksgiving week, and a week of family, food, football, and fun.

One of the highlights of my week home so far has been the initial theological conversations with my sister. Christy is a passionate, evangelical Christian, and her framework for her faith resides in the reformed tradition. I have unintentionally developed a rather sharp anti-reformed bias that I am now working through.

It's not that I want to become a Calvinist (reformed theology adherent). It's just that I want to celebrate the rich Christianity of Calvinists I love (like my sister). There is so much of God I see in the way she vibrantly lives her discipleship. I don't want to let useless prejudice against a belief system prevent me from enjoying and learning from the richness of Christy's faith.

And how silly is that anyway, to be predisposed to be negative toward someone because of their theological system? I suppose that some teachings are damaging (like those offered by the KKK or the Third Reich). But, many differences in theology among Christians who truly worship Jesus are minor when held in contrast with the essentials of the faith. By saying that theological differences are minor, I don't mean they are unimportant. I just mean that they should not prevent sweet fellowship in Jesus.

If that phrase "sweet fellowship in Jesus" sounds campy, I don't care. I need more of it. I enjoyed it while on a mission trip in Arkansas earlier this year, and I want more! After that trip, I said that if anyone in the church wanted to complain about something, they would be allowed to register their complaint after they had spent a week on a mission trip, serving the poor in Jesus' name.

Maybe the same criteria should stand for theological arguments. Before we argue predestination v. free-will, we have to go on a mission trip where we serve needy people out of our love for Jesus. If we do that then our hearts will be properly prepared to put theological nuance in its proper place.

This blog began as a reflection on the book of Job. The Bible studies on Job that I've been leading have come to an end. The blog will continue. I'll share my own walk with the Lord and what I learn from people; authors whose books I read, and thoughts from not-so-famous but extremely wonderful and smart people I know personally. Please continue to read along and give your comments.

Now, I am off to bed. I am looking forward to more enthralling conversations with my sister and sweet fellowship in Jesus with my family this week.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preaching While Distracted

OK, this was an unexpected experience. Yesterday morning some things happened right before the church service began that got me mad. One of the people involved will most likely read this and I hope I am forgiven for being so short-tempered and reactionary. I should not have gotten as mad as I did. I tried to keep it to myself, but I was seething.

I shouldn't have been, but I was.

So, worship began and I started thinking, "How can I pull myself together so I'll be ready to preach?" I began having some honest talk with God on the spot! As we sang the worship songs, I was trying in my heart to focus my mind on the words, but the anger was burning a little bit.

When that happens, it feels just like I have a heavy, iron helmet weighing on my brow. It's just sitting there not allowing me to do anything other than frown. So, there I was, the pastor, singing praise songs and trying to get into it and all the while boiling and burdened under the weight of (unnecessary) anger.

Then, it was time to stand up and preach. I got to the lectern, announced the scripture passage, and glanced at my manuscript. Something surreal happened. For one of the few times in my life, I experienced two realities at the same time.

I was a preacher tasked with bringing God's word to God's church, and I was truly able to give it my best shot. I certainly don't think anybody would mistake me for John Wesley or Billy Graham or Fred Craddock, but I thought the sermon wasn't half bad. More importantly, I felt God speaking through me and afterward, others said they felt that way too.

At the same time, I was a listener. It was not an out-of-body thing where I was in one of the seats hearing and watching the sermon. But, I was definitely listening as God spoke the words directly to my heart and specifically to my situation. God was convicting me of His truth and my own sin. Obviously, I had not written the sermon to myself originally. The message was composed earlier in the week, before the Sunday morning incident took place. But, God in His wisdom used those words to speak to me.

By the end of the worship time, my anger had been replaced with gratitude. I was thankful for God's mercy, grace, and wisdom. I was also grateful for God speaking to me in such a way that I cannot possibly doubt that it was anything other than God working through my fragile ego. I hope next time I won't get so easily distracted. It's kind of foolish. But, I am glad to know that God is leading our worship whether I am at my best, or not in such a good place.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In the End - God

Filled with anxiety and loneliness, Moses had reached his wits’ end. After leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, he climbed the mountain to receive the law and while he was up there, the people at the foot of the mountain forgot about him and about God. In his rage their idolatry and ingratitude, God thundered and threatened to wipe out Israel. Moses spoke out on Israel’s behalf and convinced God to withhold his punishing hand. “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).

Leading the people, receiving the law, contending with God – it all took a toll and Moses was worn out. So he appealed to God, and what exactly did Moses ask for? “Show me your glory, I pray” (Exodus 33:18). More than anything, Moses wanted to see God with his eyes. God granted that request – he allowed Moses to see his backside glory.

And what of Jacob, the man whose name would be changed to Israel? His brother Esau, a much mightier man, had threatened to kill him. That had been several years, 2 wives, 2 concubines, and 11 children earlier. Now, he was fearfully figuring out how to face the confrontation he had dodged for so long. The night before the meeting, an enigmatic, angelic figure wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. The contest ended with Jacob’s hip being permanently knocked out of socket. The assailant then blessed Jacob and Jacob concluded, “I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). After that the reunion with Esau was peaceful and anticlimactic. The key event for Jacob was to see God.

Job presses God for many things. He asks that God relieve his suffering by taking his life (Job 6:8-10). Job asks God for pardon (even though Job never admitted sin) (Job 7:21). Job wants God to promise no rod of punishment because without that specter hanging over him he could speak and justify himself (Job 9:34-35; 13:20-23). Job declares his desire to speak directly to God and thus justify himself (13:3, 13-19; 14:15). He also asks why God hides his face (13:24).

Job also accuses God, “he has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom people spit” (17:6). “Know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. Even when I cry out, ‘violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud but there is no justice (19:6-7).

Furthermore, Job talks a lot about what he would do. “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might even come to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mough with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could and I should be acquitted forever by my judge” (23:3-7).

Job reasons, argues, accuses, makes claims, and makes assumptions. His own innocence is as clear as it can be in his eyes. I have cited a sample of the ways Job expresses his desire to go one-on-one with God. Job thinks he knows how this will turn out; he’s just not sure the opportunity will ever come. Job expresses both hope and despair, faith and faithlessness.

In the end, Job gets what he desired – a hearing with the Almighty. God shows up. And God does not answer any of Job’s complaints. God does not give Job opportunity to ask any of his questions. Those questions seemed huge to Job when he laid there wallowing in his own (very real and very sharp) pain. But the largess of Job’s issues shrink to nothingness when God speaks from the whirlwind. In the end, Job only gets exactly what Moses got; exactly what Jacob got. Job gets the physical presence/manifestation of God.

Swiss theologian Loenhard Ragaz states concisely the divine response to the problem of suffering in Job. “God does not involve himself with arguments for and against his dominion, but lets himself be seen. His answer consists in His manifesting His greatness in powerful speech and creative deeds. This rather than arguments of God’s defenders [Elihu and the three friends] causes Job to go silent and beg God’s forgiveness. He has been afforded no incite into the enigmas that have tormented him, but he has seen God himself” (from The Dimensions of Job, edited by Nahum Glatzer, p.130).

The end of the book of Job is God – Job meets God. In chapter 42, there is a denouement, and what is said there is very important theologically. But, the big issues of justice and suffering are not resolved by book’s end. The only place the reader of Job, attentive to Job’s pain as well as his own, can land is in God. The sum of God’s testimony is to simply show up and be seen. That enough was overwhelming to Job as it would be to anyone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How much Change is Possible?

I find myself repeating sins so often I get exceedingly frustrated with myself and I wonder if change is possible? I believe I am forgiven, but I also believe that it is possible when one is in Christ and has the help of the Holy Spirit to stop sinning or at least sin considerably less. Yet, I say the same mean things to my wife that I said a month ago or a year ago. I lose patience with my kids as quickly as I did in the past. I struggle with other sinful attitudes as much as I did when I was a young believer.

Writing in the mid-20th century, Jewish scholar Leon Roth said in a article entitled 'Job and Jonah', "If [people] are allowed the right to moral change and even encouraged to change, no science of human behavior is possible" (The Dimensions of Job, edited by Nahum Glatzer, p.72). The assumption is that science is based upon observed repeated patterns. So if the possibility exists that a human being will react completely differently to the same external situational and moral stimuli than his previous reactions, then a cause has to be ascertained. If the cause is not measurable, then there can be no science of human behavior.

I don't know if this is what Roth meant. What I glean from his observation is that spiritual change cannot be measured by science. But, he thinks Job at least vindicates God's confidence in him (1:8; 2:3) by clinging to faith when faith appears impossible. Job is suffering and believes that God is the cause of his suffering, yet he also believes God will be the source of his salvation.

The verse Roth points to is Job 13:15. In quoting this verse, I add the 16th verse and I offer here the New King James Version.
"15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. 16 He also shall be my salvation, For a hypocrite could not come before Him."

Clearly, clearly, Job is saying God slays him and at the same time, Job trusts God and calls God "salvation." Furthermore, Job implies that God is a defender of integrity when he says "a hypocrite could not come before him." Thus Job is either insane (blaming God and relying on God simultaneously), Job utters faulty theology, or Job moves from blaming God for his fate
to reliance upon God for deliverance. Such movement is questionable in the short span of two verses.

However, human suffering can drive a person to express a range of emotions and thoughts from steadfast stoic clarity to maniacal ramblings. I don't think Job was insane, but I think his suffering was so intense, he sounded insane. I do think his faith and his emotion swung wildly due to his circumstances - wildly enough to express the diversity of thought we see in a single sentence in verses 15-16 cited above.

And, I believe the theology in Job is shaky throughout (except chapter 28 and 38-41), but that's intentional. Satan, the wife, the three friends, Elihu, and Job are all unaware of the depth the complexity of God. But their collective ignorance doesn't shut them up. Quite the opposite. The entire book is a stream of talkers who don't know enough to be quiet when their speech exceeds their knowledge. I hope this blog isn't another example of such empty exhortation.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my original quandary. Can someone grow spiritually to the point that in what they learn about God, they grow closer to God and actually change (by sinning less and living more righteously). I think the answer is "yes."

Job said,
2 "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (42:2-3, NIV).

I think the book of Job shows that closeness to God is dependent upon the person honestly acknowledging what is not known instead of hiding behind conventional theology. A theological presupposition is not enough to draw conclusions about a situation in which the facts are known. Because my theology tells me God punishes sinners, I cannot assume when I see a suffering man that he must have sinned and must now be in the midst of divinely imposed punishment. Reality simply isn't that cut-and-dried. Job shows that situations arise that are beyond our understanding.

His faith statements show that we can stay with God even in our suffering. Our faith can endure. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. " This is one of many expressions of hope sprinkled in among Job's mournful, angry, lugubrious lamentations. Considering what he went through, this statement is enough to show that I (and others in more comfortable life circumstances) can grow in faith and grow in Christ. But we only by admitting that we need to and when only begin grow when we admit what we don't know.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Truly Amazing (Job 38-42)

Our American 21st century culture is individualistic to such a damaging extent that we lose sight of community. We forget that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we think the country exists to serve us and not vice versa. We want a church that meets our needs instead of searching for a church that gives an opportunity for the individual to sacrificially serve God and serve people. We’re very comfortable with the notion of a personal relationship with Jesus. We like it personal and private. We expect God to be interested in us. Twenty-first century Americans expect everyone to be interested in them. Why should God be any different?

It really is an awesome thing that God would take interest in people or in an individual person. That’s exactly what happens in Job chapters 38-42. God speaks to Job. What statement does God make?

God asks, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it” (38:13)? Obviously, the answer Job has to give is “um, no; no I have not commanded the morning since my days began.” God has.

God asks Job, “Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass” (38:25-27)? Job must answer, if he is truthful, “You have done that, God.”

Throughout the conversation, it repeatedly established that God is God, and Job is not. God is talking about awesome features of the creation, places inaccessible to man (e.g. “the storehouses of snow” – 38:22). Even the example of rain in the desert (v.25-27) shows God involved with the earth completely independent of man. God has interest in this planet God made. God does not need man’s advice or help. In all that is said in Job 38-42, God never mentions human beings as God discusses the creation.

Leo Perdue of Brite Divinity School points out the fact that God ignores humanity in these chapters. Perdue writes, “In a striking repudiation of an anthropology in which humans are kings in God’s creation (see Psalm 8), Yahweh speaks of sustaining a world hostile to human life. The anthropological tradition grounded in the metaphor of humanity as king is shattered” (p.174, Wisdom and Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature). Nowhere in this address to Job does God repeat what is said in Genesis 1, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion” (1:26). Perdue feels that God’s speech in Job makes humanity look small and insignificant.

J. Gerald Janzen of Christian Theological Seminary looks at the same evidence. In Job 38-41, God speaks of creation, but never mentions mankind. However, Janzen’s conclusion (in the book Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Job) based on what is happening in the book of Job is different than Perdue’s. Janzen thinks the speech raises the importance of humans in God’s view because while humanity is not accounted for, the conversation is with a person. God doesn’t talk about men and women, but he talks to a man!

So which scholar gives a more helpful reading of Job 38-41? I think both contribute to our understanding of what God is saying. Perdue shows what we all know implicitly but sometimes need to be reminded of. God is God and we are not. God doesn’t exist to meet our needs. God is creator of a world that overwhelms us and it is an act of God’s grace that God would ever deign to speak to a person. Janzen points out that God does in fact extend that grace in the speech to Job! Job has longed for an audience with the divine and he gets it. He is not told why he suffers, but he hears from God, he lives, and in the end (Job 42), his blessings are restored.

Of the many conclusions I draw from the book of Job, one is this. We in 21st century America may feel entitled to be self centered, however, we are small. In the grand scheme of the universe, we don’t matter. God does not have to speak to us. But, God wants to. Furthermore, in Jesus Christ, God became one of us in order to redeem us. That’s the extent of God’s love for us. Love isn’t an obvious motivating force in the book of Job, but when we read it in light of the cross, we realize that the God who doesn’t need us loves us and because of that we have significance. Humans count and humans matter because humans are invited to be in relationship with God. Job lived in that relationship and we are invited to as well. I find that truly amazing.

Rob Tennant

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Great Multitude from Every Nation

This blog is called "Honest Talk with God." In the summer of 2006, I was honest with God. Living just outside of Washington DC, I loved the diversity of the community. We had neighbors from Ghana, Jordan, England, China, and El Salvador. As a pastor, I helped ordain pastors from China and Ghana, I baptized people from Laos, Argentina, and Sudan, and I worked in ministry with people from truly exotic places like Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

You may read this and think, "big whoop!" To me, it was huge. Before going to Northern Virginia, I had prayed that God would bless me with friendships with people from backgrounds different than my own. At the end of my seminary life in 1997, I was painfully aware that almost all my friends were middle class white people. Don't get me wrong; I love middle class white people. But there are billions in the world who are not white and do not speak English as a first language and do not come from the economic and socially dominant Caucasian group. I felt my view of humanity and my relationship with God were both severely limited by the fact that my relationships didn't go beyond people who were like me.

So, life in Northern Virginia was a blessing that amazed me for 9 years. But in the summer of 2006, God was telling me it was time to leave that wonderful place and go somewhere I didn't think I wanted to go - North Carolina. I knew our family was headed to a wonderful church. I never worried about that. But I did not know that the beautiful diversity I so treasured in Arlington, VA would also be found in Chapel Hill. And I told God that. I told God I was happy and grateful to be called to serve an exciting church and I was grateful for the challenge. But, I was also worried that what I valued might no longer be a big part of my life. I was worried that God was calling me away from something (a diverse community) that helped shape. I told God and God just chuckled. I had no idea what was in store.

Was I ever in for a happy surprise! Over and over in North Carolina, I am blessed to meet people who have lived in Carrboro all their lives. These are wonderful people who show me God and I love them. And over and over in North Carolina, I am blessed to meet people who have lived on three different continents. No, it's not the same as Northern VA or DC, but it is just as enriching. And the while the diversity is different in shape than from in DC, it is just as beautiful in the South.

A story from this past Sunday illustrates well my experience.

In our 2 & 3 -year-old class, we had two children. The little boy is 2 and he is Ethiopian, adopted by an American family. The little girl is 3, and from a Burmese family who came to America as refugees, fleeing the oppressive military government in what is now Myanmar. This little girl comes to church with her sisters. She is quiet as a mouse and calm as can be - when she is with her older sisters.

On Sunday, the sisters tried to drop her in the class and then go on to their classes. She became inconsolable. She was weeping, crying, screaming, and kicking. Apparently, her confidence and calm are dependent on keeping her sister in sight. With adults she did not know, she was terrified. The poor thing could not calm down. Who knows what she has been through in her young life?

The teacher of that class and our children's minister are both great and both were admirable in their patience and love for this distraught girl. And one other person showed great compassion. The 2-year-old Ethiopian, calmly, lovingly, approached the crying girl and hugged her and stroked her and wordlessly loved her.

Ultimately, she would not calm down until we went and brought her sister. But, that thought of an Ethiopian boy expressing deep concern and genuine love for a panicked Burmese girl while in a Sunday school class in North Carolina brought to my mind one of my favorite scripture passages. People talk about having a life verse. This verse is one that has been a powerful motivating force in my life.

Revelation 7:9 - "After this I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Whirlwind

In a recent discussion group, we all agreed that the book of Job is “thick.” I think by this we mean that there is deep theology, deeper than it first appears. The theology in Job is layered. What most casual Bible readers remember about the book is that Satan is permitted to do horrible things to Job (take Job’s property and wealth, kill Job’s children, and then destroy Job’s health). God permit’s Satan to do these things in order to show that Job will remain faithful. Then, in the end of the book Job is vindicated and the three friends who accused him of sinning are condemned and they are only forgiven when Job prays for them. This is the snapshot that most people I talk have of Job.

At a slightly deeper level, but still near the surface, people who have suffered greatly read Job as a source of hope and rationality. They see in Job an innocent sufferer and they hope his perspective on his unexplained woes will give them perspective. They hear Job say in 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then in chapter’s 3-31, they hear Job wish for death, accuse God, hope for a redeemer, hint at the hope of resurrection, and mournfully lament what once was.

As readers of Job move beyond the clich├ęd “patience of Job” and deal with all the emotions of the dialogues, and as readers consider the theology of Job’s friends, and as readers consider the theology of the young man, Elihu, who speaks in chapters 32-37, it becomes clear why a discussion group would describe Job as “thick.” The layers of ideas seem unending. Tracing one thread of thought unearths a dozen more. Choose your theme – resurrection, justice, theophany, suffering, retributive theology, nonconformist theology, substitutionary redemption – it’s all in Job. And what makes it even more dense is our tendency (appropriate, I think) to read Job influenced by our own experiences of suffering and justice and conformist and nonconformist theologies. So, we aren’t just dealing with Satan and God, Job and his friends, and wisdom and Elihu. We’re also dealing with what our own experiences tell us about the issues raised by Job, God, and the rest.

One could read Job for years and not get to all the ideas and discussions this brilliant piece of literature has birthed. That said, I recommend reading Job in anticipation that you will actually hear God speak. It has been hard for me to do this because I have been blogging on Job, leading small groups on Job, and writing newsletters columns on Job. What helped was doing my daily Bible reading and reflective journaling through Job, one chapter at a time. I was unprepared for what hit me.

On the 38th day of this practice, I turned to Job 38 and read “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” The crescendo blew me away! I instantly realized that I was not hearing the empty platitudes of the three friends or the puffed up arrogance of young Elihu. This was not the bitterness of Job’s wife, or the sinister deception of the Satan. This was not the schizophrenic rambling of the chaos of Job’s agony, nor the glimpses of hope inside of Job fighting to keep him sane. This was not even Sophia, the simple but unshakable wisdom of Job 28. This was whirlwind – something wholly other.

I thought, OK, it’s time to do my daily Bible reading. For me though, there was nothing routine about it. God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (38:4b). From that point, I feel a sense of who God is. Reading in this way is not a critical, scholarly approach and does not account for the questions raised by good critical scholarship. Those questions are helpful and necessary, but they are secondary. This sense of the God of creation shows that all human wisdom is secondary. The density of the dialogues and ideas that flow without end but with much repetition throughout Job are important, but also are secondary. At the heart of the matter, God matters.

It is beneficial to study in depth the specifics of the whirlwind speeches, but at the outset, it is sufficient to note that God’s answer to Job “out of the whirlwind” puts the rest of the book of Job in perspective. God has noticed Job and heard Job, but God is still God. God notices you and me and God loves us, but God is wholly other, supreme beyond measure, and worthy of worship. That’s what we see in the whirlwind speeches and we see it right from the start in Job 38.