Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Job longs for Jesus

In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council gave us something of an interpretive key: "God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New" (par. 16). This key is not something new, invented in the 1960s. Origen, to pick just one example, clearly understood that Christ is the key for unlocking the treasure chest of the Hebrew Scriptures.

I think the Book of Job, as complete and brilliant a literary work as you'll find from ancient world, is terribly unsatisfying. That this observation in no way harms the integrity or brilliance of the work can be shown by pointing to any number of literary works that end on an uncertain note, that is, without all of the loose ends being neatly tied up. More often than not, it is this characteristic that greatly contributes to the work's literary merit, often enabling it to transcend time and even cultures.

But Job is a book of Scripture, meaning that, as Christians, we believe that even though it was written by flesh and blood human beings, it is still and somehow an inspired work. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work." The word "inspired" is a translation of the Greek word theópneustos. Theópneustos literally means "God-breathed."

As Kiekergaard demonstrated with regard to the episode in Genesis 22 in which Abraham heeds God's summons to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah in his classic work Fear and Trembling, taken all by itself, Job is not only unsettling, but deeply disturbing because it is easy to read it in such a way that it makes God out to be more than a little capricious, which is scary. It was just this rather primitive, not to mention highly inaccurate, understanding of God that Pope Benedict sought to refute in his amazing Regensburg address, in which he said
Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist
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This morning I read the second intervention of one of Job's friends in the wake of all that had befallen this righteous man, that of Bildad the Shuhite. In the words of one commentator, James Crenshaw, Bildad's intervention "Makes God's Character the Issue." Suffice it to say that Bildad's God is a demanding, kick-ass deity, the kind of God worshiped by those who seek to make the Gospel the ultimate self-help method, one who rewards the good and ruthlessly punishes those who do evil. Bildad implores his friend, who insists he has done nothing to incur God's punishment, to make earnest supplication to God and "Should you be blameless and upright, surely now he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful home (Job 8:6).

In his reply to Bildad, Job readily concedes that he does not understand God's ways and asks who can get into a dispute with God and win (Job 9:2). Job laments that even though, as far as he can reckon, he is innocent, God seems to account him as guilty (Job 9:29). In light of this, Job wonders why he should keep striving and contemplates giving up. Employing a metaphor to express his inability to grasp why such evil has befallen him, Job, speaking to God, not Bildad, complains, "If I should wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye, Yet you would plunge me in the ditch, so that my garments would abhor me" (Job 9:30-31). Acknowledging God's transcendence, the stricken man observes, "For he is not a man like myself, that I should answer him" (Job 9:32). Job then expresses his desire for an arbiter to mediate between him and God, someone "who could lay his hand upon us both and withdraw his rod from me, So that his terrors did not frighten me; that I might speak without being afraid of him" (Job 9:33-35).

Attempting to close-the-loop, let's look at a passage from the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel, which chapter is the beginning of the Lord's Last Supper Discourses. It is here that we read about Jesus telling His disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments [i.e., love one another as I have loved you]. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:15-18). It's important not skip over the word "another" in this passage. Jesus Himself is our first Advocate, that is, Parakletos, literally one whom we call to our side. We call a Parakletos alongside to help us. In this context, Parakletos is an "Advocate," one who pleads our cause before a judge.

"For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,who gave himself as ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5-6). As the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help" (4:15-16). What's afflicting you today? Be it large or small, turn to Jesus.

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