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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.

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