Haunting Spirit

Scripture Focus: Job 4.15-19
15 A spirit glided past my face, 
and the hair on my body stood on end. 
16 It stopped, 
but I could not tell what it was. 
A form stood before my eyes, 
and I heard a hushed voice: 
17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? 
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker? 
18 If God places no trust in his servants, 
if he charges his angels with error, 
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay, 
whose foundations are in the dust, 
who are crushed more readily than a moth!
20 Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces; 
unnoticed, they perish forever.

Reflection: Haunting Spirit
By John Tillman

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, spirits “haunt” Scrooge and terrify him, but their motivation is hope and love. Their conviction influences Scrooge to repent of his wickedness and live in righteous generosity of both spirit and finances. 

Job’s friend, Eliphaz, describes a visitation from a frightening spirit that delivers a warning message. What spirit is this? Does the frightening appearance of Eliphaz’s apparition conceal a kind nature and good purpose, like Dickens’ fictional spirits? Or is it a malicious spirit aligned with Satan’s goal of causing Job to curse God? How can we test this spirit? (1 John 4.1-3)

Job’s friends want to help him. Much of what they say sounds good until we scrutinize it. One question they address is human expectations from God. Do we get good for doing good and bad for doing bad? Eliphaz describes a world like that, but is it the real world?

Do we live in a world where the innocent never perish and the upright are never destroyed? (Job 4.7) Do we always see those who plow evil and trouble reap it? (Job 4.8) How often do great lions break their teeth and starve for lack of victims? (Job 4.10-11) We may want these things to be true, but they aren’t. We don’t live in that world.

Like Eliphaz and Job, we live where Satan roams “throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (Job 1.7; 2.2) He is the most terrible of roaring lions. Satan ensures evil reaps profit and the innocent perish. Satan makes the world unfair, then points the finger at God. He did so with Eve and Job and will do so with us.

Eliphaz’s spirit offers humanity threats rather than comfort. It proclaims that lowly dirt creatures have no hope if spirits are judged and punished. Humans are to be crushed and not remembered.

Has a spirit like this haunted you with whispered threats and doubts? Have you felt fear and disdain for your weaknesses, loneliness, or suffering? That’s not the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit haunts us with hope and love. He brings conviction but never shame or disdain. He influences us to repent of wickedness and live in righteous generosity. This year, may we shut out spirits like Eliphaz’s and be benevolently haunted by the Holy Spirit as we wait for the day the Lamb, the child of Mary, will break the fangs of Satan, the Lion.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. — Psalm 69.1

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

Today’s Readings
Job 4 (Listen 2.06
John 4 (Listen 6:37)

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Grace Over Grit

Scripture Focus: Job 4.5-6
5 But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; 
it strikes you, and you are dismayed. 
6 Should not your piety be your confidence 
and your blameless ways your hope? 

Reflection: Grace Over Grit
By John Tillman

Change is in the air in early January. Resolve. Renewal. Rededication. 

These are all helpful and healthful in many ways. We can often affect physical, financial, and moral change with just some determination, grit, and stick-to-itiveness. But how do we treat ourselves and others when things fail or fail to produce the results we expect?

When the pious face problems, pride tells us we are being wronged. We may have a harder time accepting the situation. We’ve worked too hard for this to happen, haven’t we?

The wicked expect no “rest” (Isaiah 48.22; 57.20-21) but the righteous do. What happens when the peace and rest which the righteous expect is disturbed? This is the question Job’s narrative pokes at. 

Seeing Job’s situation, his friend, Eliphaz assured Job that God was still good and that “piety” and “blameless” ways should give Job hope. He was half right.

Eliphaz and Job’s other friends will end up giving Job some terrible commentary and bad takes about his situation. (Look for more about that from Erin tomorrow.) They start as Eliphaz does, by assuring Job that if he was truly blameless then all would be well. They will end up accusing him, saying his suffering must be punishment for a sin he is concealing. I’m convinced that most of what they said came from a motivation of fear. They were looking for assurance that, “This can’t happen to me.” 

If Job, the most righteous person they knew, could experience these things, then what hope did they have? What security could they hold on to? What comfort could they take, even in their current situation of blessing?

Eliphaz is right that God is good. His error, and ours, comes in turning around and putting hope and faith in other, more tangible things. God is good, as long as I have… fill-in-the-blank.

Whatever we might fill that blank in with, Job lost it. If it happened to Job, it can happen to us. Job looked like a failure to his friends but in his suffering he was faithfully following God. We need to have faith not in our grit or our gains but in God’s grace. God’s grace is sufficient. Our grit is not.

When we see sufferers like Job, we need to remember that God’s grace may be more powerfully at work in them than we can see.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our help is in the Name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. — Psalm 124.8

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

Today’s Readings
Job 4 (Listen – 2:06) 
Psalm 7-8 (Listen – 2:58)

From John: In this new year, we are tweaking our reading plan. We will still read all of the same books as are typically in our “even year” plan. However, we will read them in a roughly chronological order. We will not jump around from book to book (many books are written in overlapping times) but we will read them in an order that is as close to chronological order without breaking the books up. Readers have expressed interest in this and we are looking forward to seeing scriptures fall at new times of the year and becoming more familiar with how the writers of scripture depended on one another and finding new connections as we read in this manner. We will work on a graphic of the new reading plans over the next couple of months and will provide it when it is available. Thank you for your readership and for your prayer and financial support! Happy New Year!

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When Help Doesn’t Help

Scripture Focus: Job 4.7-9
Think! What innocent person has ever perished?
When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?
As I’ve observed, those who plow sin
and sow trouble will harvest it.
When God breathes deeply, they perish;
by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

Reflection: When Help Doesn’t Help
By Jada Swanson

After seven days of silence, Eliphaz speaks to Job. Eliphaz is somewhat gentle and appears to sincerely attempt to bring comfort to his friend, Job. Yet, it doesn’t take long for one to see that his belief about his friend’s plight is that it is due to sin in Job’s life. In verse seven, he states, “Think! What innocent person has ever perished? When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?”

For we all reap what we sow, don’t we?

Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today. No doubt, statements have been made such as, “I wonder what she did to bring this upon herself?” or “If you’re living right, you will surely have a blessed life.”

Yet, if this is an accurate assessment, it begs the question, “What had Job done to bring such pain and suffering into his life?” and “Wasn’t he ‘living right’?”

The reality is that God never promises that his children will have a life free of trial, hardship, pain, or suffering. In fact, James 1 tells us to consider it pure joy whenever we face such situations and circumstances, because the hardships one endures brings about perseverance, which is needed to become mature and complete.

Most certainly, “Considering it all joy” does not mean one rejoices in the cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, or destruction. It does not mean there will be no tears or sense of loss. Rather, amidst these constraining circumstances, one can embrace a sense of confidence and peace.

Although Eliphaz meant well, his response was insensitive to his friend’s plight. It bears considering if Job’s circumstance brought to the surface some of his own concerns and vulnerabilities. Perhaps, he thought he had matters of faith and God figured out. Yet, God does not fit into a neatly packed box of predictability. In fact, we are told his ways are mysterious (Isaiah 55:9).

Everything is not always what it appears on the surface. Most often, there is more to the story, necessary details and nuances that hover just below the surface to which the public is not privy. As such, one needs to be careful in expressing personal opinions about the circumstances another is facing, regardless if this person is a family member, friend, or acquaintance.

May we understand that times of trial and hardship will come into our lives. May we embrace peace amidst suffering. May we listen to understand, not merely to respond. And when we do respond, may it be with sincerity and sensitivity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

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

Today’s Readings
Job 4 (Listen -2:06)
Romans 8 (Listen -6:22)

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