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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yahweh Rebukes the Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists love the Book of Job. Besides the fact that it's great literature, who can't empathize with Job's predicament? He is being tested by God. He has lost his children, his goods, and his health. His wife is shrieking at him and his supposed friends, those misguided comforters, are accusing him of being a sinner. Furthermore, Job doesn't understand what is happening with his God. God is behaving in ways that don't make sense. Something is terribly wrong, but what and why?

The fact is, Job's friends were standing on solid ground. They were standing on God's Holy, inerrant, unchanging Word. Deuteronomy 27 and 28 assure the reader that bad things happen to the disobedient sinners. Good things happened to the obedient. They had tradition on their side. "Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you?" They had piety on their side. How could any sane person impugn God's holy and pure justice? The friends had an eloquent repertoire of speeches with which to defend God. How could they not be on perfectly safe ground, not only with God but with every man they knew on earth. Their argument was a sure thing, their reputations secure. The longer they pleaded with Job to mend his ways and confess his error, the holier these men felt.

As for Job, he was the miscreant. How dare he accuse God? What new idea is this, that a good man could suffer so? One thing fundamentalists know is that they know it all. They have the whole revelation and there will surely never be anything new. God must uphold all of the righteous revelations of the past. He cannot waver. Cannot change. That would be imperfect. Old is good. Formulations are safe and good. Job was calling for an arbiter, an advocate who had a foot in heaven and a foot on earth, one who could plead man's cause with God and explain the inscrutable deity to mankind. Job suggested that there were gray areas in this understanding of suffering. The old formulas don't always work.

And yet, when all of the speeches had been made, with Job crying out in confusion and doubt and the 3 friends laying out how things have always been, God rebuked the friends and defended Job. "After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.'" They had to sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams and Job had to pray for their atonement. Job became their priest in a sense. He also became an instrument of (gasp) a broader understanding of God. Good people can suffer! It's not all cut and dried. It's not that Deuteronomy was totally wrong--it's just that the problem is a little more complicated than those two chapters can resolve.

That's why Jesus warned against putting new wine in an old wineskin. Old skins are brittle and will crack. They can't take the pressure of new thoughts and new understandings. They are faithful stewards of all that is old and fixed, but anything new is dangerous and is a slippery slope that the truly pious will avoid at all cost. Furthermore, they rebuke, chasten, and persecute anything that isn't frozen in time, you know, like wives submitting to their husbands in all things. Like the priesthood. Liturgies. Formulas for baptisms. So many dogmas, quite a few of them very old. We stand guard with our swords at the ready to cut down any new thought or way of worship.

Well, some new things should be cut down, but there is no stop sign at the end of the apostolic era. The Holy Spirit blew right past it and is still at work in the world today. Our ears and eyes need to stay open. God is still afoot in the world and I don't ever want to miss what He is doing.