Reexamining Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 33:13-14
13 Why do you complain to him
     that he responds to no one’s words?
 14 For God does speak—now one way, now another—
     though no one perceives it.

Reflection: Reexamining Wisdom
By Erin Newton

There is a stirring in the Christian world. People are asking about life, becoming perplexed at how things are. Many questions are about the Church and its purpose, motives, plans, and policies. The stirring seeks to disturb the status quo. There is a sense of hope that change is on the way.

For many, this is a frightening prospect. Content to hold fast to the ways of tradition, every daring question is considered cautiously. The world works this way, we say. God responds like this. The old patterns are not altogether wrong, but the narrowed perspective can be unhelpful to those with questions.

Elihu speaks to Job out of his own tradition with clear speeches of how things are. His response is not surprising. Each word is a repetition of the wisdom of the day. We’ve seen this throughout the book. The dominant view of God and his people was that those suffering likely deserved it.

When Job complains about God not answering his complaints, Elihu responds tersely, “Of course he has answered you!” He speaks of God answering through dreams that terrify or pain that chastens. Always with the perspective of justice, the wisdom given by Elihu is that Job’s suffering must be a lesson he has to learn.

Job continues to plead his case. His conscience clears him of believing Elihu’s speech is applicable to him. His questions continue to reveal a different perspective or at least he longs to hear something new, something to change the status quo of ancient wisdom. “For God does speak,” Elihu says and that should bring comfort. Job demands of God to speak something new.

We read the story of Job to find comfort in our own suffering. We like to know we are not alone when the pain feels unjustified. We often don’t consider how the story presents a picture of the community wrestling with different perspectives of life. The friends are rooted in their traditional wisdom, and it has served them well over the years. Job’s circumstances force him to look for another answer and beg God to explain it to him.

The stirring in the Church today is a plea to reexamine the wisdom of our day. Is it rightly applied? Are we addressing the community properly? Do we spout spiritual truths to a hurting world without listening or are we joining the plea for God to answer?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 33 (Listen 3:00)
Psalm 17 (Listen 1:58)

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Entering the Ring of Debate Differently

Scripture Focus: Job 33.6-7
6 I am the same as you in God’s sight; 
I too am a piece of clay. 
7 No fear of me should alarm you, 
nor should my hand be heavy on you.

Reflection: Entering the Ring of Debate Differently
By John Tillman

Elihu comes in at the end of Job thinking he has the solution to the puzzle. He doesn’t. 

Some chalk it up to Elihu’s cockiness or youth but that doesn’t make that much sense to me. We just listened to Job and his other friends rant at one another for over 30 chapters and they didn’t solve anything either. Plus, Elihu is almost excessively apologetic about his youth and apologized for even daring to speak up. Cockiness doesn’t seem an accurate reading.

Elihu talked more than all the other friends combined, but the “knowledge” that he expressed didn’t untangle the knot of the arguments that came before. However, there is much to learn from him. Elihu’s patience, his excellent listening skills, his intentions of being gentle with Job are all lacking in today’s world. Elihu tenderly told Job not to fear him and that he would not make his hand “heavy” upon Job.

When modern theologians exchange ideas (especially on public forums like Twitter) a heavy-handed smackdown is often what their words aim for. (I’ve made this error myself.) Like wrestling performers, grandstanding to the crowd, we swing exaggeratedly even when our actual logic or argument has little real punch. Our intentions are to smack someone down rather than lift them up.

We fail to listen. We rush to judgment. We disdain patience. We double-down on our points when proved wrong. We insist on our infallibility, sometimes confusing our infallibility with that of scripture. We refuse to interpret our foes charitably. We throw around accusations of heresy with no regard for the historicity of the terms or of confessions of faith. 

Elihu isn’t soft in what he believes but he’s gentle with those he confronts. He’s passionate about defending God against Job’s accusations. He’s passionate about defending Job against the treatment of the other friends. It’s not like he has no convictions or lives in some mushy middle ground of non-commital faith. Elihu just enters debate in a different way. A more compassionate way. He’s not perfect. None of us are. Some of his arguments are not that different than what came before but his attitude brings much needed refreshment and hope.

May we enter the ring of debate more like Elihu—more like referees than combatants. More patient. More measured. More deferential. More compassionate. Humble.

I confess in my own life I could learn from Elihu.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “If your brother does something wrong, rebuke him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry,’ you must forgive him.” — Luke 17.3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 33 (Listen – 3:00)
Psalm 44 (Listen – 2:44)

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