Tag Archives: Book of Job

3 September, Season of Creation IV: The gift to be simple II.

Today is the feast of Gregory the Great, first pope of that name, who sent Augustine to Canterbury, arriving here in 597. He was inspired to establish the English mission when he came across young Saxons on sale in Rome’s market. Gregory was also a theologian and spiritual writer, here in his book Moralia (XXVIII 47), commenting on the Book of Job (12.4), where Job is answering his critics:

I am one mocked by his friends,
Who called on God, and He answered him,
The just and blameless who is ridiculed.

Window, St Thomas’ church, Canterbury, England.

Worldliness dictates to her followers to seek the high places of honour, to triumph in attaining the vain acquisition of temporal glory; to return manifold the mischiefs that others bring upon us; when the means are with us, to give way to no man’s opposition; when the opportunity of power is lacking, all whatsoever he cannot accomplish in wickedness to represent in the guise of peaceable good nature. 

On the other hand it is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought, to bear evil more gladly than to do it; to seek no revenging of a wrong, to account opprobrium for the Truth’s sake to be a gain.  But this simplicity of the righteous is ‘laughed to scorn,’ in that the goodness of purity is taken for folly with the wise men of this world.  For doubtless every thing that is done from innocency is accounted foolish by them, and whatever truth sanctions in practice sounds weak to carnal wisdom. 

For what seems worse folly to the world than to shew the mind by the words, to feign nothing by crafty contrivance, to return no abuse for wrong, to pray for them that speak evil of us, to seek after poverty, to forsake our possessions, not to resist him that is robbing us, to offer the other cheek to one that strikes us? 

Much of this passage could serve as a manifesto for Agnellus’ Mirror and for the Season of Creation:

It is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought.

We hope we live up to that, in the blog and in daily life.

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15 June, Heart VI: An angry young man.

The Wrath of Elihu, William Blake.

Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave him charge over the earth, and who laid on him the whole world? If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

Who’s speaking here? Who is defending Almighty God? This is when the Book of Job suddenly jolts. Elihu bursts in, full of wrath, full of anger, at the thoughts expressed by Job’s friends. They are blaming Job for being wicked, despite appearances, and deserving every misfortune that has come his way, or else blaming God for being unjust to Job.

We saw how the editors of Exodus wrote that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. God could be said to have made Pharaoh’s heart hard because he created him in the first place. You sense that Elihu would not stand for such hair-splitting. ‘God will not do wickedly.’

Who is this Elihu? He’ s not one of the original cast, he just bursts in. Some have suggested that he is the actual writer if the book, giving his own thoughts and opinions. He’s an ‘angry young man’ with no time for what he sees as interminable, sterile philosophising. Here William Blake shows him as young, not set in his ways (or other people’s ways) and naked: he’s naked because he is innocent – like Adam and Eve were before the fall, not diminishing God through overthinking.

God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. We are capable of both.

From “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version by Crossway Bibles, via Kindle

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Going Viral XIV: A just man speaks

It’s a temptation to take stray verses from the Bible and use them to justify almost any course of action. Try arguing with a doorstep evangelist who has his text to expound, and does not want to engage with verses a little further on! So I’ll offer you this verse from Job (17:9) and invite you to persevere in adversity as Job did, and to remember to wash your hands! And maybe enjoy a read in Job, Esther, or Ruth.

And the just man shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. Job 17:9

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14 November: Can a man be profitable to God?

In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:

“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “

Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:

Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith. 

And

We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*

ALL IS GIFT!

Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)

Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams:  Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54

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9th November: In my Flesh I shall see God.

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This cemetery in London has not been used for fifty years, when it was closed by Act of Parliament! It is not in ordered rows of dead people, but is alive with trees, flowers and birds. For me  the abundant life speaks more of resurrection than ranks of black marble or white Portland stone, though the Commonwealth Graves Commission keep their cemeteries as near to gardens as possible; a different way of pointing beyond the finality of death.

The Douay Bible translates Job 19:26:

And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. 

And the trees, violets, blue tits, magpies and jays seem to me to bear this out. The photograph was taken in Spring, but even now, as winter approaches, the buds on the branches are full of God’s promise.

WT

 

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12 May: What is theology saying? VII: Scripture speaks of God’s self-revealing

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There are three important aspects to the biblical understanding of Revelation. A progressive understanding of what Revelation is about – God is becoming more and more personal in the demands he makes. These demands find their concrete definition in Jesus, who speaks clear words in a human language with ordinary signs of love and trust. It is the nature of Revelation to be progressive – with signs that become clearer and demands become more specific for us individually and all of us together.

Scripture speaks mainly of God’s self-revealing – but keeps referring back to the Word already spoken in creation – and not just Genesis, but Psalms and the Wisdom literature – Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus [Ben Sira], Wisdom of Solomon – all make references to God self-revealed in Creation. The New Testament writers frequently echo this.

Prophetic interpretation – the events of history by themselves do not constitute revelation, nor does the simple narration of them – it is only by prophetic interpretation they become revealing. The prophet speaks for God, telling the meaning of events that are happening. This is why Roman or Syrian records of the Maccabean wars would not be testimony of God’s revelation to us, while the Jewish accounts do give such testimony.

This raises the question as to how people come to speak of God, how they know what to say, and how specific words and expressions become canonical – binding for the whole tradition. Revelation is a constant dialogue/conversation between God and us, and the focus is Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the world not simply to bring revelation, like a message from above. He is in the world to be Revelation. He is a happening and gives his own prophetic interpretation of himself. As a happening he is a human being totally open to all possibilities of being and love offered by God. As a prophetic interpretation he explains the nature of God as a huge welcome to all existence and becoming.

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As a happening he is fully alive among us – which makes him the first recipient of God’s self-revealing. The Gospels show him constant in prayer with the Father, growing in wisdom, admitting there were things he did not know, gradually becoming more aware of his own mission and destiny. The New Testament shows him living his life in such a way as to become more constantly aware of what being human really means, and sharing this with his followers.

Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history.

AMcC

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November 13: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiii – ‘Resurrection is the affirmation of a life fully lived.’

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He is risen!

 

Little by little, slowly and gradually, the process of dis-covery [uncovering] is worked out to the subversion of the persecutors when the innocence of the victim becomes more and more evident: Joseph, Job, and Songs of Suffering Servant in Isaiah – when God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and clearly on the side of the victim.

This is the genius of Judaism, having nothing equivalent elsewhere. This is what we call Revelation, God’s self-revelation by means of the innocent victim. We never reach the full revelation of this in the Old Testament, nor a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a separation of God from involvement in the sacred self-deceiving violence. Such fullness occurs only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

If we diminish the significance of Jesus’ death are we not undermining the very essence of the Resurrection? If we honour, as did Jesus, the primary role of the Kingdom, life radically lived to the full, then resurrection is not so much about the vindication of his death as about the affirmation of life fully lived. Resurrection belongs to life rather than death, an affirmation and celebration of what fully alive means.

Following Jesus has become synonymous with belonging to a denomination, and inevitably came to see Jesus as a ruling Lord – with scant reference to the freedom and empowerment of the powerless which is his hallmark. By the time of Emperor Constantine the Kingdom of God was clothed in the imperial system of Rome. Whereas the freedom Jesus brought would happen not by intervention from above but by empowerment from the ground up. The one and only time Jesus approved of them calling him king was when he chose to ride on a donkey – he embraced kingship but turned it on its head.

AMcC

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26 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XIX In the Back of a Thanet Taxi

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The fact-finding agents of the Ossyrian Confederation would have loved to stay at the monastery in Minton much longer but ‘T’ had a dental appointment back at Margate to have a crown replaced the next day. Fond farewells were said by all and promises made for a speedy return. Immediately after vespers a taxi was called and what seemed to be a very contented man with two Chihuahuas rode the flat expanse of the Thanet landscape apparently in silence, but actually in intense telepathic conversation.

‘Have you ever seen a dik-dik, ‘T’?’ Ajax continued to be fascinated by the notion of a diminutive deer no larger than himself. ‘Can’t say that I have,’ The director yawned, ‘but, then again, I’ve never been to Africa and, by all accounts, that’s where they live.’ ‘T’s never seen a dik-dik because there is no such thing!’ Alfie snorted, at which point an over-sensitive (and most likely overtired) Ajax burst into forlorn (telepathic) tears. ‘Don’tflags-welsh be so certain, little guy,’ the Director’s tone was mild but the set of his jaw boded ill for quarrelsome Chihuahuas. ‘Who would have believed in a pint-sized dog your size before Columbus discovered America?’ ‘Right,’ Alfie still wasn’t convinced, ‘And I suppose that somewhere there are dragons and maybe a herd of unicorns? (he had found a book of terrestrial fairy tales in one of the monastery guest rooms). ‘Have you ever read the Book of Job, Alfie?’ ‘No,’ beamed in a stubborn whisper. ‘Then listen carefully,’ the Director said,

         ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

         Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand; things too wonderful for me which I did not know.

         Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you and do you instruct me. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you.  

Job 42:3-5

The one truth, nevertheless, tells itself in many ways,’ the Director continued, ‘like colour or a sound; like a hot day or a cold night, like one bright star to rule the day and a hundred billion madly dancing to rule the night…and, make no mistake, my dear Chihuahuas; noble legends may contain truths inaccessible to newspaper reporters.’ ‘Well,’ Alfie beamed (but the fight had left him), ‘I still don’t understand.’ ‘But Alfie!!’ It was the Director’s turn to laugh, ‘recognizing that is the beginning of understanding!’

Postscript

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A week after the return of ‘T’ and the Chihuahuas from their visit to Minton, the city council of Margate- elected on promises to curb immigration (among other things)- advanced an ordinance aimed at detaining and deporting every parakeet in Thanet since, clearly, they were not native to the British Isles and, certainly, had not entered the country legally. Thankfully, the ordinance was quickly overturned due to popular outcry and it is possible to visit Hartsdown Park on All Saints Avenue for a parakeet safari (best done in the late Autumn and Winter) to this very day. dik-dik

Editor’s note: Hartsdown Park on All Saints’ Avenue: this sounds suspiciously like the territory  of a deer – perhaps the legendary and holy Boanerges?

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