the unexpected, the new road, a new goal

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Job 1:1; NRSVue

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “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.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Job 1:20-22; NRSVue

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:9-10; NRSVue

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

Job 3:1; NRSV

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends, and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

After this Job lived one hundred and forty years and saw his children and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

Job 42:10, 16-17; NRSVue

The wisdom story of Job is as profound in the wisdom we might gain from it, as it is difficult and even perplexing in the story it tells. We who grew up in church and were taught this story as children became inoculated to the problem of the story. And to some extent I still seem to be. After all, God brags about God’s servant Job to Satan. Satan attacks Job’s character, and then God takes up Satan’s wager, and lets Satan take Job’s wealth then his children and after that Job’s health? Job first responds as one would expect since he is after all a righteous person. But when left alone and before three friends initially present with him and seemingly empathetic, but otherwise all alone, Job begins what amounts to a long dialog, more like monologue since he and his friends eventually enter into something more like a debate. And Job ends up not only debating them, but God as well, though God is not yet speaking. After all the bottom has fallen out of Job’s world. And when you think about it, how can you blame him? It is hard for us to put ourselves into the story.

What was Job’s perspective and view before that? I think we at least can see the influences afoot through the remarks and charges of his three friends. God steps in at the end and gives Job a perspective Job had never dreamed of, somewhat prepared just before that by a young man who had spoken, misspoken to some extent I think, but had pointed in the direction in which God would go. And in the end, it ended well. But was all really well that ended well? After all, Job’s first seven children were gone, all the love, hopes and dreams with them. Seven in the end with more and more children to come, but a hole, nevertheless. But for me this is simply a wisdom story, and not an actual event. And much, much wisdom for us in this book, a different kind complementary wisdom to the other wisdom literature in scripture, especially in the Hebrew Bible.

All of that said to try to say something like this. What about when new and unexpected events shake our world from the outside in, to the inside out? When we’re at a loss and are having a hard time coming to grips with what we see in front of us, what we’re experiencing.

I think that’s when we want to praise and thank God, but also come to God with our own honest thoughts. And then try to listen. And for us listening means plumbing the depths insofar as we can through going through a book like Job, as well as the rest of scripture. That is a lifetime endeavor, not something we can do in a day or a weekend or even in a year. But we start that journey and stay on it, even as Job blessedly does throughout this book.

We can be sure that there is a good ending, even if we never completely understand it. Part of our life now. In and through Jesus.

what is “the W/word of God”?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 33:6

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1, 14

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

An evangelical pastor and scholar wrote to me that the Bible itself never claims to be the word of God. The church fathers of the early centuries made no such claim, calling it Holy Writ or Scripture. The canon in those days wasn’t complete and solidified as it is today. I am guessing, and from what I think I’ve picked up, the Bible was called the Word of God in the flow coming out of the Protestant Reformation, of course referring to the 66 books of the Protestant canon. 

All that aside, I believe the word, or if you prefer Word, though my own preference is to preserve the capitalization in reference to Christ, refers to God speaking to bring into existence and make things happen, to God’s Word Christ, and to the good news- the gospel message about Christ. So we might say that the word of God as found in Scripture is God’s spoken word, Christ and the gospel, and all related to each other. λόγος (logos) and ῥῆμα (rhēma) are the two primary Greek words translated “word” in our Bible translations. They are certainly related, and perhaps could to some extent be interchangeable. But λόγος refers to something established, existent, whereas we might say ῥῆμα is more of the act of something becoming established. It is good to note that distinction in various passages. And this post is not about trying to deal with that, which I’m not qualified to do anyhow, though we do have so many good helps in books, commentaries and online nowadays to at least give us a clue and some good direction on this.

Based on this, I go to Scripture to “hear” and receive God’s word to me. And I realize at the same time that the word is Christ, and whatever word that comes to us from God comes through Christ. And that the gospel, the good news in Christ is central in all of this. After all, the gospel is really the entire point of Scripture. All else is beside that point, because the gospel in Christ ultimately judges as well as shapes everything.

Scripture is not strictly speaking the W/word of God. But through it, God’s word comes to us. And I want to add here, that all of Scripture is important for this, every bit of it. I would add the Apocrypha to the mix, also called the Deuterocanonical books (see NRSV Bibles which include that, for the most complete inclusion of all accepted by Christian traditions). Inerrancy is unnecessary. All of Scripture is inspired by God for its express purpose, the gospel penetrating and changing our own lives, as well as ultimately everything else. So I’m ideally more than less in Scripture all the time. That is where God’s word breaks through to me more than anywhere else. But we do well to try to hear God’s word through our experience, through what others say, etc. Of course with discernment, and comparing with Scripture. But even Scripture itself is critiqued, and from no one less than Christ himself. But that’s another subject, well above my “pay grade.” 

And as I heard recently, and it seems to me to have merit: Scripture, tradition, reason and you can add to that with some caveats- experience can all be in the mix, and actually are so in different orders. We need the Spirit of God to help us sort that out, and central in that is to understand fulfillment to be not in Scripture itself, but in Christ.

All of this is not to relegate the Bible to some secondary status. It is actually central in helping us to hear God’s word, to “see” Christ, to hear and accept the good news of Christ. And I can guarantee you that I definitely need God’s word every single day. After all, just as Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Something we depend on not just every day, but every moment. And we need it. It definitely makes the needed difference for us. 

In and through Jesus.

when do we really “get it”?

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:22-25

It’s interesting, the wonderful experience we can have when some light of truth among the many truths found in Scripture, dawns on us. It’s just as interesting how short-lived most experiences are. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, but that in and of themselves they are only a good means to the good end.

We must act on what we see from Scripture, from God’s word to us. We have to put it into practice to really “get it” in having the understanding God wants to give us. That is where the rubber meets the road, when we not only understand an insight given, whether as in like a light shining in our hearts or just rationally in our heads, but when we also prayerfully determine to act on it, so that our lives can begin to be changed.

In and through Jesus.

getting rid of worry (*and distraction*)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Our Lord’s words to a troubled, at this point exasperated Martha might be helpful to us, to those of us easily given to worry. It’s interesting how Jesus puts worry and distraction side by side in his reply to Martha. Her sister, Mary, who she was complaining about was attentive to the Lord’s teaching, sitting at his feet, taking it in. But Martha was busy doing what in her mind just had to be done. And feeling the burden and weight of that.

I notice in my own life that even the demands of life can blessedly remove me from what can too easily trouble me, that such demands are actually a blessing. But what is needed is to try to get to the root of the trouble. And key to defusing worry, or so it seems to me, is to not only get our minds off the problem, but onto the right things, even the solution, or maybe better put whatever focus God wants us to have.

Anxiety, worry and fear are signs that we’re likely distracted and not attentive to God’s word for us, to God. Yes, in our limitations and the difficulties of life now, we can’t just discount all fear and anxiety. But it seems to me that we can learn to disabuse ourselves of much of that, and by and by essentially all of it, if we learn to keep up the practice of attentiveness. Learning from Jesus about the love and care of our Heavenly Father (Parent), and how that touches on every single part of our lives, with no exceptions. I would like to add, we also need to want to get rid of the distractions which bother us.

Only God can give us the insight and wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

the gap between hearing and doing

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We believe and value the words of Scripture and we want to grow. But we little consider the gap between our hearing and reading of God’s word, and our actual doing of it. That can be a world apart, and while we know better, we also often take it for granted as being just the way things are. That there’s a gap in this life seems inevitable. After all we will never arrive to completion and perfection in this life. So on those grounds we pay lip service to what James says here, but in our hearts and lives, we sadly know we’ll fall short.

James would seem to accept none of that. His blunt words don’t allow for any such gap. You either hear the word and do it, or you hear it and don’t. The former are blessed; the latter are not. And the entire book carries this tone. Given our theology in which we see grace as covering our inevitable shortcomings, what are we to make of this?

Once again we have to go back to the plain words of Scripture. We let it speak for itself and critique not only us, but our theology. Reading all of James along with the rest of Scripture will help. James talks about confessing our sins to each other, and praying for each other. So he certainly does not deny God’s grace available for ongoing forgiveness. We endeavor to do what God’s word tells us. We do so perhaps in a clumsy way. Not feeling like we’ve arrived. It’s a work in progress, even as we are. And yet that is our goal. To become aware more and more what God’s will is for us in Jesus. And do it.

 

practicing God’s word

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:19-27

I’ve gathered a good bit of biblical theological knowledge over my life, but mostly in my head, and not so much into my heart and life, I’m afraid. Not that one can belittle what God actually has done in making us his children by faith. There certainly is a big change which accompanies that. We are turned from darkness into light. Although that’s a complete turn, it’s actually only the start.

We can say what matters most is not where we begin, but where we end. And not just what we believe, but what we practice. Not that what we believe isn’t important because after all, what we believe is what we’re to practice. Christian practice is built on Christian belief, Christian teaching, or the doctrines of the faith. But as James puts it, even the demons believe, and shudder.

So that is my intention, to begin to practice much better what I preach. Not just say something is true, but act on it. Faith is never in opposition to effort, but only in imagining that somehow we can merit or deserve God’s grace through our actions (Dallas Willard). Grace comes through Christ, not only to forgive us, but to enable us to grow through that grace. To quit doing what is not pleasing to God, but rather, what is pleasing to him. As James aptly and succinctly puts it, to not just hear God’s word, but put it into practice. In and through Jesus.