AuthorShane

Reflections on Job, Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

If you read the first two chapters of Job from a cynical vantage point, it would be easy to conclude that God and The Accuser are playing a game with Job’s life. The LORD asks The Accuser to consider His servant Job, The Accuser responds by claiming that Job is only pious because God gives him stuff, and the LORD says that The Accuser is free to take away that stuff. But where does Job fit into this apparent contest? What about the horrible toll he will pay, not to mention his children? It almost sounds like Job is nothing more than a pawn in a celestial chess match.

That isn’t what’s going on here, though. The events of this book have a higher purpose than a mere contest between The Accuser and God. And to explain what that purpose is, consider this prayer from Psalm 139-

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

Last spring I had some heart palpitations that led to a series of tests. First an EKG, then a stress test, and finally a heart cath. I’ve reached the age in life where I now have a cardiologist! Those tests were nerve wracking, and in the case of the heart cath, quite invasive. But I was happy to go through that battery of tests because I wanted to know if there was a serious problem with my heart, and to get it fixed if there was one. Fortunately the tests revealed nothing but a slight arrhythmia.

The psalmist in these verses is pleading with God to test his inner, spiritual heart. And his motives were much the same as mine in my medical tests – he wants to know if there is any “grievous way” in him, so that ultimately he can walk in “the way everlasting.” So he virtually demands that God try his deepest motives.

But what does it look like for God to test our heart? May I suggest that it sometimes looks just like the story of Job. Later in the book Job expresses some sense of awareness that he is being tested –

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside. (Job 23:10-11)

Adversity is not the only way that God tests us. His word is so powerful that it can dissect our deepest motives (Hebrews 4:12-13). But adversity provides another means for God to test us – not to crush us, but to purify us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In suggesting that Job’s suffering was a means by which to demonstrate the purity of his faith, I don’t mean to sound insensitive to what Job or his family suffered. Anguish drips from nearly every page of the book. But if it is important to have a pure heart (and it is), and if the way to know whether our heart is pure is to test it (and it is), then we must acknowledge that more is going on here in Job than a crass game of wits between the LORD and The Accuser. We are seeing a godly man’s golden faith pass through the fire to be proven and purified.

I bet that everyone who reads this post can describe a similar episode in his or her life, some painful experience that led to deep introspection. And by sifting the motives of the heart before the Lord, your faith became purer and richer. I’ve had this kind of heart test as well, and it was even more invasive than the cardiologists (!), but it was worth it. And by the end of the book, Job will say the same.

Aside from the value of this experience for Job, let me suggest one other perspective to consider. It is only a hunch, really, since the text doesn’t explicitly deal with it. But I am thinking of the purpose of Job’s suffering as it relates to The Accuser. The Accuser maligned God as well as Job when he declared that Job’s piety is due only to God’s blessings. After all, the implication of such a charge is that God, in and of Himself, is not worthy of love and reverence. By the end of the book, The Accuser is totally undermined. God is indeed worth love for His own sake.

And so maybe there are two grand purposes to this story. One is for God to test Job’s heart to vindicate Job, and the other is for God to refute The Accuser to show him how wrong he is about Job (and us!), and about God. If this idea has merit, then what we have in Job is a “preview of coming attractions.”

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:10)

 

You Don’t Have to Agree with Your Neighbor to Love Him

Last week’s horrific shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise elicited calls for unity from people in both major parties. This was good to see in the midst of tragedy. But not everyone was so gracious. Consider this Tweet from MSNBC’s Joy Reid-

Or this Tweet from George Takei (which he later deleted):

In both instances, the assumption behind these Tweets is that it is ironic that a person would risk her life for someone whose beliefs are different from hers. And apparently thousand of people agree (based on the number of “likes” each Tweet received).

I feel very sorry for these people because their experience has been nothing like mine. Even though I believe that through His death and resurrection that Jesus is the only way to God, I have received many kindnesses in my life from all sorts of people: unbelievers, adherents of Judaism, followers of Muhammad (and probably some Hindus and Buddhists, but I can’t say for sure!). And it never seemed unusual to me that this would be the case.

On social media and through my blogs I have argued for the traditional Christian understanding of sexual ethics and against deviations from it like same-sex marriage, but I have been blessed with wonderful acts of friendship and love from people who believe very strongly that I am wrong. And some of the most touching words of encouragement my wife has received as she battles cancer are from those whose beliefs and lifestyles are radically different from ours. And again, this never shocked me in the least.

If someone tried to do harm to me, it would not seem ironic at all to me that one of my atheist or Muslim or gay friends would intervene to try to save my life. And I would hope the feeling is mutual. Maybe some people (like Joy Reid and George Takei) are so trapped in ideological incubators that they’ve never experienced such love, or given it. That is a shame.

Jesus told what is perhaps His most famous story, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The point of the story is that when the Law says “love your neighbor,” what it really means is to love anyone to whom you can be a neighbor, like the Samaritan cared for the total stranger in the story. Jesus made a Samaritan the “hero” of this parable even though elsewhere in the gospels Jesus criticized the Samaritans for some significantly mistaken ideas. He told a Samaritan woman “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). But at the same time, Jesus used a Samaritan in His parable to explain that love, compassion, and kindness should be extended to anyone who is in need – even those whose beliefs may be radically different from yours.

I fear that more and more people (on the right as well as the left) accept the truncated notion of love that Joy Reid and George Takei assume, a view that limits love to the narrow set of people who think just like you do. But for all of my friends who have been gracious to me even in the midst of profound differences, I want you to know that I thank God for you. And I’m going to try even harder to do what Jesus said:

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:46-48).

 

A Peek at the Future of Religious Freedom

Tim Farron

If you would like to see the future of religious freedom in America, take a peek at Great Britain. The UK was once a vibrantly religious country – now, faith is on the wane there. As America follows the same trend toward secularism, we can see what awaits our society by looking at what is happening to our cousins across the Atlantic. And that brings me to the story of Tim Farron.

Tim Farron was a member of Parliament, the leader of one of Britain’s political parties called the Liberal Democratic Party. Last week, his party suffered significant losses, and so he resigned. That is standard procedure in the UK and by itself not noteworthy. But the deeper reason behind his resignation is.

Farron is a professed Christian. As the member of a socially liberal party, Farron supported legal abortion and gay marriage. But that was not enough for many people in the UK. They needed to know what his personal beliefs were. And so, Farron repeatedly faced questioning about whether he believed abortion and gay sex were wrong. Notice – he was not questioned about his public policy positions. He was questioned regarding his personal moral beliefs.

As the questioning continued, it became clear to Farron that even though he held public policy positions that were tolerant of abortion and gay marriage, the persistent questioning about his personal religious beliefs would only continue. And so, he resigned. Here is part of his resignation announcement-

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The most tragic line from this speech is this lament: “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”

In America, many of our political leaders have taken liberal public policy positions while holding traditional religious convictions. For instance, the former vice-president, Joe Biden, told one interviewer, “Abortion is always wrong…But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” If the climate in Britain is any indication of what’s to come, it won’t be long before someone like Joe Biden is deemed unfit to be in government. To secularists, a person’s private beliefs must also conform to leftist ideology, or they are not suitable for public office.

This mentality was on full display last week when Senator Bernie Sanders questioned a nominee for a budgetary position over his personal Christian beliefs regarding Islam (just re-read this sentence to capture the full absurdity of Sanders’s questioning). It would have been one matter if Sanders had attempted to show how this nominee’s religious beliefs would keep him from performing his job properly. But he made no such effort. It was clear from the line of questioning that it was the religious beliefs – in and of themselves – that Sanders found objectionable:

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

In the mind of Bernie Sanders, unless you subscribe to universalism (everyone is ok with God) or to secularism (there’s no such thing as God to begin with), you are unAmerican, and certainly not qualified to hold a position in the government.

If during a public hearing a senator can brazenly defy Article VI of the Constitution (“but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”), it doesn’t seem to me to be much of a stretch to think that believers in government will face the same sort of increasing scrutiny that hounded Tim Farron. What Mr. Farron said of his society is quickly becoming true of mine:

We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

 

 

Trinity Tuesdays: Together Whatever They Do

From Fred Sanders’s The Deep Things of God

In this post I want to draw out one of the most important implications of everything we have studied together about the Trinity. In a previous post I discussed the biblical language of the procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father. The idea is not that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” that the Father existed by Himself, all alone, and then at some point decided to create the Son and the Spirit. Rather, the idea is that the Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit. There has never been a time that the Father existed that the Son and Spirit did not (again, check out this post for the biblical reasoning) behind these concepts.

Just as you cannot have a son without a father, or a breath without a breather, the Father would not be the Father without the Son, or the Breather without the Breath or Spirit. This means that the Father, Son, and Spirit are therefore inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And this also means that what one does, all do. Theologians call this concept inseparable operations. Since the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable in their inner life as God, whatever they do outside of themselves (their “operations”) they do together (their work is “inseparable”).

Maybe the easiest way to explain this idea is just to, well, read the Bible! Here are some examples.

The Incarnation of Christ

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35)

The Baptism of Christ

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

The Death of Jesus

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)

The Plan of Redemption

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)

The Church

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18-22)

You get the idea!

There’s an old Frank Sinatra/Bing Crosby/Dean Martin song called Together Wherever We Go. Well, we should think of the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in a similar vein – they are together, whatever they do!

“But wait” – someone objects – “what about the passages that speak of certain actions as if they are exclusively the work of only the Father, or Son, or Spirit?” For example, it is the Son who becomes incarnate, not the Father or the Spirit. Doesn’t that mean some works are only of the Son?

No, it doesn’t. In the first place, as we already saw from Luke 1:34-35, the Incarnation is in fact an example of inseparable operations. In the second place, we must distinguish between our perception of the work of God (which may appear to involve only the Father or Son or Spirit) from the actual nature of the work of God (which always involves the Father and Son and Spirit).

A good illustration of what I mean by this distinction is an old book called Flatland. The premise of the book is that there is a world of only two dimension, length and width. All of its inhabitants are two-dimensional figures, like lines and squares and triangles. Thus Flatland. This world is visited by a three-dimensional figure – someone who has height as well as length and width. Most of the Flatlanders refuse to believe this visitor has three dimension – because, after all, in their perception of him, they can only perceive two of his dimensions. But of course he does have a third dimension. The Flatlanders are just not capable of perceiving it because of the limitations of their own two-dimensional existence.

By the same token, when the Father, Son, and Spirit work in “our world,” so to speak, we may only perceive one “dimension” of the Trinity. But all three are working together at all times. We know this because of the revelation of Scripture.

So we should never imagine that the work of God happens like this – one day the Spirit says, “Hey Guys, I think I am going to go do some cool stuff. See ya later!” And that the Father and Son say, “Awesome – have a great time and let us know how it goes!” No, since the Father, Son, and Spirit are inseparable, their work is inseparable.

 

 

Reflections on Job, Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:6-11)

I used to think that the Book of Job was the inspired answer to the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, He could prevent evil and suffering. And if God was totally good, He would prevent evil and suffering. Yet evil and suffering exist. How can this be? The Book of Job will answer this question, I once thought.

But approaching the book this way always left me a little unsatisfied. I don’t mean that Job has nothing to say about these issues. It certainly does. And later in this series I will touch on some of those lessons. But as the comprehensive solution to the problem, the Book of Job is lacking. The book does not end with a great epiphany in which Job says, “Now I completely understand why there is pain and crime!”

The book does end with a great epiphany, though, one that directly relates to what I believe is the real focus of the book. And that focus is the question posed by “The Accuser” (Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן, haśśāṭān), who asks, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” By posing this question, The Accuser maligns Job, and he maligns God.

In the first place, he maligns Job. He insinuates that Job’s fear of the Lord is motivated only by self-interest – God gives him lots of stuff. In the words of John Mark Hicks, Job is a consumer rather than a communer. Job doesn’t love God for God’s sake, but only for his own sake. God means nothing more to Job than Walmart or McDonalds – He is a source of goods and services. But take those away, says The Accuser, and Job will curse You!

In the second place, The Accuser maligns God. By asking, “Does Job fear God for no reason,” he is implying that God is not worthy of such love and devotion in and of Himself. God has to “buy off” human beings to fear Him. Otherwise, no one would have any reason or desire to serve God. “In Satan’s warped mind and total rebellion against God and all that is good, there is no such thing as a pure and holy life, nor is there a service apart from pay. He sees no love in the world except self-love” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on Job, p. 36).

The Messengers Tell Job of His Misfortunes, by William Blake (1826)

Perhaps the reason The Accuser makes these assertions is because he is projecting his own motives on Job. If we agree with Homer Hailey’s identification of The Accuser as the one called “Satan” in the New Testament, a strong case can be made that The Accuser did not believe God was worthy of adoration and devotion. No text spells this out explicitly, but putting the pieces of data together (on the basis of passages like Colossians 1:15-16; 2 Peter 2:4; 1 Timothy 3:6; Ezekiel 28:1-19), Scripture suggests that Satan fell because of pride. In the words of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (or, for the culturally sophisticated, Khan in The Wrath of Kahn), “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

So is God worthy of our commitment? Is it possible to be a communer with God, to seek His presence, even if we do not have any tangible rewards from Him for doing so? Or does God have to entice us to fear Him with wealth and health and happiness? Is God great enough to be desired for His own sake, or must we be bribed to bless Him?

That is what I think the book is all about.

 

Friday Favorites for June 9, 2017

The Babylon Bee Gets the Comey Hearings Just Right. For the record, anyone that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dislike is someone I am predisposed to like very much.

A Serious Summary of the Comey Hearings.

Cool IOS Features for You Apple Freaks. (That includes me)

And For You Android Nerds. How to switch from Apple.

Conservatives Need to Think More Clearly About Islam.

Speaking of Islam. The conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran intensifies.

Budget Gimmicks. The Trump White House is only the latest to ignore the real budget crisis.

Google Users, Do You Know all These Tricks?

Another Good Critic of Campus Craziness from the Left. We need more of this from truly liberal thinkers.

My Favorite Bluegrass Group!

 

 

Bernie Sanders Jumps the Shark (or at Least, Article VI of the Constitution)

Source: The Atlantic

During the confirmation hearing yesterday for Russell Vought, a nominee for a deputy position in the Office of Management and Budget,  Senator Bernie Sanders flagrantly violated the intent of Article VI of the Constitution. That article says, in part-

 

but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Sanders was unhappy with something Vought had written regarding Islam. Vought is an evangelical Christian, and had written a piece for a website in which he stated that since Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God that they “stand condemned.” Here is how the inquisition unfolded:

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

It does not surprise me that a secular person like Bernie Sanders does not agree with Vought’s religious beliefs. I would imagine that if I sat down with Vought and had a thorough discussion about theology that I would find that I disagree with him about some significant matters. But to declare that a person is not merely unfit for public service, but unfit as an American, simply because you disagree with his religious beliefs, is in direct defiance of the Constitution. As Emma Green of The Atlantic observed:

It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.

Let’s turn this situation around. Suppose a devout Muslim was the nominee. And suppose this Muslim had written in support of the traditional view of Islamic teaching that Christians are guilty of shirk – polytheism –  for believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore stand condemned. Should these beliefs be fodder for discussion in a Senate confirmation hearing? Of course not. “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The only reason any religious belief would be relevant in a confirmation hearing is if there were legitimate grounds for thinking that a person could not carry out the responsibilities of that position in light of those beliefs. This is clearly not the case here. As Vought was quick to point out, the same Christian teaching that says that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world also says to love every human being as an image-bearer of God.

But to someone like Senator Sanders, it isn’t enough to show love and respect in the midst of disagreement. No, in the doublespeak so endemic to the radical left, “tolerance and diversity” means “intolerance and uniformity.” And unless this nominee bows the knee to the idol of pluralism (the notion that all religions are the same), he is unfit for office, and unworthy of America.

Religious liberty is in grave peril in America. I never thought that in my lifetime I would see such direct assaults on this sacred right. But as the far left continues to target traditionally-minded Christians, and as the far-right continues to target all Muslims indiscriminately, the space for deeply held convictions is growing smaller and smaller. What a nightmare for freedom awaits believers once the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum realize how much they share in common.

Different Versions of the Flood Story and the Theology Behind Them

Gustav Doré, 1866

Tonight is the final night of my church’s Vacation Bible School. We’ve been studying the story of Noah. We have some incredibly imaginative and creative members – I wish you should see the way they have transformed our auditorium and vestibule into an ark!

The Book of Genesis is not the only ancient account of a great flood. Other cultures, particularly in the region of Mesopotamia, also have flood stories. One of the most famous accounts of a flood is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which apparently preserves an even earlier flood story found in the Epic of Atrahasis.

Both of these accounts predate the record found in Genesis, leading some critics to conclude that Genesis borrowed from these prior accounts. And indeed, there are many features shared by all of these stories:

  • Divine judgment
  • Divine judgment by a flood
  • Warnings given to one family
  • The construction of a large boat
  • The use of birds for reconnaissance
  • Sacrifices offered by the survivors

At first glance these similarities are striking. However, once it is granted that there is going to be a ancient flood, most of these details are fairly predictable. Ancient people believed in deities; a boat would be the only way to escape a deluge; birds would be the logical choice for scouting; and sacrifices would be the normal course of action for devout survivors.

In fact, if you read the ancient non-biblical flood accounts, what is far more striking is how different the Genesis account is at every important point. To illustrate, here is a section of the Epic of Atrahasis:

Twelve hundred years had not gone by;
the land had expanded and the people had multiplied.
The land was bellowing like wild oxen,
and the god was disturbed by their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise and addressed the great gods:
“The noise of humankind is too loud for me,
with all their uproar I cannot go to sleep.”

There are two important observations to draw here. First, the pagan flood accounts are polytheistic. There are multiple gods involved, and they are often working at cross purposes with each other. Second, the reason for divine judgment is that “humankind is too loud.” People are too noisy, and they are keeping the gods awake! And so the gods attempt a series of efforts (disease and drought) to quiet humanity, culminating in a flood.

Enlil opened his mouth to speak
and addressed the assembly of all the gods:
“Come now, let us all take an oath to bring a flood.”
Anu swore first, Enlil swore, his sons swore with him. . . .
Enki opened his mouth and addressed the gods his brothers:
“Why will you bind me with an oath? Am I to lay hands on my own people?. . . .
Am I to give birth to a flood? That is the task of Enlil…”

As you can see, one of the gods, Enki, objects to this plan, and – as you might have guessed – decides to warn the hero, Atrahasis, to build a boat to escape.

By contrast, the Genesis account is striking in its sobriety. The key differences are staggering:

  • There is only one God.
  • The reason for divine judgment is utter human wickedness and brutality. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:5, 11).
  • God is heartbroken over the sinfulness of humanity. “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6).
  • The one true God sees a human who is the exception, and determines to save him. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).

The contrast between the nature of God and the nature of humanity could not be more profound. In the ancient accounts, the gods are petty, conniving, and capricious. And human beings are mere annoyances. In the Genesis account, there is one God of absolute holiness, and human beings are those made in God’s image (making the sinfulness of humanity all the more tragic and perverse).

The vastly different views of deity are compelling. In the Genesis account, God is completely sovereign, in control of every aspect of the flood.

  • “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:4).
  • “He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground” (Genesis 7:23).
  • “And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1).

By contrast, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods are frightened by their own flood!

The gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.
Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth,
the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed:
“The olden days have alas turned to clay,
because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!
How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods,
ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people!!”

It only makes sense that the pagan gods were terrified by the flood. In ancient mythology, the gods were part of the natural world (sun gods, moon gods, etc). So a cataclysm in nature would terrify gods who are part of that natural order. But the God of the Bible is separate from creation as the Creator, and since He is distinct from the natural order, He is in total control of the natural order.

That’s why the account of the flood in Genesis is the mirror image of the account of creation. In creation, God separates “the waters” above and below (Genesis 1:6, 9). And in the flood, God does the reverse, unleashing the waters above and below (Genesis 7:11).

Because its view of God is much higher than that of pagan stories, Genesis’s view of humanity is also much higher. After all, in Genesis mankind is made in God’s image. This is why God expresses such remorse about humanity’s plunge into brutality, and it also why God is determined to save a remnant in the form of Noah and his family.

There is another important difference that I should also mention. In Gilgamesh, the hero (Utanapushtim) becomes a god at the end of the story:

Enlil went up inside the boat
and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he
blessed us:
“Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us,
the gods!”

At the end of the Genesis account, Noah gets drunk.

In pagan religions, the view of humanity lurched between the extremes of slavery and deity. In Genesis, humanity is made in God’s image, but also capable of incredible failure.

For all of these reasons, it is unreasonable to think that Genesis “borrowed” from these ancient accounts. Instead, as Kenneth Mathews summarizes the point:

Comparing the Babylonian versions and Genesis, A. Heidel in his classic study concluded, “The skeleton is the same in both cases, but the flesh and blood and, above all, the animating spirit are different.” Although the flood stories share in a general framework, it is speculative to say any more than that the pagan stories and Genesis arise from a common memory of the ancient deluge (Genesis 1-11:26. Vol. 1A. The New American Commentary, p. 101).

And all of this illustrates how crucially distinct the view of God and humanity is in the Judeo-Christian tradition from any other belief system.

The Trinity: The Beauty of the Trinity

The Shield of the Trinity

In this series on the Trinity I have tried to make the biblical teaching that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit as accessible as possible. The doctrine of the Trinity is simple enough – there is one God, and this God is Father, Son, and Spirit. But models and explanations of how the one God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit require entering into some deep waters. This is what we should expect when trying to catch a glimpse of the inner life of God who is beyond comparison (Isaiah 40:18).

But it is worthwhile to contemplate that which exceeds comprehension. Deep water is also beautiful water, and the scuba diver enjoys exploring it not because she thinks she will master the deep, but rather because experiencing the deep makes her appreciate its grandeur all the more. So you might say that over the last few weeks we have been in theological waters that are way over our head – and as a result we are even more awestruck by the grandeur of God.

This is especially so when we meditate on the biblical portrait of the Son and the Spirit proceeding from the Father. The Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit. The timeless generation of the Son and spiration (to use the technical expression) of the Spirit are very different from the way we normally think of “begetting” and “breathing.”

However, there is something profoundly beautiful about this truth. It means, as Michael Reeves puts it, that “God is an inherently outgoing, life-giving God” (Delighting in the Trinity, p. 24). If the Father eternally begets the Son and breathes the Spirit, then that means that giving life and sharing love are not radical departures from the way the Father normally exists. Rather, it means that it is His very essence to give, to love. Later, commenting on the passages that speak of the Son “radiating” from the Father (such as Hebrews 1:3), Reeves says:

And so, as he gloriously goes, “shines” and “radiates” out from his Father, he shows us that the Father is essentially outgoing. It is unsurprising that such a God should create…The God who loves to have an outgoing Image of himself in his Son loves to have many images of his love (who are themselves outgoing). The Father loved him before the creation of the world, and the reason the Father sends him is so that the Father’s love for him might be in others also. That is why the Son goes out from the Father, in both creation and salvation: that the love of the Father for the Son might be shared (43-44).

As human beings, our ability to understand this sort of eternal, outgoing love is radically limited. It would be like an animal trying to comprehend the intimacy of the marriage of a man and woman. There are rudimentary points of similarity, of course. Animals have an instinctive need to breed, and animals have basic social structures. But no animal could begin to comprehend the level of intimacy that exists between husbands and wives in the “one flesh” relationship of marriage. Kristi and I have been married only a short while, and yet there are millions of ways we are becoming one person, sharing the same expressions, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions.

In the bond of marriage in which two become one we can see – in faint outline – how the Father, Son, and Spirit exist in the perfect unity of love. There are obviously all sorts of ways the analogy between the husband-wife  relationship and Father-Son-Spirit relationship break down. And since the gap between Creator and creation is much greater than that between humans and animals, it is far more difficult for us to comprehend the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit than it is for animals to understand Mr. and Mrs. Scott! But to the extent that we can experience the way in which two become one in marriage, and to the extent that we can imagine that the intimacy of the triune God is eternally and infinitely greater, it should make our hearts soar to meditate on what it means to say that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The reason that reflecting on God’s eternal love as Father-Son-Spirit should capture our heart is because Scripture teaches that this God who is by nature outgoing, overflowing love, has created us to share in this love. Think of this passage:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:22-23).

Or this one:

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-6).

Or this one:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:4-7).

All of these passages (and many besides) speak of God offering us love, glory, and sonship that emanate from the eternal love, glory, and sonship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Contemplating the Trinity enhances our awareness of the infinite love we are invited to share. And this in turn moves us to praise and worship. The last verse of Charle Wesley’s Come, Thou Almighty King has been changed in many hymnals, but the original form is a fitting way to conclude this post-

To thee, great One in Three,
eternal praises be,
hence, evermore.
Thy sovereign majesty
may we in glory see,
and to eternity love and adore!

 

Reflections on Job, Part 1: Reaping What You Sow

 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:1-5).

Job and His Family, by William Blake (1826)

The Book of Job begins by presenting Job as “Exhibit A” of what a godly man should be. His character is unassailable as a “blameless and upright man.” He fears God – the foundational quality of a wise man according to Proverbs 1:7.  And he possesses the rewards of integrity and piety, a large family and abundant wealth. These blessings reflect many promises in the Old Testament that God will bestow favors on those who love and fear Him-

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3-5).

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).

If you are good, good things will happen to you. Job’s station in life reflects this simple premise. Other passages in the Bible describe this in terms of reaping what you sow (Galatians 6:7), what some commentators refer to as the principle of retribution. Job’s abundant wealth, flourishing family, and sterling reputation (“greatest of all the people of the east”) all testify to the validity of this principle.

And Job takes the principle of retribution very seriously – not only for himself, but also for his family. So concerned is he that his children may speak unwisely about God that he offers a sacrifice on their behalf any time they all get together on the mere possibility that any of them had cursed God. And he did this “continually.” After all, “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity” (Proverbs 22:8, NASB).

So now we have the underlying principle that defines Job’s view of the world. If you are righteous you will be blessed, and if you are wicked you will be curse. As we will see, this is also the mindset of Job’s friends. It is undoubtedly true that Scripture teaches this principle. But does the principle of retribution comprehensively explain everything that happens? Are there ever any exceptions? Is it possible for those who fear God to sometimes experience tragedy instead of blessing? And if so, why?

That’s what the rest of the book is all about.