Murmuring within the Ranks
Right. Ahem. I'm getting noises (or words that would be noises if we were speaking in person) made at me that imply I just need sit down and get serious. Or something. (Sound of knuckles cracking.) Did I ever mention I hate the sound of knuckles cracking?
Seriously, though. (Wow, it's hard to shift gears after that. But it's what I am attempting to do. Sound of gears shifting.)
Recently I've been reading the book of Job (in the Bible). It strikes me as I embark on this blogging thing, that said book-within-Book is a whole lot like a big long blog of this guy who has been having a rough go of it and whose so-called friends keep posting rather unhelpful comments which make him mad. (Hmm. I can see that the juxtaposition of this paragraph and the first two might make it sound like I'm making an oblique stab at my own commentators, but I'm really not. You'll just have to take that at face value. I'm talking about Job now, not me.) And really the One he wants to get comments from isn't saying anything at all. (Well, He does later in the book/blog, but I haven't gotten to that part yet.)
I think I could probably read Job every day for the rest of my life and still be challenged by it, mull over it, ask questions about it, write about it, rage against it. Who hasn't been both Job and his "friends" at some point in their lives? I think this book drives me crazy because I see myself in all the human characters. I mean, true, I haven't had children to be wrenched away from me, and I've never been wealthy and lost it all (although my car repairs last month weren't exactly in the budget), but I have been wretched to the point of wanting to foreswear hope forever. I don't know--does that count?
But I've also been the person to be smug or cliche or simplistic about someone else's pain. Like Job said yesterday, "His children earn honour, but he doesn't know it; or they are brought low but he doesn't notice. He feels pain only for his own flesh; he laments only for himself" (Job 14.17, Complete Jewish Bible). I mean, I don't think I'm without a compassionate bone in my body, exactly, but it's pretty hard to fully understand someone's pain, and it's pretty impossible to rise above my own, without something like divine intervention. (Or maybe just leave out the "something like" part.)
"Is it for the sake of God you speak so wickedly?" says Job. "For Him that you talk so deceitfully? Do you need to take His side and plead God's case for Him? If He examines you, will all go well? Can you deceive Him as one man deceives another? If you are secretly flattering [Him], He will surely rebuke you. Doesn't God's majesty terrify you? Aren't you overcome with dread of Him? Your maxims are garbage-proverbs; your answers crumble like clay" (Job 13.6-12, CJB).
I think why I love this book so much, yet writhe under the force of its words, is because of the I've-been-there-ness of both sides. I know what suffering feels like, at least on some level, like I said. But I can also see myself being that person Job is indicting--the person who jars on and on about how majestic and just God is, all the while making majesty and justice into little boxes I imagine I have a handle on. (Boxes are easier to cart around with handles, incidentally.) I imagine I can cram God into them. Then Job says, "Uh--hey, you know that majesty you were talking about? It's not a box, you dork. Doesn't that make you a little nervous? This is God we're talking about here."
And like he also said, who do I think I am, that I need to defend God?
But here's my other struggle then. So Job lived even before the Old Covenant was made (though his book is in the Old Testament because there isn't a "Pre-Testament"), and things between God and people were a little less clear then maybe (or hazy in different ways than they are under a covenant). But even before Jesus came, God was picking out individuals--and then a whole nation--to represent Him to everybody else. Then Jesus came and stepped it up a notch (or a whole lot of notches), but I just don't get why. Because half the time I'm rubbish at it--not any better than Job's so-called buddies. When I look back at past instances of trying to represent Jesus or the Good News or something biblical to someone, I just cringe sometimes. What a lot of words! And what a lot of drama. And some of the words were probably okay, but a lot of the time I guess they weren't very clear or any more helpful than somebody like Eliphaz saying, "God's just, so you'll get yours, you sinner, and if you're suffering now, you obviously deserve it." I mean, I haven't said that, exactly, but I'm sure that sometimes it comes across that way, or I've said something equally unhelpful.
(Let me say here, for people like, oh, my mother, that I'm not actually trying to be self-loathing or to put myself down. I just don't think it's entirely fair to make broad and sweeping generalisations about these kinds of things and say, "Everybody is like Job's friends at some point in their lives, and we're all really bad at witnessing." Well, I guess I am kind of saying that, or maybe I do kind of believe that, but I can only talk about specifics in regard to myself and my own motivations, not other people's.)
I have more to say about this, but this post is long enough, and I have to go to pinch hit at a Starbucks I've not worked in before, so I'll just close by saying that I'm feeling a little baffled again (or as usual) by the whole paradox surrounding the fact that, even with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to clue us in a little better, it seems pretty bold to imagine that we could ever know God well enough to feel entitled to defend Him to anybody, and yet Jesus told us we were the light of the world, and the whole Bible is basically a story of God wanting us to represent and defend Him to the world. It feels like half the time, we do the opposite.
God must be crazy.