Mining for Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 28.23, 28
God understands the way to it
    and he alone knows where it dwells…

And he said to the human race,
    “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
    and to shun evil is understanding.”    

Reflection: Mining for Wisdom
By Erin Newton

In Tolkien’s tale of Middle Earth, Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves venture toward the Lonely Mountain to recapture the dwarf kingdom. The movie elaborates on the dwarves mining for the “heart of the mountain,” the Arkenstone. Once possessing this stone, the owner gained the right to rule under the mountain. However, the king was corrupted by intense greed and the dragon destroyed the kingdom.

The interlude in dialogue between Job and his friends describes similar mining expertise. Iron, gold, and lapis lazuli are all found within dark caverns explored by humans. The author of Job indicates that not even animals can fathom the root of these precious minerals and stones.
Wisdom is placed in parallel to gold, silver, jewels and gemstones. They are all precious, valuable, and rare. Although one with dwarf-like accuracy can locate and extract veins of gold in the depths of the earth, the location of wisdom is evasive.

Wisdom is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Wisdom is not “among the living” (v13). Wisdom is not in the primordial depths (v14), a term reminiscent of creation where the Spirit hovered over these waters. Wisdom is not among death and destruction (v22), terms echoing ancient cosmology about the underworld. From primordial creation to cosmological death, wisdom is absent.

“Where then does wisdom come from?” As all other options are exhausted, the conclusion is that wisdom resides with he who is outside of time and space, God. The fear of the Lord is the apex of spiritual mining. Just as the miner studies the formations of the earth to search for a starting point, we are told that all pursuits of wisdom begin with a relationship with God.

Some prefer to seek wisdom through intellect, looking to become wise through a series of academic degrees. Some prefer to seek wisdom through prestige gained through wealth or popularity. Some seek wisdom through rebellion, going against the grain of typical society. The age-old Edenic pursuit was to seek wisdom from anything outside of a relationship with God. Like dwarves, we often dig too deep into pursuits that bring about our destruction. 

It can be frustrating for such a worthy, invaluable asset such as wisdom to be summarized in simple terms. Although difficult to find, wisdom is freely given. The difficulty is not in its availability but in our pride. Wisdom is from God. To gain it is to know Him. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

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

Today’s Readings
Job 28 (Listen – 2:44)
Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)

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Read more about Where is Wisdom :: A Guided Prayer
Ask God to open to us the true and timeless wisdom that comes from one unlimited source.

Learning from the Suffering

Scripture Focus: Job 27.8-12
8 For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, 
when God takes away their life? 
9 Does God listen to their cry 
when distress comes upon them? 
10 Will they find delight in the Almighty? 
Will they call on God at all times? 
11 “I will teach you about the power of God; 
the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal. 
12 You have all seen this yourselves. 
Why then this meaningless talk? 

Reflection: Learning from the Suffering
By John Tillman

Job, prior to his experiences, believed similarly to his friends—bad things happen to bad people. Despite being an exception to this rule, Job still expresses this view in verses 13-23.

Despite experiencing things he thought only happened to the wicked, Job still believed God faithful. Job testified to the benefits of his faith. Unlike the godless, Job had hope even in death.  While the godless cried out to nothingness, Job expectantly waited for God to hear his cry. Job had a source of delight in God at all times. Job realized that others had something to learn from him about God. 

Job’s suffering did not change the core of what he believed. If anyone had reason to walk away from faith, it was Job. Were we in Job’s place, it’s easy to imagine we’d remain faithful. It is more realistic to imagine responding as Job’s wife did: “curse God and die.” It is wiser to pray that in any test of faith we will be sustained by God’s grace, not our own grit. It is also wise for us to extend grace to those experiencing suffering from which we have been spared.

In our world, there is debate about how to treat Christians who, for various reasons, are deconstructing their faith. Many “deconstructors” are spurred into this process by suffering. Some experienced sexual abuse or abuse of power. Many witnessed the defense and covering up of these kinds of abuse. Some were run out of their churches over politics. Some were cast out for being whistleblowers. Their stories are numerous and varied.

When people, like Job, have had fire fall on their lives, they have reasons for doubt. Do we treat them as Job’s friends treated him? With pointless moralizing and self-righteous condemnation?

Deconstructing people are not wolves to be hunted but fellow sheep—often attacked and wounded sheep. And even if they do choose to completely reject the faith…how are we supposed to treat unbelievers? With disdain? No. With accusations and attacks? No.

Like Job, may we maintain our faith in the face of whatever fire may fall in our futures. May we be gracious to those in crises of faith, not treating them as enemies but as those wounded by our great enemy. They are worthy of any effort we can make to rescue them and we may have something to learn from them about God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32

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

Today’s Readings
Job 27 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

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Read more about The Ever-Patient Agriculturalist
The purpose in deconstruction is reconstruction.
The purpose in uprooting is to replant.
May we rejoice in being pruned and replanted.

The Whispers of God

Scripture Focus: Job 26.5-14
5 “The dead are in deep anguish, 
those beneath the waters and all that live in them. 
6 The realm of the dead is naked before God; 
Destruction lies uncovered.
7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; 
he suspends the earth over nothing. 
8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds, 
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. 
9 He covers the face of the full moon, 
spreading his clouds over it. 
10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters 
for a boundary between light and darkness. 
11 The pillars of the heavens quake, 
aghast at his rebuke. 
12 By his power he churned up the sea; 
by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. 
13 By his breath the skies became fair; 
his hand pierced the gliding serpent. 
14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works; 
how faint the whisper we hear of him! 
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” 

Reflection: The Whispers of God
By John Tillman

Ancient cosmology is well worth investigating for Christians. (Further Study from The Bible Project.) It tells us about the presuppositions of biblical writers and early readers.

We take for granted gravity, physics, thermodynamics, complex orbits of planets and other objects, and the vast void of space. The best minds of our time and observations of our universe tell us these are true. We unthinkingly apply our presuppositions to scripture. We read, “the earth was formless and empty…” (Gen 1.2) and think about pre-Big-Bang nothingness. 

The early readers of Genesis wouldn’t have been thinking of that at all. Ancient people, like Job, believed the best minds of their time and observations of their universe. They took for granted the earth was flat, supported above the nothingness of the chaos waters below. They weren’t fact-denying flat-earthers. They simply didn’t have the evidence we do today.

Job describes the wonders of God in a passage focusing on cosmology and the created world. He describes everything from the deep chaos waters (and monsters) and the realm of the dead to the skies and the sun, moon, and stars above them. Job would be unfamiliar with our understanding of gravity, or the water cycle, but that didn’t stop him from being amazed at how clouds, heavy with water, can float in the sky and how the earth can be suspended over waters when stones and dirt sink in a stream.

The hubris of knowledge can make us callous. Are these things any less wondrous to us simply because of greater scientific knowledge? 

Job calls the wonders of creation “whispers” of God—the faint fringes of his power and glory. (Job 26.14; Romans 1:20) God’s whispers of wonder still come from creation today. Science is not the enemy of God but his microphone, microscope, and telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope will soon show us more of the universe than ever before—distant realms Job never imagined. God’s whisper still reaches us from there. The deeper we look into space (or any science) the deeper God’s wonders whisper to us. 

The universe that Job believed in didn’t exist as he thought it did. Some of our current conclusions may be proved wrong in time. That makes God no less real and no less powerful. Is God smaller because the universe is bigger than Job thought? Or than we think? No. God is greater still. And we will yet hear the thunder of his power. (Exodus 20.18-19; John 12.28-29; Revelation 10.4-7)

Image Note: Today’s image contains an artist’s rendering of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

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

Today’s Readings
Job 25-26 (Listen – 1:52)
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)

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Read more about Spiritual Instruments
Whatever scientific instruments we use…we find the fingerprints of God.

Return From Financial Sins

Scripture Focus: Job 22.23-30
23 If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: 
If you remove wickedness far from your tent 
24 and assign your nuggets to the dust, 
your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, 
25 then the Almighty will be your gold, 
the choicest silver for you. 
26 Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty 
and will lift up your face to God. 
27 You will pray to him, and he will hear you, 
and you will fulfill your vows. 
28 What you decide on will be done, 
and light will shine on your ways. 
29 When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ 
then he will save the downcast. 
30 He will deliver even one who is not innocent, 
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”

Psalm 32.3-5
3 When I kept silent, 
my bones wasted away 
through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night 
your hand was heavy on me; 
my strength was sapped 
as in the heat of summer. 
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess 
my transgressions to the Lord.” 
And you forgave 
the guilt of my sin.

Reflection: Return From Financial Sins
By John Tillman

In 2008 the subprime mortgage crash caused the loss of $30 trillion dollars of wealth. Millions of people were affected, losing homes, jobs, and savings. Some committed suicide in the aftermath. In some ways, we still feel its effects today. Some even fear our economy is heading towards a repeat performance.

Perhaps this is because, for most of those who caused the crisis, the only punishment was the inconvenience of a government bailout or a corporate bankruptcy. Only one person went to prison, serving a thirty month sentence. 

Greed is good,” is still the mantra of our culture. Financial sins have to be outlandish before anyone cares, yet the poor are often sentenced to life in prison for non-violent offenses that harm no one.

One rarely hears sermons on financial sins that approach the passion and zeal of sermons about sex or drugs or pornography…unless one reads the Bible. We may consider them frivolous but when it comes to financial sins, God means business.

Eliphaz accuses Job of a litany of financial sins: taking financial advantage of the poor, leaving widows empty-handed, withholding water and food from the needy, crushing the orphan… 

Eliphaz is wrong about Job committing these sins. However, it is notable that these sins are the ones for which Eliphaz assumes Job is receiving just punishment. His sores, his lost family members, his lost wealth…all because of financial sins.

Eliphaz is right about something. Eliphaz believes Job has sinned greatly but he also believes that anyone can be forgiven. After his false accusations, Eliphaz launches into a beautiful section describing the mercy of God for those who repent.

Most Christians believe that “sin is sin,” but we each probably consider some sins greater than others. We must remember that whether violent offender, venal embezzler, or vain powerbroker, any sinner can turn to God and be forgiven. Our justice system may be unbalanced, but Jesus calls both the corrupt tax collector in the tree and the thief on the cross to be with him where he is. (Luke 19.5; 23.43) Who are we to stand in their way?

May we gently and honestly tell sinners the truth about sin. (Not just the sins we most despise, but all sin.) May we also energetically and enthusiastically tell them the greater truth about forgiveness.

Our bones will waste away if we keep silent, but God will forgive any who approach him in humble confession. (Psalm 32.3-5)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

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

Today’s Readings
Job 22 (Listen – 2:54)
Psalm 32 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 23 (Listen – 1:43), Psalm 33 (Listen – 2:08)
Job 24 (Listen – 2:56), Psalm 34 (Listen – 2:14)

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Read more about Incest, Greed, and Idolatry
Paul would have us as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we?

Crushing Bruised Reeds

Scripture Focus: Job 21.2-3, 7
​​2 “Listen carefully to my words; 
let this be the consolation you give me. 
3 Bear with me while I speak, 
and after I have spoken, mock on. 

7 Why do the wicked live on, 
growing old and increasing in power? 

Psalm 31.5. 9-11
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; 
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; 
my eyes grow weak with sorrow, 
my soul and body with grief. 
10 My life is consumed by anguish 
and my years by groaning; 
my strength fails because of my affliction, s 
and my bones grow weak. 
11 Because of all my enemies, 
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors 
and an object of dread to my closest friends— 
those who see me on the street flee from me. 

Reflection: Crushing Bruised Reeds
By John Tillman

The rising rancor between Job and his friends would have cooled if they were willing to soften their absolutisms. 

Job’s friends declared that scripture was clear: “God always cuts short the wicked! God always blesses the righteous!” Job pointed to prosperous wicked people and said, “not always.”

Job’s friends refused to moderate their positions or admit to a complex and nuanced world. They doubled down and denied, growing harsher in their words instead of softer. They lumped Job in with the wicked because of his arguments. It all feels very familiar…

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

Rupertus (Peter) Meldenius, a seldom remembered theologian, wrote this in the midst of a seldom remembered war. (It’s often attributed to more well-known names who quoted it, such as John Wesley. In fact, I nearly attributed it to Wesley before looking it up to check my memory…) 

Meldenius called for Christian unity during the 30 Years War (1618–1648), a semi-religious conflict. At this time, all governments were inherently religious in nature. (It can be easy to forget how new the ideas of separation of church and state and religious freedom are.) The conflict was mostly political violence painted with religious veneer. Similarly veneered violence still happens. The violence of the January 6th insurrection still rings in our ears and the hostage situation at Beth Israel was a mere six miles from my front door.

Meldenius was on to something. He would recognize our political and religious landscape and the potential horrors it could lead to. However, Meldenius’s statement loses efficacy as people add more and more issues to the “essentials” pile. 

When everything is “essential” there is no “liberty” and “charity” is called “heresy.” Christian leaders seem to be less and less willing to grant liberty to one another on any issue. Camps are moving farther apart and rancor has risen to the point that some decry religious freedom as “supporting hell.”

We do not need to abandon essentials to charitably embrace those in distress who struggle to define “essentials.” (Psalm 31.9-10) They need love, not contempt. (Psalm 31.11)

May we not snuff out smoldering wicks of faith with non-essential dogma or crush bruised reeds with a bootheel of “tough love.” (Isaiah 42.3; Matthew 12.20-21) May we use cords of loving-kindness to lead people to repentance rather than tie up heavy loads on the backs of the struggling. (Hosea 11.4; Matthew 23.4)

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 Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen – 3:05)
Psalm 31 (Listen – 3:11)

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Read more about Responding to Political Violence
Despite our sense of moral superiority, we have not advanced beyond violence for political ends.