I have been a Christian for a long time. I couldn’t count how many sermons or seminars I have sat through, some with eagerness and many with barely disguisable boredom. I am sure I have heard more than one deal with the subject of “loosing and binding”. Usually to do with spiritual warfare. For those of you who read my blog who may be unfamiliar with these terms (and a few more that follow), a quick play on Google or visit to the wiki will catch you up. I have always been taught that loosing and binding was to do with managing supernatural nasties. Enter Velvet Elvis. I am part way through this thoroughly enjoyable book by Rob Bell, who has managed in a few short pages to challenge more than a few assumptions. Loosing and binding has precious little to do with demons and such like, according to Rob. Rabbis used to (and probably still do) sit around and rip through the Torah, arguing the finer points, challenging traditional interpretations, and master rabbis would make their mark by defining how something was to be understood and applied. This may mean that some past understandings were discarded, and new applications put into force. This process was referred to as “loosing” and “binding”. A rule that no longer applied was “loosed”, and the fresh interpretation was considered “bound”. This is the process that Jesus was referring to. Jesus certainly did his share of “loosing” and “binding”.
Probably not as exciting for sermon material as loosing and binding spiritual powers, but I for one am rather glad to be set straight on the matter. Or rather my old understanding has been “loosed”. And there is something rather exciting about the process. The Scriptures are to be engaged in, tossed around, teased out, debated hotly, always searching for life-giving meaning, with a bit of “loosing” and “binding” thrown in there – a dynamic process that is continually revisited. The bible is never “done and dusted”. When I get time, I plan to do a bit of research of my own into the phenomenon of “loosing” and “binding”, to see if I reckon Rob has “loosed” and “bound” rightly.
Hmmm. This has to be the most times I have used quotation marks in a post in all my blogging years.
I found this article about a new Bible translation hailing from the Netherlands (thanks to a post from from Backyard Missionary). The Western Bible. Holier than swiss cheese, the Dutch have boldly gone where no-one has dared go before – at least in print. Don’t want to give your goods to the poor? Do you feel that dying to self is a useless construct drowned out by the western mantra where the most important person in the world is YOU? Get your hands on the Western Bible. The thoughtful translators have saved us the effort of ignoring or trying to rationalise these difficult passages by simply leaving them out. Chunks of the beautitudes, ten commandments, proverbs, anything to do with justice or selfless living has got the axe. Jesus obviously didn’t study economics, according to De Rijke. The rationale? “We don’t use them anyway”. Ouch. Interesting that these passages have to be removed from the bible before we sit up and take notice, and that would appear to be the point of the whole exercise. You can read more here. Here’s the challenge – what bible do we live by?
The scene: the disciples have gone back to fishing – not much else to do now that Jesus is gone. They go back to the world they know, perhaps trying to make sense of the world that had totally unravelled and mystified them, the world in which they glimpsed the son of God. Fitting for their mood, the fishing trip is fruitless (or perhaps more aptly, fishless). So often the way – when you feel at your lowest, it seems even more so that everything you do screams out failure. Back to the story. The disciples see a lone figure on the shore who calls out the question eternally put to fishermen – “caught anything?”. It is not hard to imagine the flat reply. “Nothing”. The man calls out “try your net on the other side”. If I were in the boat, I would be a bit cheesed off at this point. Already miserable, and feeling a failure at the one thing that I used to be good at, and here’s someone who is not even out in the water, telling me what to do. The disciples give it a go – nothing to lose I guess. And they struggle to bring in the fish. John realises that it is Jesus on the shore. Passionate Peter, the impetuous one, plunges into the sea to swim to shore, to Jesus. They eat, and then there is a wonderful conversation between Jesus and Peter. Now as someone more than occasionally given to sarcasm, I could easily imagine Jesus having a bit of a joke with Peter here. A little reminder about the crowing of a rooster, a toasty fire. Cock-a-doodle-doo, Peter. An “I told you so” moment of incredible proportions. Jesus asks Peter simply, “Do you love me?” Three times. Once for each time the rooster crowed. Once for each time Peter denied his Lord. Three times Peter responds with a proclamation of Jesus knowledge of Peter’s love for him. I can imagine Peter’s heart breaking as he says the words that are the very opposite of those uttered by a fireside and marked by a rooster’s crow. Jesus meets Peter’s response with acceptance, a reinstatement of Peter’s purpose, an entrusting of those whom Jesus loves – “Feed my sheep”.
This post was prompted by (and borrows from) Geoff Bullock’s story “The Beach”, in ‘Australian Stories for the spirit‘. He writes at the end:
“it may take us a lifetime of fishing to realise that there is a figure waiting on our shoreline, waiting for us to recognise who he really is. Waiting for us to turn from ‘earning’ to ‘accepting’. We can choose to look away, humiliated by our inadequacy; we can refuse his identity, preferring to retreat into our own concepts of how God should deal with us; we can bury our hope in activity. But that will never change who he is, what he has done and what he expects of us.”
Well said Geoff.
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.
Tension precedes a storm. I imagine that at the closing of the final mortal speech there would have been a moment where Job, the friends and any other observers may have held their collective breath in anticipation. Would God answer Job's challenge? Would Job perish for making his stand? Or for the ultimate anti-climax, would Job simply follow the course of his disease, and slowly fade away?
The storm comes. No longer an observer or behind the scenes protagonist, God speaks twice in a thunderous theophany. He addresses Job, not with answers but with bewildering questions. God takes Job on a whirlwind cosmological tour of His creation. Job is shown the creatures and features of both his known and unknown world, but through a divine lens. He glimpses an expansive multiverse that is beautiful, diverse, and incomprehensible. And God is delighted by it. Through sampling God's masterpieces, Job sees that he has spoken without knowledge and answers God with a changed heart. Job is reassured that God's omniscience and omnipotence is sufficient for all of creation, including Job's own predicament. Job is put in his place, but it is one of dignity and communion with his creator.
Whenever I talk about God, like Job, I talk about things that I do not understand. May the created world be my teacher.
God, my very existence is evidence of Your grace. Help me to accept both my creaturely status and my worthiness in You.
The debate continues, stagnant. The friends are immovable. They have but one way of understanding themselves, God and justice. Job's suffering is retribution from an all powerful but distant God. For Job, it is not so simple. He knows that the wicked may flourish, and that the righteous may suffer. The latter story is played out in his own skin. The God of Job is terrifyingly imminent, mighty yet intimate. Job is confident that God who is just will declare him righteous, and judge him accordingly. The friends must marvel at Job's audacious demand for an audience with God, a legal contest. Who could possibly risk such provocation? Only the youngest contributer to the debate dares to call Job arrogant for such a position, and subsequently proffers closing 'evidence' of Job's sin.
Even in the privileged place of living this side of the cross, it is not always easy to come before God with the assurance of Job. As an observer I would have been torn between great compassion and amazement at his gumption. Job's declarations demonstrate dangerous honesty.
God, help me not to hide behind piety, but to grow in relationship with You with honesty and sincerity.
In dust and ashes Job sits, bereft. Job is stripped of dignity and all that matters to him. The God whose care preserves him seems far away; the God who terrifies is unbearably close. Job's friends are as nurturing as his own bony flesh. Yearning for justice, Job is desolate but not defeated. In a pinnacle statement of faith and hope, Job boldly declares that his Redeemer lives, and that he will see God. Oblivious to the heavenly drama, Job speaks truly. The Redeemer watches his servant Job, and waits. Perhaps He also weeps.
I don't generally struggle with blaming God for bad things that happen. Perhaps this is because unlike Job, I find it hard to attribute responsibility for them to God. I know God uses difficult experiences to teach and mould me. But does He permit, or or does He bring about trials? Again unlike Job, I struggle to integrate God who devastates me with God who redeems me. I know that God's sovereignty is limitless. My understanding is not.
Almighty God, I don't know where to begin with comprehending Your terror and tenderness, Your mercy and judgment. You reveal Yourself to me, and yet you are hidden. I can only trust.
Who will hear Job's cry? No-one, according to his friends. Job's voice drops to a broken whisper in the face of the shadow of death. His body is wracked with weeping. Job's tears rise to heaven, to God who has formed him with bare hands, yet broken him with the same.
You give and take away. Blessed be Your name.
May these unwavering words of Job be on my lips at all times. May I shout them joyfully over the crashing of waves. May I whisper and cling to them in the storm. For my life is not for my own edification, but in every mountain and valley to bear witness to the glory of God.
Job's friends were speechless with distress when they first saw him; now it is as though they are deafened. Words like a hot desert wind blow over Job, depleting him. Job thirsts for mercy, understanding, but finds none. The friends speak nothing of Job's own suffering, but of the good life of the righteous to a man for whom life is unbearable. They speak of the despair of the sinner to a man who seeks purity and clings to righteousness. Their solution is simple – Job's punishment will cease if he repents from sin. Comfortless words to a man wretched in body and spirit.
At work it is my role to be solution-focused, to identify cause and effect, and seek opportunities for change. Sometimes the way forward is unclear. Pat answers fail to suffice, and reduce opportunity for genuine empathy.
God, as I minister to those you bring across my path, help me to not rush in with empty words and quick fixes. Help me to be wise, and to bring Your comfort to those in need.
The friends are no longer silent, and the great speeches begin. Words flow like tumultuous waves, sinking to places 'forgotten by feet', and rising to the heights of God himself. Words. Capable of refreshing like cool water or diminishing like the grave. What do Job's friends hear? Like conversational artisans, Job's friends speak eloquently, but as though Job had barely uttered a word.
In my field of employment and in my ministry, listening is one of the most important things I do. Yet how easily my mind can wander.
God, help me to listen to You. And when I am in conversation with people, help me to listen not only to the words of the mouth, but the words of the heart. May I be slow to speak.