Tense Conversations

Scripture Focus: Job 18:1-2
1  Then Bildad the Shuhite replied:
2 “When will you end these speeches?
     Be sensible, and then we can talk.

Reflection: Tense Conversations
By Erin Newton

“Tension” is a good word for the dialogues between Job and his friends. Their relationship is strained. The friends accuse Job of evil despite his pleas to the contrary and our privileged view from the prologue. There is anxiety as the friends (and reader) wait to see if Job really will curse God. Tension abounds.

The greatest tension in the book is the conflict between how each person views the world. The friends, Bildad especially, see the universe operating within a system of divine retribution. God punishes the wicked. This is true. Job, however, knows his innocence. God hears the pleas of the righteous. This is also true.

The discomforting questions remain: Why is Job suffering if he is not evil? Why is God silent if Job is innocent?

As the dialogue is tossed back and forth, Bildad’s reply sounds like someone who is frustrated. I imagine a little huffing and rolling of eyes. The Message translates the verse in similar manner, “How monotonous these word games are getting! Get serious! We need to get down to business.” The New Living translation echoes this sentiment, “How long before you stop talking? Speak sense if you want us to answer!”

Bildad requires some level of sensibility (NIV, NLT) or seriousness (MSG) before the conversation can continue. He asks for a solution to the tension of worldviews. “Agree with me,” captures the sense of his words.

We are quick to criticize Bildad for demanding Job to come to some mental, emotional, or spiritual sensibility. We scoff at his lack of empathy and blindness to Job’s pain. He should be sensitive and give good counsel.

The tension sets in—he’s not wrong in his view of retribution, but we know this is not the right situation for it.

Are we so different from Bildad? We often want someone to grasp this great truth about God so their pain can be eased. We hope some baptized platitudes will ease the burden our friends are carrying. Suffering is not so simple.

Tension marks Job’s painful dialogue with friends. Tension describes the reality that God will punish evil and that the innocent do endure suffering.

Tension resides in our inward struggle to understand the mystery of pain. Tension must be confronted when we sit with our friends in their senseless grief. To live our lives according to Job is to sit within the tension of suffering and justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, by your Name; in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. — Psalm 54.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen 1:54
John 17 (Listen 3:40)

Read more about Principles, Promises, and Presence
The problem with Job’s friends is not the content but the application…the wisdom is misapplied to try to “fix” Job through shame and blame.

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Christ, Our Undeserved Friend — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Job 16.19-21
19 Even now my witness is in heaven; 
my advocate is on high. 
20 My intercessor is my friend  
as my eyes pour out tears to God; 
21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God 
as one pleads for a friend.

Reflection: Christ, Our Undeserved Friend — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

The earliest dates for Job’s writing are around 2,000 years before Christ, and the antiquity of the events may be far earlier than that date. Both Ezekiel and James (Ezekiel 14.14-20; James 5.10-11) discuss Job among lists of historical persons, implying that they believe him to be more than merely a story or parable. So, Job’s words give us the earliest written prophetic vision of Christ. In Job, Christ is our un-named and undeserved heavenly representative, who takes our case and acts as a true friend, even as Job’s earthly friends berate and badger him.

This week, pray this poetic prayer of thanks to Christ, our advocate, redeemer, and friend. This poem incorporates prayers of Job and other scriptures.

Christ, Our Undeserved Friend:
In this life,
When gripped by strife,
I know above
Of one who loves.

When I’m amidst a storm that swirls
Hiding from accusations hurled,
Immobilized in sin and guilt,
Collapsing consequence I built,

Rotten inward and outward too,
My sins are yeast worked through and through.
Condemned, inner and outer self
Have no appeal, no chance of health.

I cannot speak, for if I do
My words turn each fault into two.
My speech reflects my inward sin.
My thoughts bring outward sins within.

I hope in nothing I can reach
But he who in this darkness seeks.
The darkness is not dark to him.
He sees me clearly, sees my sin.

Though my sins and weakness he sees,
My case before the Father, pleads.
He knows my state and yet he bends
God’s ear to me, for me contends:

That I might swap with him my place,
That I might be changed by his grace,
That I might be healed through his wounds,
That I might live, he be entombed.

The Father consented.
The son he descended.
He purloined my guilt.
His dear blood was spilt.

My sin he grasped with nail-pierced grip
Dragged sin to hell, and there left it.
My sorrow sees his body riven.
My joy to know his body risen.

With death defeated, he grasped me,
That I should live eternally.
His work in me, begins to show,
As obeying his Word, I go.

Serving my world in thanks to Him,
Shunning pride, a humble pilgrim
To read, ponder, walk in, live in
The Word, and Holy Spirit given.

I walk with my redeemer, friend,
Holding my hand, until the end.
In this world there will sufferings be,
Tolerable only when with thee.

Give my mouth a tongue which will speak
Of your love and, though I am weak,
Unfailing faith to stand in grace
And steps to finish out this race.

Christ, he our undeserved friend,
Is with me yet, until the end.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

Today’s Readings

Job 16-17 (Listen 2:09
John 16 (Listen 4:14)

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Mystery in the Ashes

Scripture Focus: Job 11.7-9
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

Ephesians 3.17b-18
17b I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…

Reflection: Mystery in the Ashes
By John Tillman

Job’s friends tried to explain his tragedies as punishments, implying that Job must have done something wrong to cause his suffering. Zophor takes the gloves off and directly attacks Job, hitting him with an angry, accusatory rant. Zophor says Job’s sins are so many that God has forgotten some of them.

Zophar claimed no one could probe the mysteries of God’s action or knowledge. “What can you do or know? God’s actions and knowledge are higher, deeper, longer, and wider…” Ironically, Zophar was simultaneously claiming to understand God’s actions and knowledge.

Some people want a logical and predictable god. Do good? Get immediate, tangible rewards. Do bad? Get immediate, tangible punishment. This turns faith and obedience into cost-benefit analysis and god into a robot who blesses when we push the “bless me” buttons and punishes when we push the “punish me” buttons. 

God is not a transactional robot god. Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, God maintains love to thousands, and forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34.6-7) God is relational, complicated, and at times illogical: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8.4

What Zophar thought illogical and impossible happens. God came down to speak to Job. But that was just a taste. Eventually all the mysteries of God are revealed in Jesus—the very ones Zophar thought unknowable.

Jesus is not a robot god distributing tragedies as punishments or blessings as rewards. He’s not a distant God, who is ever-so-sorry you are hurting and tells you to buck up. He’s not a God like Job’s friends who will sit with you awhile but then lose patience and say something hurtful.

Where is Jesus in Job-like moments? In the ashes with us. Perhaps, like Job, there is mystery in the ashes we cannot know without going through the pain.

Jesus is God right in the midst of our hurting and he is there to reveal the mystery of God to us. Who demonstrates the height, depth, width, and length of the love of God? Jesus. (Ephesians 3.14-21) Who shows us the Father? Jesus. (John 14.6-9) Who blots out our sins from God’s remembrance? Jesus. (Hebrews 8.6, 12-13; Jeremiah 31.34) Who reveals to us the mystery of God? Jesus. (Colossians 2.2-3)

Our only joy in blessing or suffering. Jesus. Our only hope, in life or death. Jesus.

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death — Keith & Kristyn Getty

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah—that is Christ—is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.” Jesus said, “That is who I am, I who speak to you.” — John 4.25-26

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

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen 2:01
John 11 (Listen 6:37)

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Visions of Death

Scripture Focus: Job 10.20-22
20 Are not my few days almost over?
    Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy
21 before I go to the place of no return,
    to the land of gloom and utter darkness,
22 to the land of deepest night,
    of utter darkness and disorder,
    where even the light is like darkness.

Reflection: Visions of Death
By Erin Newton

It is hard to imagine living in a time when faith in God did not also have a clearer picture of life after death. Today, we are immersed in visions of heaven—warm light, shining streets of gold, endless peace. This truth was not yet revealed in the days of Job.

We often place our hope during suffering in the restoration in the life to come. How can Job endure his suffering, continue in his faith without such assurance in an afterlife?

Job is not alone in his perspective of death. The Old Testament depicts death as a shadowy existence, non-activity, a place where you are cut off from communion with God. Death is accepted as the natural order of humanity. How does that affect Job and his peers? It shifts one’s concentration to this life.

The pinnacle of existence in the Old Testament was a long life devoted to the worship of God. Seeking God in one’s youth could ensure the maximum time available to serve and praise God in a lifetime. The goal to teach younger people about God would provide a sense of eternal service. The hymns of praise we envision around the throne of God would be sung here on earth from generation to generation.

The great tragedy was when a life was cut short, and a person died young. We resonate with this type of pain. While those before Christ would emphasize how the person cannot praise God in death, we tend to focus on missed opportunities of human living.

We have been granted the benefit of a fuller picture of God’s grace and mercy. We can read of heaven and the eternal praise offered to God by saints of old. The tragedy of a short life can be redeemed in the eternal life with God. This is the hope we cling to.

But what if we embrace the here-now mentality of Job? How can we view this life as worth living and worth living to its fullest? How can our present sufferings still be a life of praise?

Job continues in his faith by seeking God. He’s brutally honest, but he keeps talking. God will answer in time.

At the end of our desperation, we will continue to think of heaven and find peace in that vision. We cannot now unsee what has been revealed. Praise God for such a gift.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

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

Today’s Readings
Job 10 (Listen 2:12
John 10 (Listen 4:44)

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Christ, Our “If Only…”

Scripture Focus: Job 8.32-35
32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, 
that we might confront each other in court. 
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, 
someone to bring us together, 
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, 
so that his terror would frighten me no more. 
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, 
but as it now stands with me, I cannot. 

Reflection: Christ, Our “If Only…”
By John Tillman

Job cries out for a mediator.

Job speaks with expansive, idiomatic imagery, recognizing an uncrossable gap between himself and his creator. God could no more come down than we could go up, and if God did step down…mountains would melt seas would flee…making Job’s problems inconsequential. 

Job had no illusions that he could actually speak to God. He only asked, “If only…”
If only, he would hear me…
If only I could face him…
If only he could hear my case…
If only I could stand in his presence…
If only there was a mediator…
If only there was a go-between…
If only there was a redeemer…

In the context of the beliefs of his age, Job’s request was foolish, impossible, and inappropriate. To propose God lower himself to address Job was unthinkable. Even as great a man as Job was reported to be, this was considered to be a prideful and sinful desire. Job’s friends, who, out of love, sat in the dust with him for days without speaking, considered this a scandalous bit of madness. This is why Job’s friends seem so harsh to us, so callous. Job is asking not only for the impossible but for the inappropriate.

But thank God that he is the God who abandons propriety to run to us. God’s love for us is foolishly, scandalously undeserved. He is the God who does the unthinkable on behalf of the unworthy.

God is a God for whom there is no uncrossable gap. He crosses the distance to us. God does not step foot on Earth to melt mountains but to melt hardened hearts, turning them back to God. God told Moses he was the Israelites’ “I am.” Christ holds out his hands to Jerusalem, Job, us, and all humanity, longing to be our “If only…”

Jesus did not wade into humanity, timidly cringing at the grossness of flesh, but rejoicing in living among us. He joyfully ate our fish, paid our taxes, touched the diseased, and spoke to (and raised) the dead.

Christ is our mediator if we let him. He stands between us and God. He removed God’s rod from us and placed it on his own back. He will remove our terror of God and allow us to perfectly see God’s tender mercies.

Christ applied for Job’s job posting and did the job. It is finished.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
From the sermon of St. Paul to the people of Antioch: “To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Savior, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed the baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his course he said, ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be; there is someone coming after me whose sandal I am not fit to undo.’ My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you godfearers, this message of salvation is meant for you.” — Acts 13.23-36

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

Today’s Readings
Job 9 (Listen 3:22
John 9 (Listen 4:56)

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
As Job begins, Satan walks the Earth and has power over it. Before Job ends, he declares the promise that the Redeemer will stand upon the Earth to reclaim it.

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