God’s Not Deaf

Scripture Focus: Job 35.12-14
12 He does not answer when people cry out
    because of the arrogance of the wicked.
13 Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea;
    the Almighty pays no attention to it.
14 How much less, then, will he listen
    when you say that you do not see him…

Reflection: God’s Not Deaf
By Erin Newton

I assume most have dreamed about being in danger and suddenly couldn’t make a sound. Mouth gaping wide, no noise comes out. There is no one to hear the call for help. How terrifying!

Elihu waited until the end before adding his commentary. There is hope that the words will be kinder with the young friend. Unfortunately, he is just as hurtful. He denies Job’s claim to righteousness and suggests that God will not listen because of Job’s sin. Job is stuck in a nightmare of suffering. Elihu thought Job’s prayers were silent screams.

Elihu emphasizes the transcendence of God. He views God as removed from the experiences of humanity. In verses 6-7, Elihu states that God is unaffected by sin and gains nothing from righteousness. To this friend, sin is a human problem and righteousness is only beneficial for humanity.

Understanding the nature of God is difficult. We know from creation and prophetic visions that God is transcendent. Millard Erickson defines transcendence, “God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.” In short, it is his “otherness.” But this is not the entire picture.

Job argues that God is intimately related to humanity. In this way, God is immanent. The prologue of the heavenly scene allows us to see how closely God is concerned with Job’s life. The permission given to Satan comes with strict boundaries. Job declares that his own life is the breath of God within him (Job 27.3).

James Wharton suggests, “It is possible that God is both infinitely more transcendent and infinitely more personally engaged with human beings than either Elihu or Job has any way of knowing?” Again, amid dialogue between the four friends, we are struck with the tension of truths.

In our own lives, we struggle with moments of wishing God was nearer to us. The pressure of illness, the dark cloud of grief, the uncertainty of politics, the vast void of loneliness. We often feel like each prayer is a nightmare-choked silent scream. But the truth is that God is overwhelmingly concerned about your life. Yes, yours.

The fear that God may ignore your peril, the doubt that your pleas are being offered to a deaf God are not founded in truth. Do not let your heart nourish such lies. Elihu understood God’s transcendence but discounted his immanence. Rejoice in the truth that God is with us, our Immanuel. 

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 Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 35 (Listen – 1:33)
Psalm 46-47 (Listen – 2:15)

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The “ever-present” help that most people are used to are the digital assistants embedded in devices attached to our hands and wrists.

God Is The Hero, not Us

Scripture Focus: Job 34.34-37
34 “Men of understanding declare, 
wise men who hear me say to me, 
35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge; 
his words lack insight.’ 
36 Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost 
for answering like a wicked man! 
37 To his sin he adds rebellion; 
scornfully he claps his hands among us 
and multiplies his words against God.” 

Reflection: God Is The Hero, not Us
By John Tillman

Elihu quotes arguments that the friends have made and questions them, “Do you think this is just?” (Job 35.2) Elihu challenges the friends as often as he challenges Job.

When I was a young man, I thought Elihu was, in a way, heroic. I saw in him a young man taking a stand against old ways of thinking and reaching out to Job in kindness, but that picture is not exactly right. Elihu’s arguments aren’t that different from the friends’ arguments. Even though he starts out with a promise to not be heavy-handed, eventually Elihu seems just as condemnatory towards Job as the others. At this point in the story, though, we want there to be a hero. We sense that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Duane Garrett, in his commentary on this section of Job says:

“As we progress through the Book of Job, we feel the same distress Elihu voiced. We are sure there is something wrong with Job’s comments but are aware that the three friends failed to answer him. We try to find an alternative answer…We thrash about for a solution much as Elihu did and repeat old arguments without knowing it. And if we are not careful, we fall into the same vain certainty. We think we are wiser than Job and his friends put together. Job and his friends were each wrong in his own way, but so are we. We need to hear the voice of God.” — The Poetic and Wisdom Books.” Holman Concise Bible Commentary.

Nobody’s perfect except God. That’s the most repeated argument Job’s debaters circle back to. We sense that Job needs a hero. Will it be the friends? No. Will it be Elihu? No. Every human hero fails.

The hero Job (and we) needed is coming—is here. God’s entrance is just around the corner, just around the bend, arriving in the next few turns of the page…in some ways, he is already here.

One of the deep mysteries of the Bible is that we are separated from God by our sins, yet he is with us and longing for us at the same time. The already and the not yet are side-by-side. God is the hero we all need and he is coming to us right where we are when we are ready to listen to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

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

Today’s Readings
Job 34 (Listen – 3:26)
Psalm 45 (Listen – 2:17)

Read more about When Nations Pray
Help us to incarnate a gospel that evangelizes and emancipates those in need as a real and relevant demonstration of our living Christ.

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Our cultural “superhero” lens can cause us to see ourselves as the “hero” in biblical accounts.

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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Young Christians can identify with the crisis of faith in this pleading psalm. For many Millennials and Gen Z, prior generations of prosperity have melted into scarcity…

Help That Brings Hope—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 30.24-28
​​24 “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man 
when he cries for help in his distress. 
25 Have I not wept for those in trouble? 
Has not my soul grieved for the poor? 
26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; 
when I looked for light, then came darkness. 

Reflection: Help That Brings Hope—Guided Prayer 
By John Tillman

One of Job’s complaints is that no one is willing to do for him what he has done for others. 

Job’s hands helped the weak and struggling. He wept with the weeping and had compassion on the suffering. He acted, resisting evil with good and bringing light to darkness.

But when Job cried out for help, rough hands gripped him and added to his distress.
When Job wept, others jeered him rather than joined him.
When Job mourned, his friends soon laid accusations at his feet rather than compassion.
Salt, rather than salve, was rubbed in Job’s wounds.
The good Job expected from others turned out to be evil.
The light Job longed for was only more darkness.

Job experienced enmity rather than empathy and hurtfulness rather than helpfulness. Few have experienced Job’s level of loss, but all of us have had times when bad news or bad experiences seemed to pile on one another. 

Let us pray this weekend, a prayer that we would be the kind of help that Job hoped for in the lives of those around us.

Prayer to Be Help that Brings Hope
Lord, let us see those suffering and bring them good things.

Help us follow Job’s model of righteousness and justice, bringing light to darkness and resisting evil with good.

Job lifted up the broken. 
Strengthen our arms for lifting.
He answered cries of distress.
Sharpen our hearing. May no plea go unanswered.
He had compassion on the hurting.
Soften our hearts.
He wept for the troubled.
Open our eyes to weep.
He grieved for the poverty-stricken.
Let grief move us to action.
He brought hope to the hopeless.
May our hope be tangible.
He worked good things for those oppressed by evil.
Empower us to overcome oppressive powers.
He brought light to those in darkness.
Make us shine with your light.

May we become the kind of help that brings hope.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

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

Today’s Readings
Job 30 (Listen – 3:14)
Psalm 39 (Listen – 1:49)

This Weekend’s Readings

Job 31 (Listen – 4:16), Psalm 40-41 (Listen – 3:57)
Job 32 (Listen – 2:12), Psalm 42-43 (Listen – 2:32)

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Read more about Convicted by Job’s Righteousness
May we run to Christ, the mediator that Job prophesied, with this confession…

Righteousness Sets Things Right

Scripture Focus: Job 29.2-3, 12-17
“How I long for the months gone by,
    for the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone on my head
    and by his light I walked through darkness!…
…Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
    and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
The one who was dying blessed me;
    I made the widow’s heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth.

John: This rewritten post from 2020 looks again at the relationship of righteousness and justice. For Job, they are of the same substance. We can’t have one without the other.

Reflection: Righteousness Sets Things Right
By John Tillman

When we think of righteousness, we tend to think first about righteousness via elimination. We think of avoiding sin, abstaining from certain food and drink, abjuring the company of certain people, or censoring our experience of the world. These may be wise measures for avoiding temptation but they are not marks of righteousness. 

Limiting exposure to certain things to remain righteous is a confession of our unrighteous state. Light does not avoid darkness to remain light—it pierces the darkness and the darkness cannot overwhelm it. Job acknowledges that the light of righteousness that used to be his was not his own, but came from the presence of God shining through him. Rather than focus on righteousness by omission, Job describes the righteousness of commission. 

In Job’s example, righteousness is connected to and related to justice. The word sedeq, translated “righteous,” also means “just” or “fair.” It also is often paired with mispat, which is translated as “justice,” in this passage but can mean “law,” or “judgment.” Job’s righteousness and justice are his robe and turban—cut from the same cloth.

Righteousness, as Job describes it, is marked by formidable, positive actions on behalf of justice. Righteousness sets things right. Job defines his righteousness by his use of power, wealth, and influence to benefit the weak, the marginalized, and the victimized. 

When Job walked in, the powerful trembled. They recognized an enemy who would break their “fangs” which were their means of holding onto prey and exerting their poisonous control.

When Job walked in, those taking advantage of the poor would lose their control and investment. When Job walked in, abusers knew their time was up. 

When Job walked in, the needy rejoiced and the outcast celebrated. When Job walked in, the fatherless felt the power of a father on their side. When Job walked in widows knew that they would no longer suffer indignity or disregard.

When the church and Christians walk in righteousness, the powerful will tremble at our approach. Oppressors will pray that we do not show up. Swindling money-lenders will dread us setting their debtors free.

Do you walk in righteousness? Ask yourself this question. Who gets nervous when you approach? Do the powerful pat you on the back? Or do the oppressed consider you a friend?

Righteousness may not be righteous if it makes the wrong people nervous.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.26

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

Today’s Readings
Job 29 (Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)

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Would we bury the tasks of righteousness and justice in the ground and dig them up, undeveloped and unimproved, to hand back to Christ?