Dear Lord, as we begin this year may I keep close to you. May this be a year of growth, of light, of helping others. May I see your hand in every part of my life and may I let go those things that weigh me down and keep me from peace. Help me to love others and help me to help others as I can and as they need. You are the God who is with us. You are the God who calls us into fullness of life and gives us hope in every circumstance. Things don’t have to be right and I don’t have to earn your love. You’re working and I want to work with you, not apart from you and certainly not against you. Help me to be the person who you have made me to be this year. Amen.
1. Psalm 80
2. Reading through Job 1-24
The title of this post is a puzzle of sorts: GODISNOWHERE. How do you read it? It’s not a test, though it may provide some insight.
Do you look at it and read, “God is nowhere.”
Or do you look at it and read, “God is now here.”
Both ways are possible, and really this taps into a common experience with God. God can seem very absent, and we don’t know where to look, or what’s happening in our lives. It’s especially troubling when we think we’re doing what is right, but things seem to get more troubling.
That is Job’s experience. He was a guy who was doing everything right and for a while it seemed to pay off. He had a good life, and all was going well. Then one day–one very bad day–it all seemed to crumble apart. The typical reaction–and not entirely unfounded–is to find something or someone to blame. Often we look for something we have done. We think, after all, that doing good earns good and doing bad earns bad. Do bad, get trouble. Do good, get blessings. Work hard, get advancement and better pay. Cause leads to effect. That’s what we read about in Proverbs, after all (or will read at the end of the current month).
Job was likely an oral story that was later written down, telling of events that took place during the time of the judges, so well before the events of kings and prophets we’ve been reading about recently. It’s also a story meant to provide deeper insight into God’s work, one that is applicable for a lot of us. We don’t always see what goes on in the heavenly realm, but do seem to be dealing with circumstances that aren’t happening because of our own direct behavior. How do we respond to this? What should be do? What should we have done?
Job did everything right and everything turned wrong. Who was to blame? We like to play the blame game because it makes sense of life, and we need life to make sense if we are to keep at it. So, who is to blame. Job says, quite honestly, that he’s not to blame. His friends aren’t so sure. If bad things happened to Job, then Job bears responsibility. Job tries to find wisdom, but gets accused instead.
The tricky thing is that Job’s friends are giving advice that’s generally true. But “generally true” isn’t always truth. And this provides an amazing perspective within a religious text, engaging the complexity of life and giving voice to a very honest perspective: we don’t deserve this! So why did it happen? What was the cause? What was Job to do?
Most important, because it’s at the root of this: Where is God?
The previous OT books we’ve read gave a more predictable approach: evil begets evil, and led to the fall of the kingdoms.
Job goes a different route and shows how we are to embrace honesty with God, with ourselves, and with circumstances. We are to pursue truth, not give into falsehoods or generalities.
These chapters are worth reading closely because there’s not a clear line between good and bad advice. The friends aren’t silly or hateful. They’re trying to give wisdom. And a lot of what they say is good stuff, in the right circumstances.
Have you had experiences where God seemed distant? Where evil seemed to blossom even in times you were doing what you should? Do you have friends in these circumstances now? What do you think would be the best way to respond to them?
3. Reading Through Luke 1-3
As we enter into the second half of our year through the Bible, it’s nice to begin yet again with one of the Gospels. We’ve read through Matthew and John already, now Luke offers his version. Which, of course, raises the question: why four Gospels?
While we tend to think of the Bible as a single text, our religious book that is categorized among other religious books from other religions, it has its own distinctions. It’s not a single book, after all, but a collection of books written from different perspectives, different experiences, and over a lot of time.
The New Testament itself wasn’t written to be collected in a packaged way, rather it is a collection of writings, each written for a distinct audience and for distinct reasons, reflecting the needs and issues of the first century church. That it was written in this way doesn’t take away from our current experience of it, indeed it adds to the authority. The Bible, throughout the Old and the New Testament, is relying on witnesses and other authorities, like histories, annals, records. We don’t believe that the Bible was magically found, magically translated, or the experience of a single person who then conveys the truth to everyone else.
The Bible calls for witnesses to the truth, and like a good court case, invites multiple witnesses to tell as shared experience. We have four Gospels because they provide corroborating evidence, each offering a distinct perspective and telling the story in different ways. This builds our trust in what they are telling.
Luke is different than John or Matthew in that he is not himself an eyewitness. He was an early companion of Paul, an educated Christian who was a doctor and a historian for the early Christian community. His goal is to share the story of Jesus from the perspective of other eyewitnesses.
I’m reminded of how current historians are gathering the testimony of World War 2 veterans, getting their stories before they die, and often compiling their stories into unified accounts of specific events.
Luke lived at a time when there were many witnesses, and so we learn from those who knew Jesus, who had stories that others might not have had. For instance, in these first chapters, it sure seems that Luke learned from Mary, or at least someone who knew the early life of Jesus before his ministry started. We are given cues about the time and culture, and we are given cues about how Jesus fits into the big narrative of God’s work in history. We’re not given a lot of stories about when Jesus was growing up, but are given some important glimpses.
These chapters are an initiation to what comes next, a way of introducing us again to the trajectory of what Jesus did, what he taught, and who he is. For the early witnesses, Jesus was never seen as just a good teacher or as an example of moral living. He was, from the earliest testimonies, an expression of God’s mission in providing hope and salvation for hte world. God didn’t need the powerful people or systems of this world.
The creator of this world enters into the mission of salvation by subverting what we think has to happen–that we need the powers of this world to bring change. But God doesn’t subvert his own work in the past. God gave signs and cues along the way, so that the people who truly cared could find comfort and trust in God’s work.
God does things his own way, and doesn’t do it privately and certainly doesn’t do it in some kind of separated religious experience. God works in public, and invites people into this work, giving insight to those who are committed to this work.
Luke shares the testimony of such people and invites us into continued hope, faith, love that God’s salvation continues in the work of Christ even in our day.
4. Psalm 81
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry. Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.
Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff!
And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.
Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other.
Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering. Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.
Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.