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Friday, August 7, 2009

To be noticed by God - Blessing or Curse

To be noticed by God – blessing or curse?

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
“You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”
“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

That is one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 8. The verses quoted about (NRSV) are vs. 1, 4, 6, & 9. Obviously this is a song of triumphant praise. The singer can think of nothing better than to be noticed of God, empowered by God, and partnered with God.

Then, we turn to Job 7:17-18. He is, he says, speaking in the “anguish of his spirit” (7:11). “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (also verse 11).

“What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment?”

Don’t Job’s words sound a lot like Psalm 8?
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them” (Psalm 8:4)?
“What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them” (Job 7:17)?
Syntactically and rhetorically, these verses are incredibly similar scholar Michael Fishbane says. But how different is the message!

The singer of the Psalm yearns for God; Job yearns to be overlooked and ignored by God. He just wants God to leave Him alone. Ironically, the very reason Job is in his fix, diseased and burdened by the loss of wealth and the death of children, is God did in fact leave him alone. He removed his “hedge” (Job 1:10) of protection. Job begs God, “Will you not look away for a while” (7:19)? But it is when God took away his protection that Hell broke loose in Job’s life. The very thing Job asks for as he complains “in the bitterness of his soul” is what created that bitterness.

But, he doesn’t know that. Job is completely oblivious to dealings of Satan and God in chapters 1 & 2. He doesn’t know about Satan or care about Satan. Job’s only recourse is from God. When His life was grand, he gave God all the credit (see 1:5-6). Now that it is all gone, Job lays all the blame on God. In good and bad, for Job it is all about God.

That is worth noting. How bad, or how good is life for you right now? Either way, deal directly with God. No matter the emotion that bubbles and burns in you, deal with God. Don’t let losses turn you away from God. Don’t let successes lead you to become narcissistic and forgetful of God. Bring it all to God. In saying that though, I don’t say do as Job do. We do well to do what Job did, but not the way He did it.

A disciple’s faith is truly developed when even in times of great grief, he can sing Psalm 8. Our faith is resilient and unyielding and unbroken, when in the worst of times, we can truly believe Psalm 8. We truly believe that God is Lord and that God cares for us mortals and that God notices us mortals. When, no matter the circumstance, we trust that to be noticed of God is a good thing, then we are walking the road of discipleship.

Job’s pain was speaking when he begged God to “let [him] alone” (7:16). In the same breath, he asked God to leave, but talked to Him unendingly. I once had a church member kick me out of her house three times. She was so angry with me, she said, “Go.” But, then she unloaded an illogical vituperative harangue. Then a second time said, “You need to leave my house.” Before I could put on my coat, she dumped another load of vitriol. Then a third time kicked me out. Even when I left, she only half meant it. Job threatened to take God to court. Job accused God of being his enemy. Job said broke him to pieces and God shot him through with arrows (16:12). But Job also kept on talking to God.

What I suggest here is that we likewise keep on talking to God, but not lose sight of God’s absolute love for us. It may seem God has given up on us, but He hasn’t. In the midst of the trial, we show our faith when we sing the praise of Psalm 8.

To do this, I prescribe to you, dear reader, and to me, a simple exercise. In bland times (those days that are unremarkable, not worth remembering for good or bad reasons), memorize Psalm 8. Fix it in the mind and heart. Pray the reality of the Psalm into the soul. One day, all day long, pray, “O Lord, show me what it means that you are “mindful of human being.” Another day, all day long, pray, “O Lord, teach me what it means in my life that I am “a little lower than [the angels].” And line by line, pray for understanding of this Psalm. As we pray, God will give that understanding. Furthermore, the Psalm will become so familiar; the words will be a trusted resource when hard days come.

And finally, when we meet Job, we must give compassion. We will surely encounter in the journey of life that bitter person who “complains in the bitterness of [his] soul.” We do not represent Jesus well if we judgmentally tell that hurting one he ought to buck up and praise God. No, we silently sit by his side, hold his hand, encourage his spirit, pray on his behalf, model joy and hope, and walk with him no matter how broken he is. Will he eventually walk out of his misery and happily praise God? That’s between him and God. Our responsibility is to love, even as we stand in the power of the love God has given us.

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