Wrapping up my reflections on the book of Job

I have been rather sidetracked in the last couple of weeks and have not got back to finishing my series on Job. My mind is buzzing with thoughts from the Forge Intensive, and I expect to post on some of this. However, I don't like to leave things unfinished, so here is my last post on the book of Job.

The story of Job concludes with series of dramatic reversals. Job who yearned for a mediator now mediates for his friends. The friends who stood in judgment over Job are themselves judged and found wanting. God proclaims Job's right standing with Him, but the restoration is not completed until Job prays for his friends. And then the party begins. The man who wept alone is surrounded by comforting family and friends. Dust and ashes make way for silver and gold. Job is blessed beyond all that he has ever known. He dies, old and full of days.

At the beginning of Job's trials, he yearns for his birth to be cursed, to not have been. At the end Job's story is one of a long, blessed life. He prevails through incredible adversity. Job does not lay claim to healing and reinstatement of wealth, but clings to his creator and his integrity. Job is concerned with matters of e ternal consequence – his relationship with God. I see my own life journey in part. How easy it is to be overwhelmed by pain, instead of celebrating the precious gift of life in relationship with God in all its intricate colours, both bleak and beautiful.

God, help me to entrust You more fully with the life You have given me. Grant me the courage to walk wherever You take me. Help me to stand, and stand again.

The ? of God

l was at a Brian Mclaren seminar yesterday. Much of the discussion was about changing world paradigms. Someone in the audience said that the picture of the Kingdom of God did not make sense to him. As he rightly pointed out, he knows of a time of incorporations, commerce, not kingdoms. Kingdoms of course would have meant a great deal to Jesus' audience. What contemporary metaphors would convey the same understandings now, especially to an unchurched person? The economy of God? Life under God?

Soul Food

l don't think l have ever posted on food before. This is odd really, given that l am really passionate about food. Especially eating it. l have eaten out a lot over the last few days as l have been involved in a Forge intensive, mostly located at St Martin's, Collingwood. l will be posting a bit about the intensive over the next little while, but this one is a tribute to a fabulous meal in a tiny little restaurant in Smith street called Cocoro. Cocoro sells delicate Japanese pottery, and a simple modern Japanese menu. The space was light and uncluttered, in a way that seems effortlessly achieved by the Japanese. Jazz played in the background. We decided to eat there for two reasons – the price was great, and we felt instantly relaxed. I ate simply – deep-fried tuna with salad, and steamed rice. The flavours were magnificant, as harmonious as the surroundings. The meals were served in beautiful Japanese pottery, completing the sense of having stepped into another world, a reprieve from the bustle and grime of Smith street. I wished that I didn't have to rush to the next seminar. It was food for my soul of a different kind.

Goodbye

Today was a very sad day. l attended thefuneral of a man who took his own life. l heard about it on the radio, except that at the time of the broadcast l did not know it was him. l remember rolling over in bed, relishing the fact that l did not need to get up, and did not think further about the man found in the river. lt is amazing how dispassionate l can be at 6am. l later found out that the floating man had a name. Furthermore, l had shared meals with him. l remember his 40th, the smooth cool of his cheek as he greeted me with a kiss at my sister-in-law's 30th. lt turned out to be the last time l saw him, just before Christmas 2005.

He was an man with a heart for those who were in need. The common thread during the funeral stories was the richness of his generosity, to his friends, family, and the beneficiaries of his charity. l remember his genuine interest in the lives of others, tuning his guitar, and enjoying meals with him. l did not know him well, but enough to begin to comprehend the incredible loss his family and friends must feel. Depression overthe last few months or so robbed him of his life.

l can't shake the image of him in the river. l can't begin to imagine how life became so black for him that it seemed preferable to slip away in the water.

l don't know if he knew God. How do l pray? The words of The Lord's Prayer almost undid me at the funeral. As l write, these words come to me:
''The Lord is gracious and compassionate. Slow to anger, and rich in love.''

Goodbye Clinton.

One God. One Bible. Many interpretations.

In an earlier post I confessed to a secret tech obsession. Amongst other things I subscribe to a mailing list for Christian users of Linux, an open source alternative to Windows. I never post on it, but some of the discussions are interesting, especially when they are not talking tech. A woman has recently joined. This is a rare occurrence, so I became curious to find out about her. She has her own website,and seems to have put a lot of work into it. She covers various domesticities such as cleaning and cooking, and has some interesting things to say about schooling and relationships.

She is passionate about home schooling. I have no problem with that – I think it can work really well for some families. She goes further to imply that it is the only biblical and Godly way to educate children, and provides scripture to support her argument. She believes it is the only way to ensure they are taught correctly.
How do we (children included) engage, impact, and survive in our community as Jesus did, if we separate ourselves?

She wrote also about male/female relationships. One of her points was that the wife should learn everything (spiritual) from her husband, as her leader. lf she has a question that he is not able to answer, she should (out of respect) wait for him to solve it, thus preserving his honour as head. lf he is not interested, she is to ask permission to do research. If he says no, she is to pray about it and leave it with him, as an act of submission. This view was again supported through use of scripture.

The bible certainly has some interesting things to say about husband/wife relationships, and to be honest, I wrestle with bits of it. But this perpective was new to me. The diversity in biblical interpretation is staggering – from points of view like this to radical feminist perpectives. Both camps are hard for me to take. Sometimes l wonder if we all read the same bible.

Unconditional forgiveness… or not?

l went to a seminar on forgiveness during Soul Survivor, and it is one that has left me with a lot to think about. The workshop was presented by a bible college lecturer for whom I have great respect. He put forward the idea that we should not dispense forgiveness so freely that it's meaning is lost. Perhaps he was warning against the same fate faced by love – almost void of meaning in our society as it is liberally splashed on everything, from sex, cars, jobs to ice-cream.

He went on to suggest that forgiveness should occur in the context of repentance. As Christians the forgiveness (and love) that has been lavished on us came at incredible cost, yet it is freely given. And yes, our forgiveness is appropriated in the context of repentance. But is that the case in our daily run of the mill dolling out of forgiveness? Is that the case when we choose to forgive those who have hurt us deeply? A person with a counselling background commented that there is no guarantee that the offending party will repent, but withholding forgiveness can be be emotionally and psychologically detrimental to the person who has been wronged. A good point. Another person refers to Jesus telling the disciple to forgive "seventy times seven", with the implication that there should be no strings attached. Repentance not required. My contribution to the session was that the fruit of forgiveness is reconciliation. This is clear in our relationship with God. We are forgiven in order that we are restored to relationship with Him. I think that in human terms, reconciliation is also the ultimate outcome of exercising forgiveness. It has the dual purpose of restoring us to the recipient of the forgiveness, and also restores us to God (Mark 11:25 speaks of the need for forgiveness before coming to God in prayer).

I looked up the context of the "seventy times seven" in Matthew 18:21-35. It is very pertinent to this discussion, but possibly in a different way to what was intended by the person at the seminar. Jesus explains his answer with a story about forgiveness. The man who was forgiven in the story by the king (aka God) asked for mercy concerning his debt, and received forgiveness. The slate was wiped clean. The forgiven man failed to act in this manner towards a servant with a much smaller debt, who likewise pleaded for mercy. The forgiven man did not exercise mercy, and was called to account by the king. The man had to repay his debt. We know the story. I have only retold it to highlight one point – both the man who was forgiven by the king and later his servant – asked for mercy. They pleaded to work something out. The king was going to make the man pay his debt, but changed his mind because he asked for mercy. It was not just lavished upon him uninvited.

In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus teaches his disciples again on forgiveness. He commanded them to rebuke a sinning believer, and forgive him when he repents. I quote: "Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him". Again, it seems that seeking forgiveness / repenting is part of the equation.

I know that there are times when the wronging party will not repent, or even acknowledge that anything inappropriate has occurred. They may be incapable – e.g deceased. Unforgiveness is a weight for the one who harbours it, and freedom is found when the wronging party is released from the debt. However, perhaps this necessary process is not forgiveness in its purest form, but somewhere lower down on the continuum.

This post is already long, so these thoughts will do for now.