Is all well that ends well?

16 07 2011

There’s something immensely satisfying about getting to the end of the Job narrative and knowing that the cosmic contest is over and that Job’s fortunes are restored.  There have been great highs amidst the desperate lows and now the concluding sentences of the book complete the story arc for us – “After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation.  And so he died, old and full of years.”

But before we reach this resolution and close the book, God asks one more thing of Job – that he pray for his friends.  How hard is that request!  Surely this is the ultimate test – can Job forgive those who have wronged him?  We’re not party to any internal debate that Job may have had, we’re simply told, “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes.”

This is a prevenient outworking of Jesus’ words to his followers recorded in Matthew 6:14 – ““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you” – and of Paul’s later words – “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13).  We can only assume that Job was so in tune with God by this time, so confident of his love and forgiveness of him, that forgiving those who had wronged him was an inevitable extension of his heart’s posture towards God.

A fitting conclusion to these musings on Job would be to take time to listen to Matt Redman’s song Blessed be your name – (http://youtu.be/jaLXQubmUmE).  I hope it will help to realign your heart.





How will you answer?

15 07 2011

Today is the return to find out what happened to Job.  (If you missed the previous posts, you might like to catch up by entering “Job” in the search box on the right hand column of this page.  View from the mezzanine is the starting point.)

Job, a man of integrity and faith, is placed in a setting of immense suffering.  His friends offer their condolences in the form of speeches which by and large miss the point.  They are “fixers” who acclaim expertise and wisdom on living.  Who hasn’t met these people, the ones who show up to tell us what’s wrong with us and what we must do to get better?  (Remember this saying of Eugene Peterson’s the next time you meet one of them – “Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures.”  Feel better?)

 Job’s pain and suffering receives a context in chapters 38-42 of the book.  God speaks out of a whirlwind in such a way that Job is silent in worship.  He doesn’t receive an answer to the why question, but he is forced to look up, away from himself and his circumstances,  to the mystery of the One who is greater.

I guess if there’s a soundtrack to Job’s encounter with God in these chapters it might be Vidor’s Toccata in F.  This majestic organ piece begins with a whirlwind of sound. At bar 9 the theme in the pedals enters and sits solidly while all above is fluttering semiquavers.  God himself undergirds the storm and plays “I am faithful” in slow deep notes below the flutter of life above.

“Although God may not appear to us in a vision, he makes himself known to us in all the many ways that he describes to Job – from the macro to the micro, from the wonders of the galaxies to the little things we take for granted.  He is the Creator of the unfathomable universe around us – and he is also the Creator of the universe inside of us. And so we gain hope – not from the darkness of our suffering, not from the pat answers in books, but from the God who sees our suffering and shares our pain.” (Eugene Peterson) 





How to win friends – or not.

11 06 2011

Just so you don’t think I’ve bottled out with Job, the next part of the story is coming in July.  I know, if only we could postpone bits of life…

So on to an altogether different era – the second volume of Luke’s writing, the book of Acts, in the New Testament section of the Bible.  Luke is the only one of the four gospel writers who gives us a sequel, who follows the disciples as they live the Jesus story into the next generation. 

My reading starts in chapter 6 just after Luke tells of the dramatic increase in the number of disciples, with a man called Stephen.

~

 In the 1930s Dale Carnegie published his self-help book How to win friends and influence people.  (Like all such books, you can take a good idea too far!)

I wonder if Stephen would have behaved differently if he’d had Carnegie’s wisdom to help him.  (Incidentally, Carnegie changed the spelling of his name from ‘Carnagey’ in a marketing move to align himself with the revered Andrew Carnegie.)

Stephen was not a man to be trifled with.  He did not go in for compromise or strategic PR moves.  He was straight-talking, fearless in debate, so that, “None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.”  (Acts 6:10)

Stephen’s listeners couldn’t handle the challenge and began to make false allegations against him.  How would the Jewish high council deal with him?  Would Stephen be eloquent enough to have the charges quashed?  Would he win friends and influence people?





The power of calm

8 06 2011

We have had this fabulous Colin Prior photograph – The Point of Stoer – on our bedroom wall for a number of years.  I love it – the sea with its power, beauty and unpredictability.

This picture was just in my line of sight as I read Job chapter 26:12 when he speaks about God –

“By his power the sea grew calm.”

I had to re-read the sentence.  I think of power as stirring up rather than calming down…”By his power the sea grew calm.”

It reminded me of reading in Luke about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee – “Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waves. The storm stopped and all was calm.” (Luke 7:24)  But Jesus doesn’t end there.  He adds the searching question to his followers –

“Where is your faith?”

And I’m left with that question to answer – where is my faith?  If God could calm these physical storms by his power, is he not just as able to calm the storms that I face, in whatever form they come?

Flick back a couple of chapters to Job 23.  Here I think we get insight into Job’s faith – the power of God in his life –

“For I have stayed on God’s paths;
      I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
  I have not departed from his commands,
      but have treasured his word in my heart.”

~

“Be still…and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)





Standing in the gap

8 06 2011

The warning to ‘Mind the Gap’ is an important safety feature on the underground.  Most people can cope fairly easily – a long stride or ‘bounce’ does the trick.  But if you are a wheelchair user….

The ‘gap’ in some relationships is also fairly easily dealt with – minimise the time you spend with someone you don’t like, count to ten when you feel riled.  But if there’s a gap between you and God…

This spiritual gap is a feature of Job’s life and twice he cries out

 “If only there were a mediator between us,
      someone who could bring us together”

and again

“I need someone to mediate between God and me,
      as a person mediates between friends.”

There’s a big market (just Google the word “mediation”) for people who can stand in the gap between two disagreeing parties and mediate in such a way that they come together, whether in family, workplace or international situations.  But who can mediate between us and God?

Much later, in the New Testament, Paul writes to Timothy giving his take –

“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”

It’s reminiscent of the words of Paul in Romans 5 – “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” – that I read back at the beginning of May. I like to think that Job had a premonition about that – that one day God would take the initiative to reconcile with mankind.  Was that what kept him going?





The great leveller

2 06 2011

 Death is never far from Job’s thoughts.  Here are some of his reflections –

“Why didn’t I die at birth?” (Job 3:11)

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle flying back and forth…my life is but a breath.” (Job 7:6)

“My life passes more swiftly than a runner.  It flees away, filled with tragedy.” (Job 8:25)

“How short is life, and how full of trouble!  Like a flower, we blossom for a moment and then wither.” (Job 14:1-2)

When I wrote about the Psalmist’s thoughts in Psalm 103, I noted the message of hope.  But where is the hope for Job?  Life is bleak.

Suddenly out of the darkness bursts the extraordinary declaration of faith –

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!  I will see him for myself.  Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.  I am overwhelmed at the thought!” (Job 19:25)

(Sing along with Handel’s celebration on Youtube – it will lift your heart!)

 Whoever we are – rich or poor, high flyer or plodder, young or old – there will be an end point. 

Am I confident that I will see God?

Will I know him when I see him?  Will he know me?

~

“When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together.”

Thoughts in Westminster Abbey (Joseph Addison 1711)





Integrity tested

29 05 2011

The people of Joplin. Missouri, experienced the destructive power of a tornado last week.  They are present in the long line of people whose lives are devastated by disasters and who can, if anyone can, identify with the grief that Job expresses when all his family are killed and his livestock, his livelihood, plundered. 

He tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground.  Surely he had good reason to be mad at God?

What he voices comes as a surprise.  It’s not blame but worship – 

“The Lord gave me what I had,
      and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:21)

~

Now we’re back to the mezzanine level where God commends Job – “He has maintained his integrity.”  Satan, however, is not impressed.  “Yeah, but he won’t keep going if you take away his health.  Bets are on that his health is more precious to him than anything else.  He’ll curse you if he gets sick.”

So Job gets sick and…

…maintains his integrity, still.

His response?

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10)  

~

I am left questioning my integrity.  Little setbacks knock my faith; the blame game kicks in early if I have any kind of trouble.  Is it realistic to think that I could have faith like Job, or was he super-human, a caricature of a person of faith drawn to make a point?

Mmm.








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