Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Job The Wisdom of the Cross by Christopher Ash Part 4

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Goslings and Foxes

One night channel surfing I land on David Attenborough’s Life Story. Cosy on the couch with the kids snuggled into me I catch some amazing footage of barnacle goslings, only a few hours old. High up in the cliffs of Eastern Greenland they ready themselves for their first jump. They inch towards the ledge and hurtle 400 feet down, the rock face flashing brown and black behind them as they fall - they look like fluffy amateur sky divers! Their little wings are too new to kick in and they land with the most awkward splat into the sea. We laugh! They look so cute and silly. But as it goes on we see that many are not so fortunate. Some land with a terrific thud on the rocks below or in the grassy marsh. Their little bodies so still, are they dead, concussed? Then they rouse - they’re alive! They shake themselves off and waddle quickly with tiny little steps toward the shore. But there in the grass is a red fox. One gosling has missed the mark and not landed in the safety of the sea. Even though he’s survived his first jump, he’s in dangerous territory. The fox pounces and the scene cuts to a family of foxes higher up in the cliffs feasting on goslings that didn’t survive their first jump. “That’s awful,” my middle daughter says. “Yes it is,” I say, “But the fox needs to eat too.”

As we come to our last look at Ash’s commentary on Job we have to acknowledge that there is a strange wisdom governing the universe that involves tragedy and pain. We may not like it, but if we examine the world with honesty, it is there. In today’s blog post we will focus on God’s response to Job and the answer to the question, “Where is wisdom found?”.

The Blueprint Called Wisdom
Ash writes, “When God built the universe, he did so according to the blueprint called wisdom. Wisdom is the fundamental underlying order according to which the universe is constructed. This is deeper than just an order in its material composition (which is the subject of the study of the material sciences); this order extends also to the moral and spiritual dimensions of existence. It is metaphysical as well as physical. For the idea that this world might just have order in its material aspect (the subject of the physical sciences) but not in its moral aspect would be unthinkable to the ancient (or modern) believer.” (p. 280)

Job knows that God holds the blueprint to this world. He asks God his maker to rewind the tape of his life in chapter 3 after tragedy strikes on that awful day. Fast forward to chapter 28 and Job has made it through his friends’ awful speeches and is in philosophical mode. He’s looking at the mines and the minerals hidden below the earth’s surface. A hunted, haunted man, he asks softly, “But where is wisdom found? And where is the place of understanding?” (28:12) Earlier on Job has cried out for an answer to why the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer. Now he wants to get to the bottom of it finally. Job is asking, “Can I have a conversation with the person holding the blueprint please?”

Job doesn’t have access to the blueprint but he knows it exists, as we all do, from looking at the tiniest plant, to the way our blue Earth shines from space, the only known habitable planet in the universe. There is a good order holding our good creation together. And yet, it’s broken too.

Before God responds, Elihu, a young man waiting his turn to speak, steps forward. Ash, controversially makes a good case for regarding Elihu not as an arrogant and inflated version of the friends but as a prophet of God, a John the Baptist figure, who with rough handling, prepares Job for his meeting with God. Whilst this is a departure from traditional scholarship, I think Ash’s argument can fit with the Bible text as Elihu doesn’t make the same arguments as the friends and does point out the ways that Job has spoken incorrectly about God and calls him to repent of that. Job also makes no reply to Elihu and God does not ask Job to pray for him as he will his friends.

God Breaks His Silence
When God responds “out of the whirlwind” he says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” And tells Job to “Dress for action like a man...” It feels like an episode of Homeland and not at all like the scene of explanation and vindication Job has longed for. What’s next for this poor person? How much more can he possibly take?

As it turns out God’s speech is peppered with questions rather than answers. For four chapters God gives Job a lesson in perspective. He invites him to consider the storehouses of snow and the storehouses of hail that he has reserved for the times of trouble and the day of battle and war. (38:23) To consider the way that sunlight is distributed and wind carried across the earth. My mind casts back to the fox and the gosling when the Lord says, “Can you hunt the prey for the Lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket?” (38:40)

Job is humbled and silent.

When God challenges Job to demonstrate his power by defeating the Behemoth and the Leviathan (two beasts, representing dark spiritual forces and the Satan) Job admits that he spoke without understanding “things too wonderful for me” and repents now that he has truly seen the Lord.

In the epilogue God vindicates Job and says of the friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right,” and has Job pray for them. With wonderful Christlike overtones Job is the means by which his friends can repair their relationship with God. Job has maintained his trust in God, and by that I mean, he has kept his face turned toward God. He may have said things at times that were not quite right but his posture towards God has been correct and he has kept a conversation going, even when it has been an agonizing scream. Job gets his longed for vindication and the Lord dishes out a double portion of blessing on top. It all feels like a Hollywood ending right?

Unsatisfying Answers
And yet ... I’m still unsettled. Job’s new children surely don’t take away the pain of losing the first ten. And what about all those servants, they were real people, they were a part of his life. What about the abandonment by his wife and his illness. Surely he’d have PTSD symptoms after all that? The answers are still unsatisfying. I text a friend,

Why are we made so fragile?”
“You do often wonder why things need to be this way, really.”

“Innocent suffering and our capacity for evil is something we all need a saviour for, that’s for sure.”

“Pricking pins into the sky here and hoping to catch a glimmer of an answer…”

Truth be told, I feel crushed at the end of reading Job. I feel depressed that God has evil on a leash even though I am thankful for the leash. I feel right back at the start. I have reached and I have not learnt more. Or have I? Perhaps that’s the point. There were moments there where I got a glimmer of an answer - it was too wonderful for me.

Ash writes, “The wild things that happen in life are God’s wild things, and all their wildness is under his control.” (p.368) I think back to my second post on Job - can I trust him to be the King even when it looks like he isn’t?

The End Comes At The End
At the end of the book Ash asks, “When we wake up in the morning, what do we expect our day to be like? … What do we expect of a normal day? For a Christian, what ought to be our idea of the normal Christian life?” (p. 426) Does it include the embattled soldier in Ephesians 5? Does it include warfare and waiting? Does it include Jesus and his disciples? Does it even include Job? Ash says, “The end comes at the end. And this is important because although we have reached the end of the book of Job, in our lives we are not yet at the end.” (p.425)

Fighting On
On the 26th of November this comes up on my Facebook feed - a memory from 7 years ago:

So impressed with my brother’s amazing spirit. He is still fighting on!  

It was four days before the end. “Those were amazing days,” my brother’s friend writes in the comments. She sat in that room quietly, respectfully, supportively.  I ate the same quiche every day in the hospital cafeteria with her and somehow the circumstances seemed transformed, we were not keeping vigil on death row. We were just two young women eating lunch together.

What a mighty effort. His spirit still impresses me. And his life continues to bring glory and honour and praise to our God. But I close my eyes and shake with tears because it takes me back there and no nineteen year old should have to refuse palliative care and request instead more chemo to try and blast this thing that is killing him one final time.

I remember some of the words I said as I left the hospital room that day, he couldn’t respond because speech was so difficult for him in those last days. “I’m not walking out of here crying tonight mate, I’m continuing to pray for a miracle for you, you’re amazing. Keep fighting, we’re all fighting with you.” I don’t remember everything I said but I know how I felt. Awed. Uplifted. Just for one night.

My brother knew there was life beyond the grave because while he was on earth he found life in Jesus. But this life on earth is precious too and the people God has placed us with are dear to us and we don’t want to cut it short, though there is pain and sorrow here.

Our God is Still The God Who Can Do Anything!
Job says at the end, “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2) Our God is still the God who can do anything! While there is life, there is hope. Never stop praying for a miracle, for healing, for conversion. I am counting on my God to raise me from the dead, to raise my brother, a believer, from the dead. He’s already performed a mighty work in my life and in the lives of millions and millions. Set your heart on the risen Christ. He will not fail you.

About this month's contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She is working on a book about her brother. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two daughters and a son.

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