Sunday, July 30, 2023

Job's Hymn to Wisdom

The book of Job is often read as theodicy: Why does God let bad things happen to good people? I have once seen it viewed as a treatment of different views of fate, predestination, and freedom as voiced by the different "friends" of Job. 

I found to my surprise tonight that the Book of Job has one of the more developed hymns to wisdom in the Bible, and would like to relate it here: 

But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 
Man knows not its price; neither is it found in the land of the living. 
The depth says, It is not in me: and the sea says, It is not with me. 
It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for its price. 
It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. 
The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and there is no exchanging it for jewels of fine gold. 
Not to mention coral, or pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies. 
The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold. 
From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? 
It is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. 
Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. 
God understands the way of it, and he knows the place of it. 
For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heaven; 
To make the weight for the winds; and he weighs the waters by measure. 
When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: 
Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yes, and searched it out. 
And unto man he said, 
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. 
(Job 28:12-28)

And so I begin to see why Job is counted among the "wisdom" books. It's easy for us to complicate wisdom, and in doing that we can lose sight of wisdom. Is it really more complicated than loving God, and leaving behind evil? 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Top Bible verses on desiring holiness

  1. Each (seraph/angel) cried to the other and said, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." (Isaiah 6:3)
  2. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
  3. Faith, hope, and love remain: the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)
  4. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
  5. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him: The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)
  6. To him who overcomes ... I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which none knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
  7. He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)
  8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

If anyone has favorites that I haven't thought of, I'd be glad to hear them. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Cheater's Prayer

Recently I came across something posted by a mocker commenting on Christian athletes praying before a game. He found it hilarious: Don't they know the other side is praying, too? He worked on the assumption that the only subject of a prayer before a game would be victory. He assumed that people who pray are the simplest of simpletons: don't they know that the other team is praying too? He thought he -- clever as he was -- had spotted something that those silly religious people had never considered. Had such an obvious thing never crossed their minds? 

In my experience among Christians, there are certain kinds of prayers that are considered unworthy prayers. There are prayers that are never offered, ones that are presumed to be offensive to God. Examples would be athletes praying to do better in a competition than would be merited by their performance, students praying to do better on a test than would be merited by their preparation, and other things that are in a sense the desire to cheat. At times like that, the prayer itself is generally left un-prayed in the belief that it would be an affront to God's holiness even to ask such a thing. The prayer is left unspoken not on the grounds that a competitor might ask the same thing, but on the grounds that it is unspiritual and unworthy. 

There is an etiquette to prayer not to use prayer in a cheap or self-serving way. Someone might well pray before a test: for calm and focus, for a clear mind. It's the difference between approaching a teacher before the test looking for the answer sheet (cheating), or approaching a teacher before a test looking for the time  and place of that review session (seeking better mastery of the course materials). So one way to recognize a cheater's prayer: Is it looking to gain success without earning it? 

I looked up a sample prayer before a competition, and the first sample I found was this: "Lord, let all glory today be yours and yours alone and let me score, win, lose, etc., in humility and giving all praise to you." That is another way to recognize a cheater's prayer: Is it looking to avoid loss or seek glory for the person praying, or for God? 

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Full closets and empty lives

This weekend I have been reading some of C.S. Lewis' essays, and am considering thoughts on worship as praise. This quote picks up where Lewis considers whether there is such a thing as an object -- whether in art or nature -- that deserves appreciation, or where appreciation is simply the sane and healthy response: 
[A]dmiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate response to it; that, if paid, admiration will not be "thrown away," and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers; we shall have missed something.
Lewis then approaches his point about admiring and praising God: 
He is that Object to admire which (or if you like to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all.
Our age can feel both too much (materially) and too little (spiritually) at the same time. When we do not recognize or celebrate God, we have missed something. When our culture does not recognize or celebrate God, it withers or (at times) turns to self-consuming madness. The lack of glory and honor given to God results in a spiritual desert -- few things flourish, and the environment is hostile to spiritual life. 

On this day may I set aside the parts of life that hide the emptiness, and turn to the One who can fill it. 

Sunday, July 02, 2023

The 5 Stages of Grief - With a view from Christian understanding

The "stages of grief" are a popular framework for thinking about a loss -- and yet their originator Elizabeth Kubler Ross has mentioned parts of her findings are misapplied, where the "stages" do not necessarily occur in a simple straightforward timeline. Some of the "stages" are emotions that may come and go a number of times. Then pop culture includes comedies where these stages of grief are the fodder for jokes, where any part of the journey before acceptance is portrayed as silly (or unhealthy) instead of human. The early stages of grief are uncomfortable -- not just for the griever but for those around, and there are times when bystanders may want to rush someone to acceptance not to relieve the pain of the griever but to deflect the discomfort of being around those who mourn. I'm hoping here for a Christian-informed look at the stages of grief. 

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15)

What would be a compassionate view of incomplete grief? Here is a look at the conventional "5 stages" with a side of understanding: 

  1. Shock / Denial: This early stage of grief seems to be the basic reaction, "I need a moment. This is overwhelming. I won't be able to wrap my mind around it all at once." 
  2. Anger: Here the griever is taking stock of unfairness, disappointment, or frustrated plans. Some types of loss hit us in a way that we want to fight, and we feel anger. 
  3. Bargaining: "There has to be a way to ..." Bargaining is ultimately about recognizing what we want, pursuing it as far as possible, identifying what is possible and what is not. In grief, it's meeting the situation with honesty and gentleness -- and with advocacy for those who are hurting. 
  4. Sadness: Recognizing the loss or pain, accepting the validity of sadness, meeting it with compassion. 
  5. Acceptance: Premature claims of acceptance can be an attempt to shortcut around the pain. Accepting a loss is on the other side of feeling the loss. 

Acceptance may be the end of the road -- and as such, it's not possible to start there. On the way to acceptance, being understood is a solid support.