Saturday, August 28, 2010

Job 1:1-2:13 The Prologue

Dear Friends, Family and Fellow Students,

Here are four themes from the prologue of Job and also four questions to reflect on:

Key Themes from the Prologue of Job:
1. Job is a man of character and righteousness – a priest to his family (vs. 1-5)
2. God is an absolute sovereign, ruling over the sons of God (angels), the Satan and evil, mankind and his suffering. (vs. 6-10)
• Does man serve (or invent) God just to receive blessings from him?
• Or, does he serve God because he is really there and worthy of our worship?
• God delights in his servants . . .although . . .
• God allows suffering, struggle and testing in their lives as part of his redemptive plan.
• The Satan is a created, subordinate being.
• Satan moves in the lives of God’s servants through a variety of means: disaster, sinfulness of others, disease etc. (vs. 13-19)
3. Our right response to suffering should be both grief and worship. We should count/mourn the loss and look to the LORD for comfort and answers, because he is both good in his intentions towards us and in control of our every circumstance.
• God determines the exact extent of our suffering, sometimes allowing deeper suffering after we have passed through initial fires. (vs. 2:1-6)
4. Friends love at all times and brothers are made for adversity (see Prov. 17:17, 18:24) – their intentions can be right in the beginning, but their impact can be mixed. (vs. 11-13)

Discussion Questions:
1. How would you describe God's sovereignty from this passage?
2. How do God's sovereign actions functionally impact your life? What alternatives to God's sovereignty do we often turn to, both "Christian" and "non-Christian"?
3. How do you see Satan active in and around you today?
4. How is Job's response to calamity a model for us in suffering well?

Nine Lessons from the Book of Job

Dear Friends, Family and Fellow Students,

Here are the nine propositions I shared in the opening class last Sunday.

Summarizing main lessons from book of Job, utilizing D.A. Carson's book "How Long, O Lord?"
1. Not all Suffering is due to sin. Irrational evil and incoherent suffering do not fit into glib answers. The author rejects and mocks the notion of retributive, mathematically precise justice. Those who have not suffered may lean on the notion of retributive, symmetrical justice to provide themselves a sense of security. Therefore, beware of friends (and ourselves) who have a tight theology with no loose ends, where suffering is understood exclusively in terms of punishment or chastening with no category for innocent suffering - such a suggestion besmirches the integrity of God. Where there is little compassion, honest grief and empathy, even a defense of God can seem unbearably hard to swallow.
2. Suffering is part of the human condition. There is such a thing as innocent suffering, as demonstrated by the author's emphasis on Job's goodness. Given Job's situation, none of us should consider ourselves exempt from the possibility of disastrous loss.
3. Evil answers to the sovereign God. When dealing with human suffering, we must leave room for mystery which God allows to persist. Suffering falls within the sweep of God's sovereignty; therefore, all forms of dualism are rejected. Satan answers to God, and evil is not un-tethered. God's intent in the wager with Satan is to show that human beings can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving a prompt reward. Satan's thesis, that all religious interest is grounded in self-interest, or worse, mercenary commitment, is thus shown to be false.
4. God wants honest followers who will trust him. God does not blame us if in our suffering we frankly vent our despair and confess our loss of hope, our sense of futility and our lamentations about life itself. We can wrestle with God; be indignant with him; challenge him to come before us and provide answers, but we must do so as believers. Though we are innocent, we should never charge God with injustice. Whatever else may be said about the problem of evil and suffering, the justice of God must be a given. The proper response to suffering-that-we cannot-fathom is faith and perseverance and avoiding bitterness. In light of Job 36:15-16, be patient because it is better to be a chastened saint than a carefree sinner.
5. We must learn to suffer well - it is acceptable to challenge God, but we must do so as believers. Job's response is self-justifying, full of hard questions, asserting his innocence - ultimately resting on the simplistic notion of retributive, mathematical justice, which eventually leads him to accuse God of injustice. However, Job's arguments must not be confused with atheism or theological double-talk. Job's speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know him better and who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God - but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in light of his own experience. As far as he is concerned, confession of sin that he has not committed, just to satisfy his friends and perhaps win some sort of reprieve, would itself be sinful. His integrity is too important. In the end, Job's greatest sin may not be something he said or did before suffering started, but the rebellion he displayed in his suffering. The major difference between Job and his friends is not their underlying views of retribution, but their views of Job's guilt or innocence.
6. God’s ways are often mysterious to humans. God is greater than any mortal (33:12), meaning that God may well have some purposes and perspectives in mind of which we (and Job) know nothing. God speaks in revelation (33:15-18), dreams and visions, but also in the language of pain (33:19) as a chastening use of suffering that may be independent of some particular sin. Its purpose may be preventative - it can stop a person from slithering down a slope to destruction. God does not always answer our questions about evil and suffering, but he makes it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in his universe. Misinterpretations of God's answer to Job have this in common: they assume that everything that takes place in God's universe ought to be explained to us. they assume that God owes us an explanation. They assume that God Almighty should be more interested in giving us explanations than in being worshipped and trusted.
7. Sin, suffering and Satan are all foes of God, but part of his redemptive plan for human kind. God wins the wager in the end. Job may utter words that darken God's counsel, but he does not lose his integrity or abandon his God. Is it therefore surprising that there should be full reconciliation between God and Job? The challenge to Satan is not a capricious game, nor is the outcome obscure. It is mysterious, deep and solemn. The wager is congruent with the biblical themes of God's concern for the salvation of the men and women as part of a larger cosmic struggle between God and Satan which the outcome is certain but the struggle is horrible. The book of Job has no interest in praising mystery without constraint. All biblical writers - this one included - insist that to fear the Lord ultimately leads to an abundant life. The book does not disown all forms of retribution; rather it disowns simplistic, mathematically precise and instant applications of the doctrine of retribution. It categorically rejects any formula that affirms that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always destroyed.
8. Grace is God’s response to wayward, suffering servants. The blessings that Job experiences at the end are not rewards that he has earned by his faithfulness under suffering; rather they are the Lord's free gift. The epilogue is the OT equivalent to the NT's anticipation of the new heaven and new earth. No matter how happy the ending, nothing can remove the suffering itself.
9. The LORD is to be loved and worshiped for who he is, not for his blessings. Although they are trying to defend God, the three friends end up offering Job a temptation through the reductionist theology - to confess sins that weren't there in order to try to retrieve his prosperity. If Job had succumbed, it would have meant that Job cared more for prosperity than for his integrity or for the Lord himself - and the Lord would have lost his wager with Satan! Job would have been led away from God, being reduced to being yet another person interested in seeking God for merely personal gain.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Colorado and back

Here are a few pictures of my recent trip with my son, Zach, and my two good friends, Dan Egenolf and Todd Lucy.

We had a memorable time climbing Mt. Sneffels, fly fishing, mountain biking and four wheeling in SW Colorado.

It was our attempt to bring to reality the chorus from Tim McGraw's country and western hit "Live Like You Were Dying":

I went sky divin'
I went Rocky Mt. climbin'
I rode 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu-Man-Chu
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness, I'd been denyin'
I hope some day that you will have the chance
To live like you were dyin'.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

expectations (5)

Dear Friends and Family,

Now summer seems to have flown by at the speed of light from the sun, heating up everything in sight as the triple digit heat index has lingered a little too long.

Last time I wrote, I indicated my father had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but in fact, he has stage 4 lung cancer. It was quite a challenging time getting the right diagnosis and finally getting the right treatment - reminiscent of my odyssey last year.

After 2+ months of mis-diagnosis, the doctors finally determined that he had adeno-carcinoma of the lung and that it had spread to other organs and in his bones. Not good news.

He was started on a targeted biologic treatment while we awaited genetic tests to see if he was a prime candidate for this type of treatment. We have been thankful to learn that he has the best geno-type for the use of this drug, Tarceva.

After 4 weeks of treatment, the tumor in his lung had shrunk by two-thirds! Soli Deo Gloria!

Just today, about six weeks after treatment initiation, my dad went on a bike ride and spent two hours on his tractor mowing his pasture!! He likes to ride his bike and ride his tractor, so this was a good day physically, mentally, spiritually as dad's "rolling stock" got a work-out.

As you might imagine, it has been a challenging time for our family. As my oldest son said, "this seems like round two, dad" when he heard about his O'pa's cancer. But God has been faithful to us in providing my dad with healing and increasing strength.

I would like to thank many of you for your faithful prayers for my father. None of us sensed that the Lord was ready to take him home. While "to die might be gain", we are happy that he is here with us to "live for Christ" a while longer.

I am going to shift some of my attention in blogging from the power of expectations to a study on the Old Testament book of Job, which I plan to teach at our church this fall. My hope is to load up the lesson I prepare each week to share with others what we are learning about the character of God, the problem of evil and the purpose and nature of suffering in our lives.

Please join me in reading and studying this literary and theological gem of book. I am confident you will be glad you did.

In Christ alone,