• Fear of the Lord

    Proverbs famously says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.  Old time fire and brimstone preachers said this meant we were to live in fear of the coming judgment.  Others, pointing to the finished work of Christ said that we need not fear judgment and that this verse was simply saying that we needed to have an attitude of reverence towards God.  Or it was fear like a child has of their parents.  But the word used is fear, not reverence and using fear to control children is rapidly falling out of favor. 

    I have come to my own understanding of this verse.  I think that fear of God comes from really knowing that God does not respect our limits.  This is a God who created a world of predators and prey.  This is a God who made a world with mosquitoes and earthquakes.  Why would God create a world like this?  A lot of people embrace some version of religion which denies that God did create a world like this. Continue reading

  • The Theology of Poop

    I think I want my throne painted!

    Would it weird you out to know that I do much of my praying on the porcelain throne?  In my house, the toilet is one of the few places I can have some hope of being left alone for ten minutes at a time.  My daily devotional book and my favorite bible have pretty permanent spots there.  It may seem odd, but really, it’s quite apropos.  Allow me to explain.

    In the bible, the words of scripture, the words of God and Jesus – the word made flesh – are all compared to food.   Continue reading

  • The Mystery of Faith

    "Go that way!"

    I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvanists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas. 

    What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true and sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  And you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   And when times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away. 

    When I have taught my kids to pray, I have always started with the story of Elijah at Horab from 1 Kings 19:

    So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. Continue reading

  • AdamLamb

    Original Sin Gets a Bad Rap

    So, one of the great philosophical debates has always been if the nature of  man was good or if man is inherently evil.  For reasons I have never fully understood, but which may be wrapped up in the joy that philosophers find in arguing with each other, the most obvious answer – both/and – is mostly ignored, although it does find its way into pop culture from time to time.  But if there’s one thing I’m sure of about life, it’s that both/and is almost always the right answer.  More often than not, either/or is an artificial construct based on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the other side’s arguments have any merit.  I have found the nature of man argument to be a classic example of this.

    One need only read the newspaper or a history book or look at congress to see that always and everywhere, some of us seem to have a real problem behaving like decent human beings.  And we need only be part of a family or other group of human beings to realize that we are also really good at hurting each other in ways that don’t get reported to the newspapers.  Yet, as the movie “Love Actually” pointed out in its opening sequence, on 9/11, no one called someone just to tell them how much they hated them or to finally tell someone off before dying.  The thing people wanted to do most that day was make sure that the people they loved, knew they were loved.  No one wants a child so that they will have someone to take their frustrations out on – it is a deep desire to love that drives our irrational urge to reproduce.  We are a species where being willing to die for a stanger on the street is seen as a sign of great goodness.  Clearly, there is a great deal of good in people as well as plenty of evidence for evil.

    This is actually very consistent with how the bible speaks of the human heart.  There are a handful of scripture verses which speak of the heart in very, very negative terms.  Which as the sad existence of human beings like my mother-in-law clearly demonstrate, can be 100% accurate.  However, by an overwhelming margin, the bible holds the human heart in high regard.  It is where we make sense of the world, where love is seated, what moves us to acts of compassion and leads us to repent when we are spreading pain around us.  The heart is something to be protected, treasured, cleaned and inspected, not rejected and ignored which is how it often seems to “original sin” proponents.  Over all, the bible’s comments on the nature of man are pretty consistent with reality as most of us experience it.  (How the bible views the heart is a whole other topic that John Eldredge does an excellent job explaining in Waking the Dead -The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive for anyone interested.)

    The problem a lot of people have isn’t with what the bible actually says.  The problem lies in the way what it says is presented by those who claim to have figured the whole thing out for you.  “The bible teachers that original sin,” they explain, “is this horrible thing that we are all infected with which makes us so rotten and evil to the core that God can hardly stand the stench of us.  He’d rather burn us all in hell for all eternity than deal with the likes of us. It’s why children need to be broken like horses and we need to be washed in the blood of Christ.  Because of original sin.”  I can hardly begin to unpack all that’s wrong with that.  And frankly, if you read that and went “yeah – that’s really the way it is”, nothing I say is going to make any sense to you anyways.  Although we can start with the fact that “original sin” isn’t named, explained or specifically referred to anywhere in the bible.

    Although original sin isn’t found in the bible, it is a concept which persists because it does describe something we all know: we know that we’re not perfect – and neither is anyone else we know.  And we’ve all encountered toddlers who would have shanked their mother for saying “no” had they had the means at the time.  There’s something going on here which clearly indicates that we are prone to problems.  And really, I think that’s best description of original sin we can offer: we’re prone to problems.  Being good is much harder than wanting to be good.  We do awful things to each other – especially when we’ve been hurt.  The damage we cause just gets passed from one generation on to the next.  Sometimes, the things we do to each other are so awful that no explanation for the evil can suffice.  Those bible verses speaking of the evil of the heart are warning us of this fate. But mostly we just bump along the best we can and apologize as needed – or at least aspire to do that.  That’s my experience of life and people.  I would guess it fits yours as well.

    Original sin has often been spoken of as this horrible, filthy, awful thing that makes us horrible, filthy awful people.  And under certain circumstances it can become that (see: the banality of evil).  But mostly, that’s nothing more than a caricature of original sin.  Which is not to say that original sin is less serious than all that – it is tragically serious because its so real, familiar and inescapable.  It isn’t some big, scary boogie-man.  It’s our  mother and our father and the imperatives our hormonal lives create and the resources we do or don’t have access to and above all, it’s the fact that we have only the fuzziest notion of what we’re doing from the day we are born. It just is.

    Now, imagine that you are God.  Mankind has gone rogue and is so ill-prepared that they realized they were naked and tried to drape vines around themselves (ever seen a toddler try to dress themselves?).  They are so incompetent that they tried to hide in the bushes when you approached like kids behind the curtains next to a broken vase.  So immature that the man’s first reaction upon being confronted was to say “she started it”.   Now they’re sitting around eating each other.  (In the excellent book Ideas that Changed the World, cannibalism is the first entry.  It is the earliest recorded human activity and happened everywhere humans have lived.)

    What exactly happened at the fall is a fascinating puzzle that has not received the attention it deserves.  The best that I can work out is that when man’s eyes were opened, he was suddenly aware of the differences between himself and his maker and saw himself as wanting.  Remember, man had been told that he was good and that the relationship between man and woman was very good.  He was made in the very image of God.  His concept of himself would have been like that of a young child raised by encouraging parents.  The idea that maybe he should put some clothes on (perhaps he’d like to travel to colder areas or ornament himself or at least start putting a towel down before sitting on the beach chairs) hadn’t even occurred to him.  Adam and Eve are often said to be perfect, but they were perfect the way that babies that crap on themselves are perfect.  Just looking at the evidence, I think it’s safe to say that  these were not sophisticated people.  Imagine a baby who suddenly realized that we find the idea of pooping on ourselves so repulsive that we have told our family members to wheel us out back with a loaded handgun and walk away once it starts happening to us.  That would probably not be very good for the child’s mental well being.  Might cause problems.

    But here’s the thing; just like we don’t look at a baby pooping on themselves as a problem, apparently God never viewed the nakedness Adam was freaking out over as a problem either.  Man was who he was and developmentally he was where he was supposed to be.  The need to hide and blame and all that didn’t come from an angry God.  It came from Adam seeing himself from a different point of view and feeling humiliated.  He hid from God, he said, because he didn’t want God to see his nakedness.  Ever found out that everyone was laughing at you behind your back?  That may well have been how Adam felt.  And he felt like he deserved to be judged and ridiculed.  But it wasn’t God who told him that.  It wasn’t how God saw him.  But the relationship between God and man had changed.   Or at least man’s perception of the relationship had changed so much that it pretty well destroyed it.  God acts like the father of a drug addict who knows he can’t save his child and hands him a change of clothes and kicks him out of the house because otherwise he might never hit rock bottom and start to recover.  Obviously, this rabbit trail leads off to many others, but for this discussion, I’ll just leave it there.

    So, getting back to the nature of man, I would offer a slightly different explanation.  We are made in the image of God.  It is who we are.  Original Sin is an unavoidable part of being human and it damages us.  When ever the bible talks about sin, it talks about cleanliness, and dirt and stains and being washed.  The damage doesn’t change who we are – made in the image of God – it just makes it harder to see who we are.  The process of salvation is watching as the filth encrusted lump with all its gouges and burrs stuck to it is ever so gradually washed away to reveal the diamond clear heart within.  This is the promise of Christianity.  (Sometime soon, I’ll have to do a post on my equally upside down, but totally plausible ideas about salvation and Jesus.  You should go over to the left and subscribe now.)

    So yeah, I believe in original sin.  Not only do I believe in it, I take some comfort in it.  You see, as I explained elsewhere, I have a neurotic tendency to think that I’m responsible for everything and that I should always know the correct course of action.   When I come across something I can’t do anything about, it’s a relief.  Finally – something that’s not my fault!  I don’t mind being wrong if I know that it doesn’t mean anything more than that I should say sorry and try it again.

    In my book, The Upside Down World -  A Book of Wisdom in Progress, I have several pages of quotes that I like.   (You should go buy a copy – my kids all need winter boots and it’s an awesome book to boot!)  Some are things I’ve said.  One of those  is “When a sin is forgiven, it becomes a mistake.  And mistakes are just things to learn from.”  That’s the message of original sin to me: it’s inevitable, it’s real, it hurts, it’s not our fault unless we refuse to try to do better.

  • love-never-fails-love-15165570-700-534

    Check this out!

    One of the frustrations of writing my poor, little blog is that sometimes I write something that I think could be really important to people and because of my tiny reach into the blogosphere, it passes by mostly unnoticed.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote an essay on what I called New Fundamentalism which was one of those posts.  See, over the years I have often been accused of not taking the bible seriously or treated as suspect by fundamentalist/conservative evangelical types.  They disapprove of my rejection of literal creationism or of the subordination of women or some such sacred cow.  But as anyone who has read the things I write here can tell, I take the bible very seriously.  I have devoted a ridiculous amount of time to study, prayer and research in my quest to understand the bible better.  The real problem, in my opinion, is that traditional fundamentalists take the wrong things literally.  So, I pulled out a list of often quoted but usually ignored verses which I proposed be taken literally by all believers, regardless of denomination or doctrine.  But, like a lot of what I write, it mostly disappeared into the vapor of cyberspace.

    I think that this matter is too important to allow it to just disappear like that without a bit of a fight.  So, I have created a page dedicated just to this list of fundamental bible verses.  It is called A New Fundamentalism.  All it consists of is the essay and list of scripture verses I posted earlier.  I’m simply looking for people to “Like” the essay and if they choose, pass the link around.  Perhaps in a few days, I will be able to put together a button for people to put on their own blog pages to link to the site.  I have also created a facebook page for the site that you can like and share with your friends.

    This isn’t an attempt to compete with or displace anything.  I really do think that the verses I collected represent an excellent starting point for anyone who is serious about their faith – from a homeschooling, creationism, complementarian fundamentalist Christian to a liberal miracle doubting, gay marriage supporting believer.  As for the rest, God holds truth.  We will continue to disagree about many things, but as one of the verses listed says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35.  At this point, the body of Christ is known for many things, but love is rarely at the top of the list.  And if love is not at the top of the list, then the world is right to wonder whose disciples we’re supposed to be.

    So, please head over to the New Fundamentalism site and check it out.  If you can abide by what is said there, like it, tweet it, share it!  But let’s try not to let these vital fundamentals of our faith disappear into cyberspace.

  • love-never-fails-love-15165570-700-534

    A New Fundamentalism

    I, Rebecca Trotter, hereby declare that the time has come for a new form of Christian fundamentalism.  It is my belief that this new fundamentalism is needed in order to preserve what is most sacred and true to Christianity against assaults from without and within the Christian church.  Although there is freedom in Christ which allows for a variety of ideas and understandings to be held by those who follow Jesus, there are certain fundamentals which all believers must adhere to according to scriptures.  As such, I nominate the following bible verses to be considered literally true by all believers and defended against all challengers:

    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-40

    If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48

    the LORD said to Samuel, “. . . The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

    Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. – Deuteronomy 1:17

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 1 John 4:16-17

    And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

    My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.You are my friends if you do what I command.I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.This is my command: Love each other.  – John 15:12-17

    “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:34-40

    Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15

    “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

    Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

    If you agree with this (admittedly partial) list of fundamentals for Christian life, please join me in promoting a New Fundamentalism.  Pass this list around.  Link to this post. Tweet it.  Put it up on your facebook page.  Email it.  Let’s take a stand for our faith and the fundamental, unchanging truths that must be preserved and acted out if we are to call ourselves people of God!

     

  • daughters

    The Book of Job: The Happy Ending

    This past week I’ve been looking at the last chapters of the Book of Job.  As I said before, these passages have always bothered me because they don’t make sense.  Why would a loving and compassionate God show up and affirm that Job did not bring his suffering on himself and then tell him to sit down and get in line because he’s just a little peon?  And why would Job respond with satisfaction at God’s answer?  So, I went back and re-read these chapters this past summer and realized how much I had been missing.

    The earlier installments are here:

    Book of Job Chapter 38: Guessing

    Book of Job Chapter 39: Our animal friends

    Book of Job Chapters 40-41: Defense!

    So today, we reach the end of the Book of Job.  Chapter 42:

    Then Job replied to the LORD:

    2 “I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
    3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

    4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
    5 My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
    6 Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

    This is usually read as Job saying, “yes God, you are right.  I am a peon and have no cause to complain no matter how much I am suffering.”  But if we look back at what God has actually said, a slightly different picture begins to emerge.

    I believe that God’s message was basically this: “Job, you are right that you do not deserve this and I am here to do for you what you cannot do for yourself: bring down the wicked and foolish who see your destruction as reasons to be proud and contemptuous.  But I did not make you defenseless.  Look at who I made you to be; when you do not understand you imagine things that are sometimes beautiful and true.  You have taken the wild animals I created and found those suitable to your own purposes and made them serve you.  But do not behave like a domesticated animal.  Look at the behemoth who I made along with you – it fights.  You know how – you have imagined for yourself creatures more fierce and untameable than any that walks the earth.  Fight!”

    And Job understood enough of what God was saying to see that sitting in the dirt listening to his friend’s theories and defending himself wasn’t the answer to his problems.  He was in a spiritual fight and he now understood that he needed to fight back.

    Next:

    After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad theShuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.

    This is not only a matter of God reprimanding Job’s friends.  He is actually asking Job to do for his friends what he used to do for his own children.  (See Chapter 1)   God is actually entrusting Job with his friend’s spiritual well being just the way was in the habit of caring for his children’s spiritual well being. In a way, God is both affirming what Job has always done for those in his care and expanding it.

    Next:

    After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver[a]and a gold ring.

    12 The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

    16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

    There are a couple of things that I want to point out here.  First, God’s primary restoration is spiritual.  When God gave Job twice what he had before, it wasn’t just a physical thing.  Secondly, we can see from Job’s behavior that he continues to go above and beyond in following God spiritually.  In her lovely book Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Hebrew scholar Ellen Davis points out several significant things about the ending passage of the Book of Job.  First of all, the names of his daughters and not his sons are listed.  This is never the way it works in scriptures.  Not only are the names listed, but the names are outrageous.  Jemimah is a reference to a beautiful queen of arab folklore.  Keziah is the name of a spice tree used for perfume.  Keren-Happuch is a type of make-up.  It’s like naming your daughters Cinderella, Passion and L’Oreal.  And they were beautiful.  And Job gave them an inheritance along with their brothers which was just as extravagant a gesture as the outrageous names.  Why this particular reaction? I would guess because its a particularly potent way of fighting back the enemy.  Job is a devout man who knows God.  His is a deliberate rejection of a commonly accepted lie of the enemy: that women are less than, worth less and not to be valued as highly as men.  And I love that Job could of no better way to fight back against the enemy with so much force that he will never forget the battle than to honor his girl children.  No wonder God blessed him so greatly!

  • HolySpiritStainedGlass-3

    Sins against the Holy Spirit

    Going all theological on ya again!  At one point Jesus says that the one sin which will not be forgiven is the sin against the Holy Spirit.  But no one seems to know what the sin against the Holy Spirit is.  I would say that first of all, the sin must be one that is not repented of.  If we ask for forgiveness, it is given.  Period.  But does this mean that any-ole sin that we don’t repent of is a sin against the Holy Spirit?  Because that would be a real problem.  What if we forgot some of our sins?  What if we didn’t realize we had even made a mistake that could be considered a sin?  That doesn’t seem right either.

    So, since the sin is against the Holy Spirit, let’s consider what the Holy Spirit does.  The Holy Spirit has been sent as a comfort and a teacher.  It takes time and patience and practice for most of us to learn to hear the Holy Spirit.  And one of the things that the Holy Spirit does is tell us to repent.  How does the Holy Spirit tell us to repent?  Sometimes the signal comes from outside of ourselves.  It’s heard where there is suffering, oppression, and fear.  When we see or hear people that say they are suffering, that is a sign that we’re getting something wrong and need to start looking for a better way of doing things.  When we ignore those who are suffering, we are ignoring the Holy Spirit calling us to repentance.  And just like in our own lives, we do not always know how to do what we know we should be doing, we at least need to recognize that it is sin.  A solution may be a long way off, but in the meantime, we still need to repent.  Other times the Holy Spirit tells us to repent by making us uncomfortable with what we are doing.  Sometimes we know that our discomfort indicates sin.  And we need to repent when that happens, even if you don’t know how to change or don’t think you can.  God understands that even doing our best we will fall short which is why He declared sin a non-issue for those who repent.  Unfortunately, many of us assume that our discomfort is something to overcome.  We’ve been told that something is supposed to work a certain way, but there is something deep in us that knows its wrong.  But because we think we know how its supposed to work, we ignore the Spirit deep in us that is screaming out “no!”

    So, I would posit that the sin against the Holy Spirit is when we do something that we know is wrong or causes pain and suffering or support things that are wrong and cause pain and suffering but will not repent.  If we know its wrong, and we do it anyways without repenting even in our own hearts, that is a sin that God can not forgive.  For all practical purposes, we are choosing to do evil and are committed to it.  It can’t be forgiven because it has been willfully held back from Jesus’ offer of forgiveness.  And if we do it while pointing to God, don’t think that He will understand.  God wants us to know Him and when we willfully reject His way which is love and ascribe it to Him, we rejecting Him as He is in favor of god as we would have Him be.  The good news is that any sin can be repented of whether it can be fixed or not.  There is no sin which is automatically a sin against the Holy Spirit.  But we must beware because the sins we are least likely to repent of are the ones we commit when we blame God for our actions and attitudes.  In order to avoid this sin, we Christians would do well to take the safe route of unconditional love for all people.  When we get good enough at that, perhaps we can be trusted to try our hand at showing others the way to go.  Because if we make a mistake out of an abundance of love, that is an easy sin to repent of.  At least that’s my theory. ;)

  • wild donkey

    Book of Job – Looking at our animal friends

    A couple of days ago, I started writing about the ending chapters of the Book of Job.  As I said then, the end of Job has always bothered me.  It doesn’t make sense that this man would lose everything have God show up and go, “who do you think you are?” and then Job would be satisfied and comforted.  It doesn’t make sense for God or for Job to behave in such a way, so I’ve always figured I was missing something.  This summer I re-read the Book of Job and some things I had never noticed before started to stand out, and that’s what I’m going to be sharing here.

    Today we look at Chapter 39.  I’m going to break it into sections to point out a few details.

    “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
    2 Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
    3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
    4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return.

    This strikes me as odd because people in the ancient world were often quite aware of the cycles of life taking place around them.  So it seems quite likely that there would be people in Job’s time who knew when the mountain goat mated and then when it gave birth.  Perhaps because Job’s people were agrarian, they had lost touch with some of this knowledge.  But today, anyone with the money can watch mountain goats mate and give birth on the Discovery channel.  It’s not quite the great mystery most of us assume when first reading this.  I think that perhaps this passage isn’t about some secret knowledge God has, but is pointing to the differences between parenting as a mountain goat vs parenting as a human.  When a woman gives birth, her physical labor pains end, but the labor of raising children to maturity and beyond is only started.  Our children do not leave and not return in most cases.  IOW, although our cycles of life are shared by other parts of creation, they are not the same.  God could also be pointing to the very wild cousins of the goats that were kept by humans.

    5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
    Who untied its ropes?
    6 I gave it the wasteland as its home,
    the salt flats as its habitat.
    7 It laughs at the commotion in the town;
    it does not hear a driver’s shout.
    8 It ranges the hills for its pasture
    and searches for any green thing.

    Of course, no one set the wild donkey free.  It was created free.  We domesticated donkeys, and their wild cousins live as they always have.  But wild donkeys have their homes, away from where others would want to dwell and they’re happy there.  He pays no attention to us and doesn’t envy the domesticated donkey his life.

    9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
    Will it stay by your manger at night?
    10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
    Will it till the valleys behind you?
    11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
    Will you leave your heavy work to it?
    12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
    and bring it to your threshing floor?

    Again, God brings up an animal that humans domesticated and points to its still wild cousins.  While we have oxen who do our bidding, their wild cousins will not.  When someone needs heavy work done, he acquires an oxen from the stock of domesticated animals, but would not go out into the wild to acquire an ox.  When we put our hands on God’s creation, we change it.  But those parts of God’s creation that we don’t touch remain as they were created – beyond our control.

    13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
    14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
    15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
    16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
    17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
    18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.

    I think that part of what God may be pointing to here is that sometimes we are envious of the freedom and wild beauty of a wild animal such as an ostrich.  We may even be awed by a creature that seems more amazing to our eyes than ourselves.  But God points out, this is also a creature that doesn’t care for her young.  She has not been given wisdom or good sense such as we have and for all of the ostrich’s power and speed, she cannot share God’s concerns for her offspring that binds us humans together and is intrinsic to what makes us image bearers.  Also, I’m not sure about ancient times, but I do know that ostriches are farmed – domesticated – in places today.  But again, messing with a wild ostrich is both difficult and dangerous.

    19 “Do you give the horse its strength
    or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
    20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
    striking terror with its proud snorting?
    21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
    and charges into the fray.
    22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
    it does not shy away from the sword.
    23 The quiver rattles against its side,
    along with the flashing spear and lance.
    24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
    it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
    25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
    It catches the scent of battle from afar,
    the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

    The horse is another animal we domesticated.  Interestingly, God points to the horse’s role in battle when speaking of horses.  What is described here is behavior that isn’t prevalent in wild horses.  It took human domestication and training to bring this aspect of the animal’s nature to the forefront.

    26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread its wings toward the south?
    27 Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build its nest on high?
    28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is its stronghold.
    29 From there it looks for food;
    its eyes detect it from afar.
    30 Its young ones feast on blood,
    and where the slain are, there it is.”

    There are two things I see taking place here.  First, hawking is a very ancient practice.  Some hawks really did (and sometimes still do) take flight by our instructions and head south (or where ever they have been directed).  But again, their wild cousins are well beyond our control.  Probably in part because they do build their nests in such inaccessible places.  And yet, even the wildest and freest of creatures – the eagle – does not fail to be affected by our activities.  Unlike the raven and their young from the end of the last chapter who go about on the ground crying out to God because there is nothing to eat, the eagles on the cliff and their young are fed whenever and where ever we go to war.  Or even when we just leave our own meat unattended!

    So, there are a few general observations to be made.  God doesn’t point to strange and unfamiliar animals here.  Even the mountain goat of the first section has a domesticated corollary.  God gave us dominion over the animals and their domestication is part of what we have done with that.  Perhaps God is saying that work done by his hands is wild, dangerous and free while work done by our hands captures the aspects of an animal’s nature that serves our needs.  It is almost like God created and we harvested what we needed.  God creates the wild and we create the domesticated.  I also notice that the last two animals are spoken of in relation to humans going to war.  Perhaps this is a subtle comparison between God who doesn’t always provide for the hungry lions or ravens and us who kill each other directly.  And again, like in the last chapter, there does seem to be a level of respect given from God to what men have done.  By the time of Job the secrets to animal domestication were probably lost to time – perhaps they were even given to Adam and Eve when they were given dominion over the animals.  There seems to be a sense of awe that should come not just from God’s wild creation, but also from what man has been able to do with it.  We are more powerful than we realize.

  • K1.1Zeus

    Book of Job: It’s a guessing game

    A couple of years ago I started blogging about the Book of Job, thinking I would blog through the whole thing.  Thankfully, God called me off that task because I now think that I was headed in the wrong direction.  However, I have always been puzzled by God’s words to Job and Job’s response to them.  They just never made sense to me.  Job didn’t claim to be perfect, just faithful and his whole life has been taken from him and a kind and compassionate God shows up and says, “who do you think you are, you little peon?” and Job is satisfied.  Whaaaa?

    However, this summer, I re-read the Book of Job and saw some things there that I hadn’t previously seen.  So, I’m going to go through the last couple of chapters of Job and share what I see.  Today I’m going to look at Job 38:

    The LORD Speaks

    1Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

    2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
    3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

    8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

    12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
    13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
    14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
    15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.

    16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
    17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
    18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.

    19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
    20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
    21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!

    22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
    23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
    24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
    25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
    26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
    27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
    28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
    29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
    30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?

    31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
    32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
    33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’sdominion over the earth?

    34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
    35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
    36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
    or gives the rooster understanding?
    37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
    38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?

    39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
    40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
    41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

    The first thing that stood out to me about this chapter was how much of it is based on human’s imaginative explanations for how the world works.  I won’t go through them all, but there is the waters of the earth coming from the womb, lightening being shot off by hand, constellations, water jars in heaven, storehouses where snow and hail are kept, places where the sun and the darkness reside, etc.  All of these things are our own imaginative explanations for phenomena that humanity didn’t have real explanations for.

    So part of what I hear God saying here is: “all of your best explanations are just guesses.”  Which I think we all need to remember.  More often than not, we don’t really know what’s going on.  We’re just creating explanations for ourselves that hopefully honor God and reflect some portion of what is really going on. But we’re just guessing.

    It is interesting to me that most of the mythology referred to comes from other ancient near-eastern religions and not the Hebrew religion.  Perhaps God is laying claim to all of the work that other religions attribute to a multitude of Gods.  I also think that it shows a level of respect from God towards humanity.  He knows perfectly well that the things he is talking about aren’t actually how the world works, but we humans had created some very beautiful, poetic descriptions which God seems quite willing to accept from us.  It kind of reminds me in the book of Acts when Paul quotes pagan poetry to explain the reality of God.

    The other element I see here is God pointing to unpleasant realities that we humans don’t want to deal with.  He ends by asking who feeds starving animals and their young.  The pat answer is God does.  Except when he doesn’t.  Because sometimes there is no prey for the lioness and the lion goes hungry.  And sometimes even the raven does not have food for their children.  This is the world that we live in.  We humans with our big brains and imaginations who think up wonderous ideas about how the world is run live in the same world with the animals who sometimes starve to death.  And we can only guess how God is working out His purposes in it.

    Tomorrow: what the animals have to teach us.