My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

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“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

“Let’s swim to the moon; un huh, let’s climb through the tide. Surrender to the waiting worlds that lap against our side…” -James Douglas Morrison

Suspension,     PLR

Suspension, PLR

 We are all lost, alone,
     dragged away by
          the undertow.
Caught in the chaotic
          flow
     of the struggle to
          survive,
     to master the
          swim.
I plunged in…

I begin anew…
     longing to be held
          by You
     again.

Peter L Richardson
2002

 

At the beach with God

How can we dare to know you?

Your fleeting thoughts
     deeper than the ocean.
Your imagination beats our existence,
     the rhythmic waves
     crushing our bones into sand.
All your hidden treasures, your wisdom,
     we only receive what’s washed ashore.
If we dare to swim past the breakers
     surely we are taken away by your currents,
     drowning in your expanse.
Even the pride of our creations,
     gifts from you in the first place,
          knowledge and understanding
          passed down
          and built upon,
     only last so long
     before returning to land.
Even with all the reason you’ve allowed,
     we’ll still never reach bottom,
     never understand the shifting sands,
     never understand the full expanse,
     never master the Leviathan on our own…

And yet, you have named us sons and daughters,
     you have made yourself our friend.

Peter L Richardson
2000

joyful

your joy
bubbles,
pops,
fizzles,
and spits
in my face
with the laughter
of amazing grace.
how wonderful
you are!
your smile
tickling my heart.
how can it be?
in deep darkness
your light
gleams through me!
butt-naked-free,
laughter dances in me;
like a child
running wild,
my heart all a’burst,
my soul in thirst,
living water
bubbles,
pops,
fizzles,
spatters
and spits
in my face!
such joy found
in amazing grace.

Peter L Richardson
2001

The Picture of My Love

The picture of my love—so small tonight—
A star, a tiny pinpoint of light
Over the earth so cold and alone
In a universe built on flesh and bone.
The moon guides all sacrificial rite
And secures our paths, with his deceiving light,
Up the mountains that we built so high
To reach the heavens far in the sky.
But rivers run down and far too deep
To pump hot blood into our cold feet;
Which grew roots, held strong our foundations,
That were ripped out at the storms slightest sensations.
Oh! How the lightning danced and the thunder roared,
But the rain never stopped; on and on she poured,
And fed the river that ran through the land,
And broke through the dirt till the dirt turned to sand,
And reached the ocean, full of power and might—
A strong steady rhythm with depths deeper than night.
With experience from the beginning, its fingers could reach,
Touch, and caress all lands lapping up the beach,
Or capture and crush all mountainsides down;
For the ocean holds freedom, by no chains is it bound.

The picture of my love—so strong today—
A sun giving life in death’s decay.

Peter L Richardson
1991

beyond

I long to see the sun set over the ocean.
The ocean is eternity;
The sunset is the end,
And soon after, you can’t see the horizon.
Midnight blurs the lines of distinction,
And the earth and the sky are endless.

Peter L Richardson
2000

The Big Blue

Mouth full of salt,
Skin caked and cracked.
Laid out in my world,
Spinned in a swirl.
Endless blue,
Endless black.
The sky roared,
Shouted and sparked;
Put the mountains in motion
More than a few…
But I’ve been spared for starvation.
Still, I sense
Familiar scents;
Distant, yet distinct;
Above, a dove
Holds an olive shoot.

Peter L Richardson
2001

High Skies @ Sunset

          fluff
mystical, magical, marshmallow fluff
          tinted golden-brown
in the magnificent golden
          fire
brilliant, buoyant light-stream of flame
          blinking my vision,
dancing and drifting up into
          flight
blue up, blue down, blue all around,
          forging on forever with
no boundaries, just endless visions
          of fluff
                    and fire
                              in flight

Peter L Richardson
2004

RESOUNDING SEA

I stand a lone silhouette in the black sky,
The starry heavens overcoming me.
Sands bury my toes in the grains of time,
Paralyzed on the edge of reality.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

I stand in awe of just your creation,
Yet out of it your voice calls to me.
And spells out secrets of the Rising Son,
Destroying my concepts of reality.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

There’s a love that’s longing me to take a swim…
There’s a Spirit beckoning me to follow him…
There’s a Father that keeps me continually under his eye…
There’s a Savior sacrificed for whom I’m willing to die!

Here I’ll kneel at your great white throne,
Your holy presence overcoming me.
An adopted son, inheritance of love I own,
I am yours; I am free completely.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

Peter L Richardson
1999

“Lord the great deep lifts up, the deep lifts up its voice; the deep lifts up its crashing waves. Mightier than the sound of great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mighty on high is the Lord.” -Psalm 93

Job’s redemption and restoration

PLR 1999

Naked Came I... So Will I Return

“I knew of you then only by report, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore I yield, repenting in dust and ashes.” The Book of Job 42:5-6

Is it possible to love someone you don’t know? When I was in high school, I tried to play the tough guy, but the truth is I was extremely shy when it came to the opposite sex. I remember being switched into a new study hall, and there was this girl I had not seen before. She was amazing. Soft skin with a deep natural tan, long black wavy hair, she was stylish and sexy; she seemed very sophisticated. I was in love. This was in the days when a study hall was expected to actually be a study hall, and the teacher was very strict, so I had no way of casually getting to know her. If I wanted a chance with this beauty, I would have to actually approach her before or after class in the hallway. It took me months to finally step up and make my move. When I did, I was in for a quite a shock. In my first conversation with her, out of her mouth came the most foul, ignorant and rude words I had ever heard come from a woman. She was petty; she was racist; she was crude, and she did nothing but complain. I wasted months of my life pining after a girl who turned out to be someone who turned my stomach. I thought I was in love, but I only loved the idea I had created in my mind. True love requires intimacy, and true intimacy requires genuine communication. Both parties in the relationship need to be open and vulnerable, and both need to be willing to share and to listen. Too many people live life among those they call family and friends, but they don’t really know each other. They never allow themselves to know and to be known; therefore, there really isn’t any relationship. I believe this was the situation between Job and the Lord. The text makes it clear that Job really was the most righteous person on earth. He did everything he was supposed to do in the eyes of God, but he didn’t really know God. He lacked a strong relationship with the God that he served so faithfully, so at the end of the day, he was just God’s best servant. God wants more from us; he does not want peons constantly bowed down before him saying, “Yes, Master. Coming, Master! What is thy bidding, my Master?” He created us to have relationship with us, and he did not want Job’s dedication to go to waste. When Satan bet the Lord that Job would curse him if he lost everything, I think it was a legitimate gamble for both of them. At stake was whether or not God was worthy to be worshiped for who he is and not for just handing out rewards and punishment. Satan was aware that Job was God’s best servant, and God was well aware of Job’s pride and trust issues and his lack of relationship. Job really could have gone either way, but God saw his opportunity to make his best servant one of his best friends. After God’s long barrage of questions putting Job in his place, Job responds with genuine humility and repentance, and we can see by the way the Lord treats him in the epilogue that Job has received a greater reward than the riches everyone celebrates. In fact, I believe that Job had to pass one more test of friendship before he was able to get those riches restored back to him.

The first thing Job does in his reply to the Lord is acknowledge his lack of understanding. He states, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose is beyond you. You ask: Who is this obscuring counsel yet lacking knowledge? But I have spoken of things which I have not understood, things too wonderful for me to know” The Book of Job 42:2-3. Job’s reply shows he understood God’s point loud and clear, he is saying to the Lord, “Yep. I’ve got nothing on you. You are the creator, you are my sustainer, my protector, and you have never let me down before. Even though I did not understand what was going on, I should have trusted you had a purpose for it all.” The second part of Job’s reply reveals that Job learns what his biggest problem was, “Listen, and let me speak. You said: I shall put questions to you, and you must answer. I knew of you then only by report, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore I yield, repenting in dust and ashes” The Book of Job 42:4-6. Job acknowledges that he lacked a relationship with the Lord. He is saying, “Before, I could only speak about what I heard about you, but now that I know you, I understand who you are and what you are about, and I’m so sorry for every foolish boast that came out of my mouth!” Job learned first hand the reason we are to be obedient to God; it is not for receiving blessing or fearing punishment, it is about serving him out of our love for him. Job did everything right, but he did not really have the right motives. Therefore, in his love for Job, God allowed him to suffer so Job could realize the need he had for a relationship with God. When you think about it, this lack of relationship is the root of Job’s other issues. Had Job had a strong relationship with God, he would have trusted in God’s motives from the beginning. Had Job trusted God more, he would not have begun to rely on his own good works and wisdom more than God’s grace and mercy, which led to his pride. What God does next shows that he now views Job as a friend, and he honors Job by giving him the responsibility of someone who has a maturity and wisdom that can be trusted.

Job’s reply to the Lord is the last of the poetry written in The Book of Job; however, the action is far from over in the Epilogue written in prose. The Lord now turns to Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. He states: “My anger is aroused against you…unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken as you aught about me. Now…go to my servant Job and offer a whole-offering [sacrifice] for yourselves and he will intercede for you. I shall surely show him favour by not being harsh with you because you have not spoken as you aught about me, as he has done” The Book of Job 42:7-8. Can you imagine being in their shoes at this point? God himself manifests before them, and after dealing with Job, he turns to them and essentially says, “And you! I’m really pissed at you! You think I’m only about judgment and punishment? You think Job deserved all the pain and suffering he’s been through? Instead of helping and encouraging him through these trials, you only made it worse! Do you really want to see my punishment? You better make your sacrifices and go get your buddy Job to pray for you, because the only way I’m going spare you is if he intercedes and prays on your behalf!” This is the evidence that Job has moved from only being a servant to being a friend of God. All through the text, Job longed for someone who could speak to God on his behalf, he wanted a mediator between him and the Lord. God honors Job by giving him that position with his friends. He becomes the very defender he longed to have: Someone who could talk to God freely without fear of death. God is about to come down hard on Job’s friends for slandering his character and he simply puts the matter in Job’s hands, “Job, I know these guys are your boys, and since you and I are buds now, if you want me to spare them just say the word; otherwise, get out of the way…” Do you see the trust God has for Job? How he puts his end of the relationship into practice right away? Job has a choice to make. He could pray for his friends or step aside and let them get a taste of what he’s experienced. In order for Job to genuinely stand before God and intercede on their behalf, he needs to forgive them. Could you forgive them if you were in Job‘s place? After the harsh treatment they gave Job, do they deserve his forgiveness? But that is the beauty of forgiveness, we never deserve it.

This is Job’s final test. I think it is amazing that God says that Job spoke rightly about him. This shows us the amount of freedom he gives us to express our thoughts and emotions to him. If you are angry at God, go ahead and let it out. If you are doubting anything, even his very existence, go ahead and question him. He is man enough for the challenge, and just like Job, he will lovingly put you in your place if you humbly submit to the truth. The difference between Job and his friends was that they thought they could speak for God; they judged Job, and they considered that judgment to be God’s. How many of us do this very same thing today? We see others in trouble and we write them off and assume they must of have deserved it. Praise God we rarely get what we really deserve. Where Job got it right was that he acknowledged his lack of knowledge and understanding. He didn’t always express himself with the respect and honor that the Lord of the Universe deserves, and God dealt with that, but when Job became distressed, he sought out God and asked for his help. He didn’t get the answer he expected from God, but through God’s answer he discovered greater revelation about himself and about God, revelation which resulted in a new and deeper relationship with God. This could be the end of the story. God could punish Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar for their slander of Job and of God himself. Then we could all feel a sense of superiority over them, as they get what they deserve, and smugly think we would never treat a friend of ours in need like that, and we could close the book and move on with life. But God is not finished teaching Job and, therefore, teaching us. This paragraph ends with, “and the Lord showed favour to Job when he had interceded for his friends.” Look at the wording of the sentence; “when” is past tense. God did not show Job favor until after he prayed for his friends. The very next paragraph begins with “The Lord restored Job’s fortunes, and gave him twice the possessions he had before” The Book of Job 42:9-10. I am confident that Job has at this point found relief from his physical sufferings, but I believe that Job had to pass this final test to receive a full restoration from the Lord. Job and his friends got pretty nasty with each other, and it turns out that Job was right. Before he could genuinely intercede for them, he needed to forgive them. In other words, Job needed to forgive his friends to get his restoration. I don’t think God really had a strong desire to smack down Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. God is proving that he is all about relationship. Job could have held a quiet grudge against them for the rest of his life, but when God puts him on the spot like that, he forces Job to deal with his emotions and find the forgiveness in his heart that God generously hands out to us. God was teaching Job and his friends that while doing good does lead to blessing (of course there are many forms of blessing besides monetary gain), sin does not always bring judgment. Often an act of mercy and forgiveness will bring more positive change than punishment. That does not mean there won’t be consequences, but God wants to show Job, his friends, and us that just as he forgives us, he expects us to do the same for others. Job’s forgiveness of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is the first step needed for their friendship to be restored.

The Lord brings the lesson of relationship home for us in this ancient book in the way he restores Job’s fortunes. He just finished declaring how powerful he is and how nothing is beyond his means; God could have just said the word and dropped riches into Job’s lap, but he chose to restore Job a different way, and it is the same way he has continued to prefer to use throughout the ages up until today. After the author states that the Lord gave twice as much as Job had before, he continues with “All Job’s brothers and sisters and his acquaintance of former days came and feasted with him in his home. They consoled and comforted him for all the misfortune which the Lord had inflicted on him, and each of them gave him a sheep and a gold ring” The Book of Job 42:11. God used people to restore Job’s fortunes. This teaches us a few lessons. First of all, God is not only concerned with us having a good relationship with him, but he wants us to have a good relationship with our fellow man. Many people will pray to God for miracles, but they end up rejecting his help, because it comes in the form of other human beings. God often does answer prayer through miraculous means, but more often he chooses to work through other people. He wants us to be willing to deal with the messiness of learning to trust and depend on each other in addition to trusting him. Secondly, if God uses people to bestow his blessings, the question must be raised, “How does he want to use me?” How many people have gone without because God called you to bless them, but you were too busy to hear, or too selfish to respond? We often question God’s existence, or at least his righteousness when evil seems to prevail on the earth, but before we question God, maybe we should look at what we should be doing. Are we doing anything to stand against evil? Are we contributing to the evil in some small selfish way? God wants to use you to bring his good purpose to the world. Are you listening for his call? Lastly, look at what Job’s friends and family gave him. They each gave him one sheep and one gold ring. Before this experience, Job was considered to be “the greatest man in all the east,” and the text states that the Lord “gave him twice the possessions he had before.” Think about that. My guess is that the majority of the sheep and rings came from his acquaintances. Who were his acquaintances? They were all the people that Job had helped earlier in his life. In his effort to serve God righteously, Job was generous with his wealth; now that Job’s time of trial had ended and he was in need, these people stepped up and gave back, and Job ended up with twice the fortune he had before. The Bible states elsewhere that “everyone reaps what he sows” Galatians 6:7. Job sowed a lot seed into his fellow man, and he was able to reap the harvest of return. He must have helped a lot of people! This again supports God’s principle of relationship. When we are generous with others, whether it be money or time, they will be generous with us. Maybe not everybody, but the majority of humankind will come through for those who have shown them kindness in their time of need. So we see that God does not only want us to have a strong relationship with him, but he also teaches us to take care of each other and learn to get along.

This getting along does not mean that we should incorporate a truth-is-relative-philosophy and we should just live and let live. On the contrary, God calls us to be righteous and to follow his example out of love for him. We know his standards through the Word of God, and we must seek to live up to them and encourage and even admonish our fellow man to do the same. However, when we fail to live up to the standards, we go to our merciful God through the path Jesus has created for us, and we seek forgiveness in true humility, and he will not fail to give it out. Likewise, when our brothers and sisters sin against God or against us, we need to be willing to confront them in love and then we continue to love them and forgive them despite their response. Forgiveness does not always require that we must continue to spend time those who hurt us, but it does mean that we need to let go of the desire for revenge and the desire to be paid back in some form. That is why getting along is so difficult for us. We are all selfish. Since Adam and Eve chose their way instead of God’s, the desire to be “god” has carried through all our genes and we just want to do what’s best for “me” despite the consequences. We hurt each other, but God wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to continually seek to live our best and to treat others the same way we want to be treated (Luke 6:31). This is the crux of all of God’s teachings in his Word: “Love God. Love others” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are many themes and many lessons that you can take from The Book of Job, but in my opinion the fact that relationship is more important that righteousness is the strongest lesson. Job had what the church today calls a works-mentality. He depended more on his works, his own personal righteousness, than on God’s grace. However, the Bible states that “all our righteous deeds were like a filthy rag” Isaiah 46:6, and later the Apostle Paul states “for all alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine glory; and all are justified by God’s free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24. You can see this truth in the life of Abraham. If Job is a historical figure, he would have been Abraham‘s contemporary. As we read about Abraham, we find he was far from perfect, but he put his faith in God, and sought to obey and please God because of the relationship he had with his Creator. The Apostle James says of him, “Here was the fulfillment of the words of scripture: ‘Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness,’ and he was called ‘God’s friend’” James 2:23 (see also: 2 Chronicles 20:7, and Isaiah 41:8). Like Abraham, our righteousness can only come through faith. Before his experience, Job was not that different from the Pharisee’s of Jesus’ time. They followed God’s written law in the Torah to the letter. They were as perfect as human beings could be, and they longed for their Messiah to come and end the suffering of their people; however, when the Messiah arrived in the person of Jesus, they did not recognize him because they were more concerned about following rules than they were about having a relationship with their God. When he showed up in the person of Jesus, they couldn’t even recognize him.

In our age, Jesus is our mediator who allows us to freely speak with God. After discussing how Jesus is both our high priest and our sacrifice, the author of Hebrews states, “Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help” Hebrews 4:16. Before the time of Jesus, very few humans were recorded as holding the honor of being friends with God, but Jesus came to restore God’s relationship with all of humanity. Because of Jesus, we all can be God’s friends. According to the Apostle John, during the Last Supper (before Jesus was crucified) Jesus was giving his instructions to his disciples and explaining what they were up against in the days ahead. He was instructing them to love each other and to love God despite the coming pain and confusion they were about to experience. During this speech he tells them, “There is no greater love than this, that a someone should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is about. I have called you friends, because I have disclosed to you everything that I heard from my father” The Gospel of John 15:13-15. This was after he told them that they were all about to deny that they even knew him, but he would be waiting for them with open arms when they were ready to come back. God desires us to live righteously; he wants us to follow the rules he’s established (which were established for our good and protection), but he is much more interested in having a relationship with us. The desire to be good should not come from a fear of punishment or from the expectation of reward; we should want to be good in a desire to please God; we should be good because it makes him happy. The ultimate reward for us is simply to know, and to be known by, our Father in heaven.

 

This is the final conclusion… Job was the most righteous man on all the earth, but he was only God’s best servant. God initiates the conversation with Satan, the Adversary, which led to Satan’s challenge. God must have known what the result of that conversation would be, and Job loses everything including his health. His three friends show up to comfort him, but they only provoke him into deeper despair claiming Job must have sinned horribly to get all that misfortune; however, through his speeches defending his innocence, a lack of trust and a bit of self-righteousness is revealed, or what we consider a “works” mentality. By the end Job states that before he only “heard about” God, but now he “knows” God. We learn that God wanted more for Job than just servant-hood. That teaches us that it is more important to God that we seek out a relationship with him, than just try to serve him through good works. Our righteousness comes from faith in God, our good deeds should come from a desire to please him out of love rather than from a fear of getting struck by lightning.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson
2010

When God shows up…

PLR 1999

Naked Came I... So Will I Return

“Who is this who darkens counsel with words devoid of knowledge? Brace yourself and stand up like a man; I shall put questions to you, and you must answer.” The Book of Job 38:2-3.

When I was a kid my friends and I would often wander to the edge of our neighborhood park and into the woods and play by the creek that ran close by. Having no decent game systems, and having parents that knew the value of fresh air and exercise, we were pretty much forced to use our imagination to come up with things to do. As long as our parents knew where we were, who we were with, and that at least one of us had a watch to get back in time for dinner, we were pretty free. When we tired of games, we would often sit by the creek and just talk about silly things that kids talk about. Sitting in the midst of nature, one question that often came up for discussion was, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” Most of us came up with typical questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” Some of the more creative would want to find out who would win if Spiderman fought Batman, or if the water in the toilet really swirled the other way in Australia, and what is up with koala bears and kangaroos anyway? Where did they come from? The more brave among us would want to know why his parents split up, or if his big brother was in heaven or not. We never really expected to find out the answers to these questions. We all had a childlike faith that God was real, but we understood that he was busy up in heaven running the universe, and we would just have to try to be good and wait until we died so we could ask him in heaven. Throughout The Book of Job, Job continually asked God the question, “Why me?” He wanted to know why he was suffering, he wanted to know who God thought he was to allow such disaster to fall on him when as far he knew, he did everything that God required of him to be blessed. Job also made long poetic speeches about his desire to die and get relief from his suffering. He wanted answers, but I think he expected to get those answers when he was dead and in heaven. I think Job was just as shocked and surprised as everyone else when God actually showed up.

I also think he was equally as surprised by God’s answer. He was certainly humbled by the experience. Anyone who thinks that God doesn’t have a sense of humor and a sense of irony and sarcasm has not read The Book of Job. The first thing God says to Job and his friends is pretty much, “Who do you think you are to try to describe me? Not one of you knows what you’re talking about!” Then he tells them to man up and try to answer his questions. I think it is ironic that God doesn’t just come down and sit with Job, and say something like, “Well, Job, running the universe requires a lot of knowledge and understanding about everything that is going on right now and how it all relates to everything else, and how all that relates to both the past and that relationship of elements and events will determine what happens in the future, so you see it’s all very complicated and hard for you to understand, but just trust me, I’ve got my reasons for allowing the things I do.” No, God shows up and blasts Job with question after question putting Job in his place. Earlier in the text, Job questions God, “Have you the eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? Are your days as those of a mortal or your years as his lifespan?” The Book of Job 10:4-5. He’s basically fed up with God, and he asks him, “Do you know what it’s like to be human? To feel pain? To feel the fear of death?” His tone implies he wants to end the questions with, “You big meany!” Now God responds to Job with his own set of questions in which he is really countering Job’s inquiry with, “Well, do you know what it’s like to be God?” God is not looking for Job’s pity, but he wants Job to realize that there are things about life that he simply is not able to understand. God is basically telling Job that he will answer Job’s questions if Job can first answer his. He asks Job a sequence of questions that can be divided into four sets, each revealing a deeper understanding of God’s character, and the Lord does not hide from his own sarcasm when he deals with Job.

The Lord’s first questions to Job are, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me if you know and understand. Who fixed it’s dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line over it? On what do its supporting pillars rest? Who set its cornerstone in place, while the morning stars sang in chorus and the sons of God all shouted for joy? Who supported the sea at its birth, when it burst in flood from the womb– when I wrapped it in a blanket of cloud and swaddled it in dense fog, when I established bounds, set its barred doors in place, and said, ’Thus far may you come but no farther; here your surging waves must halt’” The Book of Job 38:4-11. God is essentially saying, “Dude, I don’t remember seeing you around when I made this place. I don’t remember asking you for help or advice, so maybe you should be a little more careful about how you question me.” In this first set of questions God deals with the creation of the universe, including the vastness of stars that he keeps track of, and the cycles of nature on the earth, “Which is the way to the home of the light, and where does darkness dwell? Can you then take each to its appointed boundary and escort it on its homeward path? Doubtless you know, for you were already born. So long is the span of your life!” The Book Job 38:19-21. God is establishing himself as the Creator. He is the author and designer of life, and it was his Word that spoke it into being, his hands that brought the materials of chaos together and built them into something structured and ordered: A system in which everything works together to sustain life on this tiny little planet in the universe he designed. Modern scientists have discovered that even the very cells and molecules that we are made up of have little-engine-like parts that work together to keep us moving and growing. There is a Designer to the life that we are a part of, and the Lord is simply making it clear to Job, “I made this place; therefore, I make the rules.”

The next set of questions the Lord asks Job are about various kinds of animals. He begins with the most wild and free, the lions, the mountain goats, the wild asses, the wild oxen, the ostrich, and he asks Job if he is the one who is able to take care of all these animals and if they even need humans to tame them to survive. The Lord then speaks of who made the horse and gave it purpose, “Do you give the horse his strength? Have you clothed his neck with a mane? Do you make him quiver like a locust’s wings, when his shrill neighing strikes terror? He shows his mettle as he paws and prances; in his might he charges the armored line. He scorns alarms and knows no dismay; he does not shy away before the sword. The quiver rattles at his side, the spear and sabre flash. Trembling with eagerness he devours the ground and when the trumpet sounds there is no holding him; at the trumpet-call he cries ‘Aha!’ and from afar he scents the battle, the shouting of the captains, and the war cries.” The Book of Job 39:20-25. The Lord ends this set of questions with discussing the freedom of the hawk and the eagle. God is now establishing himself as our Sustainer. Not only did he make this place, but he is the one who keeps it going. He is the one who takes care of the wild animals, and it was he who created some to serve man, even to serve him in battle. God is telling Job, if I take care of the wild animals, I will certainly take care of you. This is much like Jesus’ statement thousands of years later, “I tell you not to be anxious…look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than the birds?” The Gospel of Matthew 6:25-26. This promise, however, is for those who faithfully serve God and put their trust in him. As discussed in an earlier post, those who reject God and follow their own wisdom cause trouble for themselves and eventually for others. Why shouldn’t we follow God’s rules? It is not as if he made them only to be cruel and to test our obedience. The Lord gave us rules to follow for our benefit. Let’s say you receive a gift of a brand new car from the person who designed and built it. He has left instructions for you on the best way to take care of it; how often the oil needs changed, how often you should wash and wax it, and the limits you should put on yourself when driving it. However, when it comes time to take care of the vehicle a buddy tells you not waste your time with it. “Come on,” he says, “I never change the oil in my car, and it runs fine! Let’s just ride these babies as fast as they can go! The guy who designed these things just wants to keep all the fun to himself.” Who would you trust? Your buddy, or the designer of the car?

At this point, God takes a break questioning Job about his credentials, and he deals directly with Job‘s attitude. The Lord pauses and says to Job, “Is right for a man who disputes with the Almighty to be stubborn? Should he who argues with God answer back?” The Book of Job 40:2. Earlier, Job did a lot of boasting; he said things like, “If only I could see God, I would tell him to his face how unjust this whole thing is!” God is saying, “Well, here I am. What did you want to say?” Job knows he cannot answer any of the Lord’s questions; he understands the point the Lord is making, he replies, “I put my finger to my lips. I have spoken…I shall do so no more.” The Book of Job 40:4-5. Once again, God tells Job to man up, because he has a few more questions for him. The next question God has for Job is the most dangerous of them all; “Would you dare deny that I am just, or put me in the wrong to prove yourself right? Have you an arm like God’s arm; can you thunder with a voice like his?” The Book of Job 40:8-9. Earlier we talked about Job’s weakness of character and we discussed how Job implied that he could do a better job than the Lord. While he acknowledged that he lacked God’s power, he felt that he was more just than God when he said, “I call out to you, God, but you do not answer, I stand up to plead, but you keep aloof. You have turned cruelly against me; with your strong hand you persecute me…Yet no beggar held out his hand to me in vain for relief in his distress. Did I not weep for the unfortunate? Did not my heart grieve for the destitute? Yet evil has come, though I expected good, and when I looked for light, darkness came.” The Book of Job 30:20-21,24-26. I believe that the Lord is taking direct issue with these remarks. These verses imply that Job had a problem with pride, and God is putting Job in his place. He is saying, “Do you really want to go there Job? Don’t talk trash that you can’t back up.” The Lord goes on to almost mock Job and tells him to put on all his glory and righteousness and begin to judge the wicked and proud himself and bring them to humility. “If you can do that,” God says, “then I’ll step back and let you save yourself.” When we are put in stressful situations, we often do or say things we regret, and we use the stress to excuse ourselves. I’m not really like that, we think to ourselves, I was just under pressure! The truth is, when we are under pressure, our real selves get squeezed out. All the ugly parts of our personality and soul, that we masterfully learn to hide from the world so well that we deceive even our own hearts, gets exposed. I think that God allows us to go through trials and hard situations so that we can own up to the truth of our weaknesses, so that we can repent and try to change, and so that we can live honestly with ourselves, with our fellow man, and most importantly before God. This is what God is doing with Job here; Job was so righteous, and so well-liked by his community, he was unable to see the pride hidden deep in his heart. God allowed Satan to play this little game, so that Job could discover his sin and deal with it. In this set of questions God reveals himself as our Teacher and Disciplinarian, in other words, a Parent. Not only does he have the right to make the rules because he is Creator, not only does he continue to take care of us as the Sustainer of all life, but he further expresses his love to us by teaching us the best way to live and then disciplining us when we go astray, even when (perhaps especially when) we are unaware of the problem.

While he is on the subject of pride, the Lord goes on to describe two beasts whose identity has been debated by many educated men who, like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, need to put God’s Word into their own preconceived ideas of the world. However, with a close attention to the details of the description, any child could easily identify both of these creatures. The Lord calls the two beasts he describes the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Considering that every other natural description in the text conforms to our modern understanding of the scientific world, commentators of Job have tried to describe these beasts with animals we are familiar with today. Among the many identities they try to conform them to are the hippopotamus, the elephant, the whale, and the crocodile. The only one that comes close is the crocodile, but the Lord describes these beasts as being nearly impossible for man to overpower, and they certainly cannot be captured. As fierce as crocodiles are, men who live among them are able to get the upper hand when necessary.

Read the description with an open mind: the Behemoth is clearly a dinosaur. Look at how the Lord describes him: “His tail is rigid as a cedar, the sinews of his flanks are tightly knit; his bones are like tubes of bronze, his limbs like iron bars. He is the chief of God’s works, made to be a tyrant over his fellow-creatures; for he takes the cattle of the hills for his prey and in his jaws he crunches all the beasts of the wild” The Book of Job 40:17-20. Now, you might have your Bible open right now and thinking, No way, Pete, that’s just a really big crocodile. Well, what is a really big crocodile, but some kind of a dinosaur? And since when do crocodiles wander all the way out of their swamps and rivers to devour the cattle in the hills? The reason modern scholars cannot accept these beasts as dinosaurs is because the Lord describes humans interacting with them, and according to man’s wisdom and understanding of the natural world, dinosaurs were clearly extinct millions of years before humans evolved, so these must not be dinosaurs. You can call me as crazy as Sarah Palin, but I believe that man and dinosaurs existed together. I have come to this understanding more from my literary and history background than from my religious studies. Every ancient culture from every part of the world has dragons as a part of their myth, religion and history. Every one of them. The dragon was worshiped in the ancient Orient; he was a part of creation myths for the Aborigines in Australia. In Europe he was feared and fought; the Grendal Creature that the Epic Hero Beowulf fights is clearly reptilian, and Beowulf later loses his life in a fight against a fire-breathing dragon. The legends of sacrificing virgins to dragons to appease their wrath come from Africa. Dragons were an important part of both the Mayan and the Aztec culture and religion, and a North American tribe, the Illini, tell a legend of a dragon-type creature called the Piasa who ravaged their land near the Mississippi, until the Great Spirit taught one of their warriors how to defeat it. A lot of myths and epics have their origins in real and true events, but with ancient man’s lack of understanding about the natural world, and as the “fish” gets bigger every time the tale is told, the myths and legends of the dragon became more fantastic and dragons became symbolic of powers man could not understand. However, the fact that there are dragon legends in such a variety of people groups and cultures that had no contact with each other tells me that at some point a long time ago, and probably during Job’s time, there were large reptilian creatures walking around that scared the crap out of human beings. The Lord’s description of the Leviathan is evidence of the dragon legend in Middle Eastern culture.

If the Behemoth is a dinosaur, the Leviathan is clearly a real-live-fire-breathing dragon. Look at the Lord’s description of this beast: “How fierce he is when roused! Who is able to stand up to him? Who has ever attacked him and come out of it safely? No one under the wide heaven. I shall not pass over in silence his limbs, his prowess and the grace of his proportions…Who has ever prised open the portals of his face where terror lies in the circuits of his teeth? His back is row upon row of shields, enclosed in a wall of flints…His sneezing sends out sprays of light, and his eyes gleam like the shimmer of dawn. Firebrands shoot from his mouth, and sparks come flying out; his nostrils gush forth steam like a cauldron on a fire fanned to full heat. His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames issue from his mouth. Strength resides in his neck, and dismay dances ahead of him. Close-knit is his underbelly, no pressure will make it yield. His heart is firm as a rock, firm as the nether millstone” The Book of Job 41:10-24. Have you ever seen a whale or a crocodile breath fire? You might be thinking, Dinosaurs, maybe there is some truth to that explanation, but Dragons? No way, that’s just nuts! Well, it’s not as crazy as it seems. There are many theories by credible scientists about the possibility of a fire breathing dinosaur. Let me give you a modern example of how it might have worked. Have you ever been at a party and your best friend gets really drunk and decides he wants to show everyone a cool trick? (Maybe it was you who wanted to be the center of attention!) So, he drops his drawers, bends over and sticks a lighter in front of his butt-crack while he lets one out. As a result, all of your other friends are disgusted and don‘t invite you over anymore, and your best friend has singed the hair on his butt and can’t sit comfortably for a few days. Our bodies produce methane gas, and methane gas is flammable. Some paleontologists theorize that some dinosaurs may have expelled their methane gas from their mouth, and either from clicking flint-like bones on their jaws together to make a spark, or by producing an electrical current similar to an electric eel, or even by producing other chemicals and that produce a flammable reaction when mixed, the dinosaur produces a flame coming out of his mouth. No one knows for sure how it worked if it did, but it is scientifically possible for an animal to breath fire.

No matter what the identity really is for the Behemoth and the Leviathan, the Lord wants to make it clear that no matter how fierce these creatures are, he is in control of them. He ends the description of the Leviathan with, “He has no equal on earth, a creature utterly fearless. He looks down on all, even the highest; over all proud beasts he is king” The Book of Job 41:33-34. Whether these beasts were real or not, I believe that they are symbolic of Satan himself. It is curious that Satan plays such an important role in the beginning of Job, but he is never specifically mentioned again. After the Lord proclaims himself as Creator and Sustainer of the earth and all living creatures on it, and after he shows Job he is man’s Teacher and Disciplinarian, the last point he makes is that he is even in charge of the most fearsome creature on earth. He calls that creature “the king of all proud beasts.” Certainly, that is a fitting description of Satan. It was pride that got him in trouble in the first place as he rebelled against God and tried to take the throne of heaven believing he could overpower his Creator. Since he could not defeat the Almighty, he set his sights on everything that God loves. Since God gave us free will, Satan knew that we would be vulnerable to manipulation, and he first appears in man’s narrative disguised as a snake in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan over God, they put themselves under Satan’s authority, and we’ve been subject to temptation and prone to evil ever since. Throughout scripture Satan is often symbolized with the image of a dragon. In the last book of the Bible, the Apostle John states, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who led the whole world astray, whose name is the Devil, or Satan; he was thrown down to earth, and his angels with him” The Revelation of John 12:9. The last revelation of the Lord’s character to Job is that he is man’s Protector. Whether he is protecting us from physical harm or from spiritual rebellion and death, God watches over us and seeks to protect us from our ultimate enemy, Satan. Recall that while Satan was the one who destroyed Job’s life, it was the Lord who gave him permission to do it. I believe that Satan needed permission from God for Job because Job was such a righteous person. God gave him permission because, as we will see, it ultimately worked out for Job’s good. However, I don’t think Satan always needs permission from God to mess with all humans. Satan often gets his permission straight from us. Through scripture, God revealed the best way man should live to receive blessing, but we often rebel against God and choose our own way. Satan’s tactics have not changed since Eden. He disguises himself as something good or innocent, and the manipulation begins. If we have a close relationship with God, he will give us the wisdom we need to avoid the temptation, but if we submit to Satan’s lies, we give him permission to wreck havoc in our lives. The Apostle Paul states, “Put on the full [spiritual] armour provided by God, so that you may be able to stand firm against the stratagems of the devil. For our struggle is not against human foes, but against the authorities and potentates of this dark age, against the superhuman forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12.

When he gave us free will, God gave us the ability to choose our masters. Since we are so prone to sin, the only way we can truly be free from Satan is through Jesus Christ, but even this does not guarantee our physical protection, Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have suffering” The Gospel of John 16:33, and he tells us that in the same way that he and all the prophets before him were persecuted, we will be also (The Gospel of John 15:20, The Gospel of Matthew 5:11-12). God often calls us to make sacrifices in this present life to achieve a higher spiritual purpose that we may not understand, but we must trust that he has an ultimate good in mind, even if it is not for us personally. For instance, he may bring someone else to a new relationship with him and eternal salvation through the witness of our suffering with dignity. This is the case with Job and with so many martyrs since. Earlier in the text, Job rebukes his friends for not trusting in his reputation of being a good man; “I beg you, turn and look at me: am I likely to lie to your faces? Think again,…for my integrity is in question. Do I ever give voice to injustice?” The Book of Job 6:28-29. But Job could not convince his friends to trust him. He was saying to them, “You guys know me; you know I’ve never done anything so bad to deserve this kind of punishment before, what makes you think I’d fail in my righteousness out of the blue like this?” God is essentially saying the same thing to Job through this series of revelations about his character. He is telling Job, “You know from your teachings and your experience that I am good; you know I don’t do anything without a reason; what makes you think I would leave you hanging now?” There are a number of reasons why God may choose to remain silent when we are struggling and experiencing trials of our own. Sometimes, like Job, he is trying to teach us a lesson, or strengthen us in some way. Often, whatever God is up to simply can’t be comprehended by human intelligence. The knowledge of the situation and the reasons behind God’s actions (or seemingly lack of action) is beyond our understanding. The Lord often says in scripture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways high above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9. In the same way, sometimes we are just not spiritually mature enough to be able handle the whole truth. Even the most mature Christian on Earth is still like a child to God. Anyone who has children knows that there are some realities about life that young children are better off being protected from, and some kids mature faster than others. God may choose to withhold certain revelation from some until they are responsible enough to handle it. The author of Hebrews says, “It comes to this: you need milk instead of solid food. Anyone who lives on milk is still an infant, with no experience of what is right. Solid food is for adults, whose perceptions have been trained by long use to discriminate between good and evil” 5:12-14. However, I think that more often God does reveal to us what is going on, and we are either too busy to listen or we simply don’t trust him, so we choose to ignore all the warning signs he places in our path. Then we cry out, “Why me, God?!?” God’s main point to Job is simply this: “Trust me. I’m God; you’re not.” He establishes himself as the Creator and states: “I made this place; I know the best way to run it.” He establishes himself as the Sustainer of Life and states: “I continue to make the universe work together in harmony for your provision.” He establishes himself as our Teacher and Disciplinarian, basically our Parent, and states: “If you humble yourself and listen for my wisdom, I will give it to you, but if you don’t follow my guidance, there will be consequences.” And lastly, he establishes himself as our Protector and states, “If you acknowledge me and seek obedience to my ways, I will place you under my protection which ultimately leads to salvation from sin and rebellion.” God is saying, “When times are hard for you, no matter how bad it gets, you need to trust in my proven character and rest in peace that I have an ultimate good that I am bringing about.” Later, the Apostle Paul states that “in everything, as we know, he co-operates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. God never actually directly answered Job’s “Why me?” question, he just leaves it at the revelation that there are some things Job doesn’t understand, but he needs to trust that God is good and that he’s got a plan. We will soon see the good that God brings into Job’s life; in the next and last section of Lessons from The Book of Job we will look at Job’s redemption and restoration, and see that he gained much more than riches from his ordeal.

 

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

 

 

Part II: God’s Unfathomable Wisdom

Naked came I... PLR '99

“And he said to mankind: ‘The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil, that is understanding!’” The Book of Job 28:28

Chapter 14, Job’s elegy on death which closed the first cycle of speeches, was closely aligned with Ecclesiastes. Likewise, Chapter 28, closes the last cycle of speeches, and it ends with the same conclusion as both Ecclesiastes and Proverbs: Wisdom can only come from seeking God. This speech is Job’s last words to his friends before he makes his final plea to God to hear him and either explain his punishment or give him justice and let up. It is no coincidence that Job ends his debate with his friends with a little sermon on finding wisdom. For more than twenty chapters worth of words, he and his friends could not come to any real understanding over why Job’s life had become such a disaster. Job’s friends couldn’t open their minds to the possibility that not all suffering was the direct result of personal sin, and Job knows he’s missing something, but he just doesn’t know what it is yet. This is a turning point for Job. He realizes that most of man’s pursuits in life are meaningless, and he understands that we achieve understanding by following God’s laws, but wisdom is something that most humans never truly acquire. Job knows wisdom only comes from God, but he does not yet understand the depth of relationship he is able to have with his creator. He begins this speech with observing man’s superior intelligence on the earth and our ability to do almost anything we desire.

1There are mines for silver
and places where gold is refined.
2Iron is won from the earth
and copper smelted from the ore.
3Men master the darkness;
to the farthest recess they seek
ore and gloom in deep darkness.
4Foreigners cut the shafts;
forgotten, suspended without foothold,
they swing to and fro, far away from anyone.
5While grain is swinging from the earth above,
what lies beneath is turned over like a fire,
6and out of it’s rocks comes lapis lazuli,
dusted with flecks of gold.
7No bird of prey knows the path there;
the falcon’s keen eye cannot descry it;
8proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion passes there.
9Man sets his hand to the granite rock
and lays bare the roots of the mountains;
10he cuts galleries in the rocks,
and gems of every kind meets his eye;
11he dams up the sources of the streams
and brings the hidden riches of the earth to light.

Mankind was created in God’s image. We are intelligent beings; we are superior to all other beasts on the earth; we can reason and think for ourselves; we are not slaves to instinct; we can make judgments about what the best course of action is for not only ourselves, but for those around us. We have the amazing ability of free choice, and what do we usually choose to spend our time doing? It is all about the almighty dollar. This passage is so revealing about mankind and our lust for power and riches. It makes me think of Tolkien’s dwarves in The Lord of the Rings. Obsessed with gems, they dig deeper and deeper into the mountains, cutting themselves off from the sunlight, from nature, and all other intelligent creatures of Middle Earth. What is peculiar about man is that we are willing to spend most of our time in dark, dangerous, inhumane places in order to gather pretty things that we will barely have the time to enjoy for the sake of gathering more and more and more of them. Have we changed at all in the last 4,000 years? Not much. Think about the banker who spends all of his time in pursuit of being a VP or CEO and never gets to see the wife and kids. At first it is all for them, but later it is about the ego and the acquirement of wealth. His kids may have the best toys and the best education, but did they have a father? Or what about the politician who spends all his time trying to save the world with his faithful and understanding family supporting his noble pursuits; his good deeds give him a sense of entitlement, and in his arrogance he only embarrass himself and his wife when he is busted with his mistress. What about the kid on the streets who presumes he has no future? He finds his power through a gun and dealing death to his younger peers. Should I go on to describe our celebrities? You don’t even have to have any talent to be one anymore! Those of us who never got past a simple life can smugly feel we are not like those crazy rich people, but we all worship them in one form or another. Consider why American Idol is so popular. Our idols are not wood and stone, we worship by the light of television sets and on the screen of the internet. With all of our intelligence and our God-given talents, do we use them to make the world a better place; do we use them to serve God and others, to build better relationships with our wives, husbands, kids, parents, neighbors and enemies? Or, like the men of Job’s age, do we spend all of our time and energy gathering up riches when we should be seeking after wisdom? Job continues:

12But where can wisdom be found,
and where is the source of understanding?
13No one knows the way to it,
nor is it to be found in the land of the living.
14‘It is not in us,’ declare the ocean depths;
the sea declares, ‘It is not with me.’
15Red gold cannot buy it,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver;
16gold of Ophir cannot be set in the scales against it,
nor precious cornelian nor sapphire;
17gold and crystal are not to be matched with it,
no work in fine gold can be bartered for it;
18black coral and alabaster are not worth mention,
and a parcel of wisdom fetches more than red choral;
19chrysolite from Ethiopia is not to be matched with it,
pure gold cannot be set in the scales against it.
20Where, then, does wisdom come from?
Where is the source of understanding?
21No creature on earth can set eyes on it;
even from birds of the air it is concealed.
22Destruction and Death declare,
‘We know of it only by hearsay.’

I think this part of Job’s little sermon on wisdom is for those who actually wish to acquire wisdom, but they are just looking for it in all the wrong places. Though Job was speaking to an ancient audience, we can make parallels with his words to modern man. He begins with the fact that wisdom cannot be found in the ocean, in the depths of the earth. Today, most of “enlightened” society basis all their wisdom on science. The study and pursuit of science is noble, and even godly, (the Lord calls us to take dominion over the earth, Genesis 1:26-29); however, the material world cannot teach us the meaning of life, it can only teach us how to understand the material world and thereby, make life a bit easier. Of course, wisdom can be drawn from analogies of the scientific world, just look at the parables of Jesus, but Jesus was only using something we understand to explain deeper spiritual truths. Wisdom cannot be found in science.

Job then goes on to compare the search for wisdom with the search for riches again. Is he being redundant here? Perhaps, but we can again draw a modern analogy with this section. How much money, time, and effort is spent for the average American to get to and finish higher education? Of course the pursuit of knowledge is an honorable goal, but is knowledge the same thing as wisdom? Many people don’t understand the difference between the two, including, unfortunately, many college professors. Knowledge is all about gaining facts and learning how to do things. The next step is understanding. Understanding is about finding out “why” the facts are important and “why” we should or shouldn’t do those things. Wisdom is the “reason” those things are worth knowing and doing in the first place. Most university students never get past the stage of knowledge because the truth is, most university professors have an agenda they want to indoctrinate their students with; they don’t really want their students to learn to think for themselves, they want their students to learn to think the way they do. Therefore, only the brilliant discover understanding. Understanding comes with looking past the facts and thinking about all the possible consequences, good or bad, and making the right decisions based on the knowledge you have gained. Understanding requires you to think for yourself. Wisdom, however, is available for everyone; it has nothing to do with education. Wisdom requires you to use your innate sense of right and wrong, and to know what is truly important in life so that you do make the right decisions. I have friends who never graduated from high school that have more wisdom than some of my colleagues who like remind everyone of the title “Dr.” in front of their names. Wisdom cannot be found in riches, status or knowledge.

In verse 21, Job tell us that nothing on earth has seen the source of wisdom, and not even the birds who are up in the sky can see it. This could be a reference for those who are seeking wisdom through false religions; all those who look to the “sky” to find the answers in life. Many ancient religions are based on astronomical events and calendars. Even today, people try to find truth and a good fortune that depends on what month they were born in, or the next time Saturn will line up with Jupiter. There are people who think wisdom will come through meditation or through a certain amount of self-imposed trials and works. They will climb the proverbial mountain to talk to a hermit who has separated himself from humanity for the sake of illumination and enlightenment. But how can an old man who fled the idea of dealing with the world’s problems a long time ago help you understand what your calling in life is? Solomon, in The Book of Proverbs, actually personifies wisdom as a female child that plays before the Lord as he creates the world; this suggests that there is more wisdom in the innocence of a child than in all the learnings of an old man. As I’ve stated in an earlier post, Christians are not immune to this works mentality. We can lose the understanding of and the reasons why we serve Jesus in the first place. Wisdom is not found in religion.

The last part of this section refers to those people who have faced many trials, even death, and come back from the experience “wiser” and with a deeper understanding of the world and the purpose of their lives. You can see it on the faces of those who have served in battle, and knew they were fighting for a worthy cause. It is deep in the eyes of those who have been oppressed and abused in life, but they have managed to keep their integrity and even overcome the oppressor, if only in their spirit. It is in the memory of those who have sacrificed their lives in any way for someone else or for some noble cause. But as close to wisdom that Destruction and Death can bring us; they still cannot offer humanity the full picture, the full understanding of what wisdom truly is. And the answer turns out to be surprisingly simple. Job goes on:

23God alone understands the way to it,
he alone knows its source;
24for he can see to the ends of the earth
and observe every place under heaven.
25When he regulated the force of the wind
and measured out the waters in proportion,
26when he laid down a limit for the rain
and cleared a path for the thunderbolt,
27it was then he saw wisdom and took stock of it,
he considered it and fathomed its very depths.
28And he said to mankind:
‘The fear of the Lord is wisdom,
and to turn from evil, that is understanding!’

If you want to acquire wisdom, there is only one place you can go: to God, our Creator, our Heavenly Father. He is the source of everything; therefore, he is the fountain of wisdom. First we need to deal with what it means to “fear” the Lord. Contrary to many critics of our God, he does not want us to cower in fear of him like a helpless child cowers in fear of an abusive parent. God is love. The word “fear” here means to stand in awe of, or to have a deep abiding respect for. We often stand in awe of God’s creations, the grand mountain ranges, the natural waterfalls that flow down into lush valleys of rich vegetation, the colorful flow of the clouds at dusk with the deep orange circle in the sky that just an hour ago was too bright to look at, the power of thunder and lightning and the wind and the rain, the depth of the sea, and the beauty of the milky way from a distance… We often have a deep abiding respect for people who sacrifice themselves for others, or who push their skills and talents to a level never before seen in our time, or who are just all around good people who make us smile whenever we see them. This is what God expects from us, because this is what he deserves. He is the source of all talent and skill, and he is the source of all goodness. But I believe that fearing God requires us to go one step further than knowing this to be true about God’s character; I think that what God wants us to do is to actually know for ourselves that he deserves our awe, respect and adoration. In order to truly know wisdom, we need to seek out a relationship with God. Knowing that God exists, and that he’s a nice god, and that he must be pretty smart to have made all this cool stuff for us, just isn’t enough. We must communicate with him. When we are lost and confused, we need to seek his guidance; when we are tempted to act selfishly in a way that will harm ourselves and those we love, we need to ask for his help; when we know we need to do something that scares us, or we simply can’t do it without a miracle, we need to call on him. The second part is simply learning what God considers to be evil, and then doing our best to not do it. Turns out, even though it often feels good in the moment, evil is only the choices and actions we make that are harmful to ourselves and to others around us. God doesn’t just doesn’t make up rules for us in order to see if we’ll follow them or not, and then keep a tally of who is the biggest sinner in the universe. The idea here is that he created the world; therefore, he knows how things work around here. He knows which choices are going to be the most beneficial for humanity and those which are going to be the most harmful. He loves us, so he wants us to make the best choices. Wisdom is simply knowing God, and knowing him will give us the understanding of how to best live our lives, both in general and on a deeply personal level. The choice is up to us on how deep of a level of relationship we seek.

The skeptic will say, “Where is he? If he wants us to have wisdom, why does he hide himself?” The primitive mind will declare, “You can’t see God and live, all sinful creatures will die before him!” Yet, God is not so hard to find, and while we cannot stand before him in our fallen state; he does make a way for us to know him and communicate with him. The way is Jesus. In the same personification mentioned earlier by Solomon from Proverbs, Wisdom is said to call out to mankind, but we either choose to ignore her, or we are too wrapped up in ourselves to even notice her. The Father is constantly sending us messages, constantly trying to communicate with each one of us individually. Don’t worry that there are so many people in the world and there is just one God. He’s big enough to know each and every one of us intimately. The problem is, will you choose to know him? Will you seek for the signs and “have ears to hear”? The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, states that the creation itself testifies to God’s existence (1:19-20), and that a wise and righteous man will seek to know him and do right, while the depraved man will go his own way (2:14-15). We have the very scriptures themselves. Have you read both the Old and New Testaments? In almost every age up to Jesus and the Apostles, God has spoken through his prophets, and this “Word of God” testifies to who God is and it makes clear the way he desires his children to live and to act. Do you hear what the Holy Spirit is whispering to you today? The sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross gives us direct access to the Father through the Holy Spirit. Each of us who choose to know God, and follow Jesus, have a deposit of the Holy Spirit within us. Through the Holy Spirit, God chooses to live with us, among us, and in us in the now. We do not have to wait for death and heaven to speak with him and to hear back from him! I don’t understand Christians who don’t believe that God speaks to us today. How can you have a relationship with someone who never talks to you? God is all powerful, why wouldn’t he make a way to speak with us? Of course, we must learn to hear his voice, and our hearts will often deceive us, but we have the scriptures as our guidance and our check to help us learn the voice of our Creator and help us to make wise choices that lead to good on the earth. If anything leads you to contradict the scriptures, it is your flesh and not from God.

What about all the people who have never had a chance to meet Jesus? Many Christians will disagree with me, but this is what I believe: Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but except by me” The Gospel of John 14:6. The scripture is clear that all religions don’t lead to the same place. Jesus just formally separated himself from all other religions with this statement. However, the scripture states elsewhere that “when you seek me, you will find me; if you search wholeheartedly, I shall let you find me, says the Lord” Jeremiah 29:13-14. I believe that all individuals who are genuinely seeking for Truth, who genuinely want to know who God is, and who want to have the wisdom and understanding to live a righteous Life before their Creator, even if they die before discovering Jesus is the Way, they were already on the path to Jesus, and the path to Jesus is eventually the way to the Father. I believe these individuals, no matter what generation or culture they come from, are saved. I have come to this conclusion, mostly because of the sins of the church, or at least those who claim to be in the church. Consider the man who lives his life righteously before his Creator and submits himself to an understanding of right and wrong and makes personal sacrifices for others. When this man meets a conquistador who makes him a slave and puts a sword to his neck and tells him to submit to his superior religion, and does all this in the name of Jesus, I have a hard time believing that this man will go to hell because he chose to die instead of submit to what a wicked man claimed was his religion. There are endless scenarios both modern and ancient, and only God himself really knows the true intentions of our hearts, so I say to you, don’t risk it. Seek after Wisdom, listen for her call in the streets. Submit to the truth that there is a Creator, even many nonreligious scientists are claiming that the theory of evolution is flawed and there is evidence of an Intelligent Designer (see the documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed). If this God is real, talk to him. Ask him to give you signs that lead you to the Truth, ask him to give you “ears that can hear.” I can tell you from my experience: he is longing for you to hear him. He even crossed the divide, became flesh, died for the punishment you deserved, and then came back to life in the flesh just to get your attention. It’s worth looking into.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson

Lessons from Job: The Bet.

September 22, 2009

(Ch 1:6-12, Ch 2:1-7)

Nake Came I...

Nake Came I...

“Naked I came from the womb, naked I shall return whence I came. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Book of Job 1:21

Many Christians I talk to get offended when I use the term “bet” to refer to the challenge between God, the Lord, and Satan, the Adversary, but that is precisely what it is. Think about two boys on the playground. One kid starts bragging about how strong his dad is, and the other naturally has to challenge him and state, “I bet my dad can beat up your dad.” It is a challenge, but it is also a bet. A wager to see whose dad is more powerful. If their fathers were actually to fight, the kid whose dad won would also win bragging rights as a result of the bet. This is similar to what happened to Job, except there were cosmic beings wagering over his life! Job was innocently minding his righteous business and unexpectantly living his life while a challenge was being made that would alter that life forever. Many people are offended that God would play with a man’s destiny so lightly, let alone, someone who was considered to be the most righteous man on the earth. But what I find really scandalous is that God is the one who brought Job up! Look closely at the text. God, on his throne, has called all the angels to present themselves at court; apparently, even though Satan is fallen he is still expected to report to God all his activities. When God asks him where he has been, Satan doesn’t give too many details: “Um, just roaming around the Earth, you know, doin’ what I do.” God could have left it at that, or maybe even asked him to get more specific, but his next statement goes something like this: “Hey man, have you checked out my boy, Job, that cat is amazing, out of all my servants, he is the one who follows my laws the best!” Think about this. God pointed Job out to Satan. Perhaps I’m stretching here, but it is almost like God initiates the challenge. How would you respond if you were Satan, God’s Adversary? “Yeah, well, the only reason your boy is so good is because you take such good care of him. I’ll bet if you took all his riches away, he’d curse you in a second!” How does God respond? “You’re on! Do whatever you want to him, just don’t harm his body.” By the next paragraph, Job has lost everything in a matter of hours; blow after blow, his servants report to him one after the other how some crazy disaster has taken all his livelihood away, and finally he learns his kids are all dead! However, he does not curse God, in fact, he blesses him, and rationalizes that God provided all his riches in the first place, so he had the right to take them away.

End of story, right? God and Satan had a bet; Satan obviously lost; God can get back to blessing Job. But wait. That’s just the first chapter; there are forty-one additional chapters to get through, what could possibly be in those? Turns out, in the second chapter we have the exact same scenario going on. God is having another one of his angel line-ups; Satan shows up, and God apparently can’t resist bragging about his servant Job. “Yo, Satan, what have you got to say about my boy, Job? You bet he’d curse me, and he didn’t!” Once again, God initiates the challenge. Satan ups the ante: “Come on! You were too easy on him. You know how humans are, make that boy feel a little physical pain, and he’ll give in. He’ll curse you! You’ll see!” God could even have left it at that and told Satan to go suck on his loser wounds; instead, he takes the bet again! “Alright, do whatever you want to, just don’t kill him.”

Why would a loving and righteous God allow such a good man to experience so much suffering? We can never fully understand that question; because, as we learn later, we can never really comprehend the mind of God, but I believe that God does offer some revelation as we move further and deeper into the text, and a closer reading gives us a little bit of insight. The first time I read Job, I was still in my searching for truth stage. I finished the book, and I literally thought, “Wow, God’s kind of a &!(% in this story.” But I didn’t really understand it. Another explanation to why God brings up Job so frequently is that he is just a loving father bragging about his child’s accomplishments. Sometimes you just can’t keep your mouth shut. I am a divorced dad, and I know I have driven away potential women because in our conversations I would often direct the topic back to my kids. She might mention something she did or thought, and I would immediately respond with “Wow, that reminds me of the time my kids ________________.” When their kids are doing right, parents just love to tell the world about it. I don’t think God is any different. But God is omnipotent, right? He had to know where that conversation with Satan would lead, so why bring him up? I think once again, God is just being a loving father to his son. How is that loving? Well, fathers discipline and train their sons. But Job was the most righteous man on earth, what kind of discipline or training could he possible need? Many people interpret The Book of Job with a theory that Job’s sufferings are symbolic of Jesus Christ’s suffering on the cross. I don’t agree. The evidence of Jesus is all over The Book of Job, as we’ll discuss in a later post, but, in my opinion, Job is not a symbolic Christ figure. He’s simply not good enough. We’ll also discuss these details in a later post, but a close reading of Job reveals that even though he did everything he was supposed to do according to God’s law, he may have had a sin he was blind to, something many religious people fall victim to: pride and self-righteousness, and while he was God’s best servant, there is evidence in the text that shows he seemed to lack what is ultimately most important to God: relationship with him. God was giving Job the push he needed for self discovery and for a greater revelation of who God is. He wanted a deeper relationship with his best man.

Couldn’t God have done it in a simpler and gentler way? I don’t know; as The Book of Job teaches us, we can’t comprehend the mind of God, but I also believe there are more reasons why God had to take Satan’s challenge and wager with Job’s life. A bet simply wouldn’t be a bet unless both parties had something to lose. What could the God of the universe have to lose? Well, if Job failed to remain faithful, God would lose his best man, but I believe it goes deeper than that. Job, we’ve established, was the most righteous, in other words, he was the highest example of human integrity on the earth. Job spent much of his time, we later read, doing good in the name of God: helping and encouraging people in need, counseling them to do good and have faith in God’s provision; if Job comes on hard times, no matter how bad, and he gives up and curses God, he’d be seen as a hypocrite. Since Job’s life, in a sense, represented God’s actions on Earth, God’s perceived integrity depends on Job’s actions (something that all you Christians, myself included, should think about very seriously). And if Job, the best, fails, what does that say about the rest of us; how do we have a chance? But the real question here is “Why does Job serve God?” Is it, as Satan accuses, because Daddy’s got the wallet open, or is it because Job loves and honors his Creator, and he is willing to do anything for him? If God’s best man gives up on him as soon as something goes wrong, what does that have to say about his service? It would imply that Job only served God because he was afraid of him; afraid that he would take away his livestock; afraid he would take away his family; afraid he would take all his toys away, so let’s just kiss the Almighty’s butt, give him what he wants, so everything can work the way it is supposed to, so I can move on with my life. It is very much the philosophy of many pagan religions who made strange sacrifices to appease their unpredictable nature gods. Job’s failure would imply that God was not to be worshiped simply for who he is as a personal higher being, but only for what he can give. It is equivalent to the gold digger who “loves” her man when he’s rich and handing out gifts, but if he runs out of money, she’s out. She never loved him for who he was, only for what he had. It would actually make God look like he was lonely and desperate for all humanity’s affections, and he had to bribe people to worship him in order to satisfy his ego.

Now, I believe that God deeply loves all of humanity. He is our Creator, and our Father, but don’t think for a moment that he needs us. The Bible makes it clear in many places that while God is a god of relationship, he is set apart by holiness, and he stands on his own in eternity. I question God every day why he hasn’t struck me with a lightning bolt; I screw up so much, but it is his mercy, and his love for me that holds back his hand, and in fact, that love prompts him to continue to bless me despite my imperfections and constant abuse of our relationship. I have nothing to offer God but my broken love and my time. Because I have learned to love him back, I do my best to please him, and that means going about trying to do good, and trying not to do evil, but God doesn’t need me; he wants me. God wants a relationship with those of us created in his image so much that he is willing to work with us, and through us, to reveal his glory to the Earth. If you are a person of faith, do you worship because you want to know God and be known by him, or do you worship to get “blessed” and carry your “Get Out of Hell Free Card”? This is Satan, our Accuser’s, challenge to God. God wanted to prove, for our sake, that he is worthy to be loved for who he is; the I Am.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

 Peter L Richardson