Thursday, February 28, 2013

Job 10-11 and Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians 2-4

Job 10 – Job says he is disgusted with his life and must complain about it. “I will say to God, ‘Don’t simply condemn me—tell me the charge you are bringing against me’” (10:2).

Job believes God does not “see” with the eyes of men – God is eternal and so mysterious, it is pure pride to claim any kind of “knowledge.”

“You guided my conception and formed me in the womb. You clothed me with skin and flesh, and you knit my bones and sinews together. You gave me life and showed me your unfailing love” (10:10-12).

But now “you witness against me. You pour out your growing anger on me” (10:17). He cannot understand how God could be the source of both these blessings and this present curse. He begs God to desist from vexing him. “I have only a few days left, so leave me alone, that I may have a moment of comfort before I leave—never to return—for the land of darkness and utter gloom” (10:20-21).

Job 11 – Zophar now has his say: He censures Job for rattling on and on about his pain. And they don’t know what they should do when they hear Job challenging God. “Should I remain silent while you babble on? When you mock God, shouldn’t someone make you ashamed?” (11:3) “If only God would speak; if only he would tell you what he thinks! If only he would tell you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom is not a simple matter” (11:5-6).

Who could disagree with the WORDS Zophar speaks here? “”’Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know?” (11:7-8).

All of this seems reasonable to me; what faithful believer would not try to step in and help a friend deal with suffering without losing trust in God.  Ironically, the matter will be resolved in the end by God coming to Job and speaking to him directly. But while Zophar and the others recognize the complexity of God’s realm, they seem compelled to SOLVE the mystery by placing blame on Job.

“If God comes and puts a person in prison or calls the court to order, who can stop him? For he knows those who are false, and he takes note of all their sins” (11:10-11). “’If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear’” (11:13-15).

Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians
2 – Again, Ignatius emphasizes the importance of order in the church. “Your obedience to your bishop, as though he were Jesus Christ, shows me plainly enough that yours is no worldly manner of life, but that of Jesus Christ Himself, who gave His life for us that faith in His death might save you from death” (79).

Ignatius believes it is “essential” that members of the church NOT act independently, without regard for the leadership role of the bishop and the other “clergy.” He sees them as having an iconic role in the church. They are to be regarded as “apostles of Jesus Christ our Hope, in whom we shall one day be found, if our lives are lived in Him” (79).

It is equally important for these leaders to “guard themselves against any slur or imputation [of immorality] as strictly as they would against fire itself” (79). We see how important these words are today as the Catholic Church struggles to keep its head above the dark waters of shame for having tried to hide or minimize the scandals of sexual predation in the Church for years.

3 – Respect your deacons as you do Christ. “[L]ook on the bishop as a type of the Father, and the clergy as the Apostolic circles forming His council; for without these three orders no church has any right to the name” (79).

The demeanor of their bishop is commended; his “very gentleness is power” (80).

4 – Ignatius writes that his head is full of thoughts, some of which he fears. The passage seems to reflect a number of different fears he has. First there is a fear that his longing for martyrdom might reflect a certain pride in the status it will bring him to be faithful unto death; but he also feels trepidation at the “good reports” friends of his have given to the Roman authorities, hoping to have him spared from the very martyrdom he seeks. He worries that the devil may be playing a role in tempting his friends to find of way for him to avoid martyrdom. The devil seems to be swarming in ALL his thoughts.

“The words of those people [those friends] are real scourges to me; for much as I yearn for martyrdom, I am not at all sure of being found worthy of it” (80).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Job 8-9 and Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians [Introduction through 1]

Job 8 – Now Bildad of Shuah speaks to him, censoring him for talking too much. “Does God twist justice? Does the Almighty twist what is right? Your children must have sinned against him, so their punishment was well deserved” (8:1-3).

Bildad’s advice is similar to that of Eliphaz – Job or someone in his family MUST have done something to bring this misery on him, “but “if [he] pray[s] to God and seek[s] the favor of the Almighty. . . if [he is] pure and live[s] with integrity, [God] will surely rise up and restore [his] happy home” (8:5-6).

This is the wisdom that had come from their ancestors. Man’s life is too short to learn all that he needs to know. “[W]e were born but yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow. But those who came before us will teach you. They will teach you the wisdom of old” (8:9-10).

The godless may look like they are flourishing, but once they are gone, it is as if they never existed. Job must seek Shaddai, and he will restore him to his favor.

Job 9 – Job responds – he acknowledges the greatness of God and the creation that flowed from His power. Job acknowledges that he as a man cannot hold God to account – God cannot be taken to court, cannot be held accountable. But “I am blameless—I am distraught; I am sick of life” (9:21).

God destroys the innocent with the guilty. There is no hope of being found blameless before God.

Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians
Introduction: Tralles was a prosperous city 17 miles east of Magnesia in Asia Minor, on the road from Laodicea to Ephesus. Like the other churches in the region, they had heard that Ignatius was going to be passing through Smyrna, and the bishop – Polybius - of their church had come to see him. This letter is mostly concerned with the danger Ignatius saw in the teaching of those who came to be called “docetists” – people who believed that the outward, material aspects of Jesus’ identity were mere illusions, that only the spiritual aspects of his nature were “real.”

1 – Ignatius greets the church and notes that its reputation is “beyond all praise” (79). The impeccable “character” of its community was simply its “natural disposition” (79). When bishop Polybius visited him, he “was so full of joy with me in my bonds in Christ Jesus, that in him I had a vision of your whole congregation” (79). He acknowledges and thanks them for the gift they sent as a sign of their regard for him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Job 6-7 and Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 13-15

Job 6 – The misery Job feels is heavier than the sands of the seas. It is no wonder then that he speaks a little wildly – carelessly. “Don’t I have a right to complain? Don’t wild donkeys bray when they find no grass, and oxen below when they have no food?” (5:5)

“”Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant my desire. I wish he would crush me. I wish he would reach out his hand and kill me. At least I can take comfort in this: Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One, but I don’t have the strength to endure” (5:10-11).

The pain God has permitted him to suffer has taken away Job’s desire to live but not his desire to be faithful to his God.

His friends have accused him “without any fear of the Almighty,” without any regard for the truthfulness of what they say. “Stop assuming my guilt, for I have done no wrong. Do you think I am lying? Don’t I know the difference between right and wrong?” (5:29-30).

Job 7 – “Is not all human life a struggle? Our lives are like that of a hired hand, like a worker who longs for the shade, like a servant waiting to be paid. I, too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. Lying in bed, I think, ‘When will it be morning?’ But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn” (7:1-4).

He feels that his life is “but a breath” and that he will “never again feel happiness” (7:7).

And Job is a man who cannot stop talking about and reflecting on his misfortune. “’I cannot keep from speaking. I must express my anguish. My bitter soul must complain . . . I would rather be strangled—rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living” (7:11-15).

And then, turning the words of a well-known psalm [Psalm 8] a little on its head, Job says, “’What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often? For you examine us every morning and test us every moment’” (7:17-18).

“If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you?” (7:20).

Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians
13 – Stand firm “in the precepts of the Lord and the Apostles, so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual chaplet, your clergy and godly minded deacons. Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to His Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as in the spirit” (74).

14 – “Remember me in your prayers, so that I may win my way to God; and remember the church in Syria too, of which I am an unworthy member. I beg for your united prayers and love in God, so that our Syrian church may be refreshed with a sprinkling of dew from yours” (74).

15 – Ignatius conveys greetings from those with him from Ephesus, where he is writing this letter. “Like yourselves, they are here for the glory of God, and they have been a comfort to me in every way. So too has Polycarp, the Smyrnaean bishop . . . Farewell. See that there is a godly unity among you, and a spirit that is above all divisions; for this is Jesus Christ” (74).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Job 4-5 and Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 10-12

Job 4 – Eliphaz of Teman is the first “friend” to address Job’s woes. He speaks of Job as a man who used to give support and words of advice to others. Now it is his turn to be advised. Should his piety not give him strength? “Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?” (4:6)

His advice is to recognize that God brings the unjust to destruction. “My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same” (4:8).

“This truth was given to me in secret, as though whispered in my ear. It came to me in a disturbing vision at night, when people are in a deep sleep. Fear gripped me, and my bones trembled. A spirit swept past my face, and my hair stood on end. The spirit stopped, but I couldn’t see its shape. There was a form before my eyes. In the silence I heard a voice say, ‘Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?’” (4:12-17)

I quote this at some length because it intrigues me. It seems that the inner voice of God has come to him with all the “trembling” and “quaking” early Quakers described as a way of discerning God’s presence in the “opening”, and what God has opened to Eliphaz is that no one on the earth or in the heavens is guiltless before God.

Eliphaz seems to equate “integrity” with “innocence.” The idea that Job might STILL have integrity even though he’s been treated as the guilty would be treated by God seems impossible for Eliphaz to accept.

Job 5 – Eliphaz suggests perhaps appealing to one of God’s angels (5:1). The anger Job is entertaining will only bring death:

“Grief does not grow out of the earth,
   nor sorrow spring from the ground.
It is man who breeds trouble for himself
   as surely as eagles fly to the height” (5:6-7).

He suggests Job appeal to God and lay his case before him (5:8).

                  “If his will is to rescue the downcast,
                     Or raise the afflicted to the heights of joy
                  He wrecks the plans of the artful,
                     And brings to naught their intrigues” (5:11-12).

Eliphaz encourages Job not to reject the “discipline of the Almighty [El Shaddai in the Jerusalem Bible) when you sin” (5:17). “For though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal” (5:18).

The Epistles of Ignatius [Letter to the Magnesians]
10 – “Now that we have become pupils of His, let us learn to live like Christians. To profess any other name but that is to be lost to God; so lay aside the old good-for-nothing leaven, now grown stale and sour, and change to the new, which is Jesus Christ. Have yourselves salted in Him, and then there will be no scent of corruption about any of you. . . . To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish customs in an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism, but Judaism looks to Christianity, in which every other race and tongue that confesses a belief in God has not been comprehended” (73).

Note here indicates that Ignatius’ use of the term “Christian” is the FIRST time it was used.

11 – Referring yet again to Docetist notions, Ignatius admits that he is “anxious” about the “pitfalls of this shallow teaching” (73). Jesus Christ, “our Hope”, was born, suffered death and rose again “in the days of Pontius Pilate’s governorship” (73). It is important that we never “turn aside” from the Hope that is embodied in these realities.

12 – Ignatius praises his addressees completely. “[Y]ou . . . I know so well, are wholly free from pride, having Jesus Christ within you” (73). His praise of them should not worry them, making them feel uncomfortable – those most worthy of praise are often the ones most uncomfortable with it.