Job 27 (Test Passed?)

shutterstock_111588524Now that Job’s friends are done speaking, Job issues a final, bold rebuke.  God has denied my claim and made my soul bitter.  Nonetheless, God lives – and his Spirit lives in me.  As long as I draw breath from that Spirit, I will not speak lies.  I will not concede that you, my friends, are right.  I will not deny my integrity.  I cling to my righteousness with no regrets.

This is an amazing passage.  Job sees clearly that God has intentionally allowed suffering in his life.  Job continues to feel pain, and he continues to believe that justice has been denied to him.  Yet Job does not deny God.  Instead, he proclaims that God lives!  More than that, Job declares that God’s Spirit continues to dwell with him!   When his trials first began, Job longed for death (ch. 3).  Yet here he is, some 24 chapters later, still suffering, but still alive.

As long as God continues to give him life, Job boldly refuses the platitudes of his accusers.  Instead, Job commits to speak the truth as best he understands it.  “I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.”  (v. 6).  What does this mean, to “hold fast my righteousness”?

As New Testament Christians, we sometimes have a hard time understanding the “righteousness” of Old Testament saints.  Doesn’t Paul say “all have sinned”?  (Romans 3:23).  Isn’t our salvation based on grace alone, through faith alone?  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Yes, and that is just the beginning.  Old Testament righteousness also came through faith.  Abraham the patriarch “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:6).  Hebrews 11 chronicles the faith of more than a dozen Old Testament heroes.  But – for both Old and New Testament followers of God – we must demonstrate our faith by obedience (John 14:15; James 2:18).

Job is obedient to what he knows about God.  The Lord calls Job “my servant,” “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.”  (Job 1:8).  God praises Job for holding fast to his integrity in the midst of terrible loss (Job 2:3).  Satan does his best to turn Job’s loyalty away from God; so does Job’s wife (Job 2:9).  Job’s so-called friends misuse theological principles and try to browbeat Job into a false confession.  Yet Job remains committed to God and committed to the truth, demonstrating his steadfast faith (James 5:11).

Next Job takes the theology of his tormentor-friends, and turns it back on them.  You have chronicled the curses of the wicked, meaning them for me – may those same curses fall on my enemies.  When the godless are cut off, what hope do they have?  Will an evil man call upon God, and will God hear his cry?  It’s my turn to teach you about the hand of God.  We all observe the same things, so why are you talking empty nonsense?

The wicked man will inherit disaster.  Sword, famine and pestilence plague his family.  He may accumulate wealth – piles of silver and clothing – but it will be given to the righteous.  He builds a cocoon like a moth, but undergoes a reverse metamorphosis:  he goes to sleep rich and wakes up poor.  A flood of terror, a whirlwind of nightmares!  The wicked man flees even as he is swept away.  The ghosts of the desert hiss at his heels.

At this point in the story, Job has not yet seen God’s deliverance.  And yet, it seems that his crisis of faith has passed.  Satan predicted that Job would curse God to his face (1:11, 2:8).  For sure, Job has been discouraged and angry, yet he has not forsaken God.  Job declares that he will cling to the path of obedience the rest of his life, short or long, whatever that life might hold.  He has passed the test.

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Quiet and Deep Christianity

Why I am blogging through the book of Job:

“sequential expository [blogging] might be one of our greatest acts of cultural protest — leading [readers, including myself] through the rough and smooth of what a whole Bible book says is a great way of building spiritual muscle and stamina … and rebuking the hummingbird gathering of factoids that has become the norm in most people’s lives.”

great post via Quiet and deep Christianity

Job 25-26 (The Fleeing Serpent)

Related image A celebrity rises to prominence, perhaps even political office.  Suddenly, we are told that this individual is racist! or sexist! based on an alleged incident from years ago.  The mob rushes to social media, demanding justice from its chosen victim: apologize, step down, submit to the ruin you deserve.

What if the victim refuses to apologize, and demands justice for himself instead?  Imagine the rage of the mob.  Now imagine the rage of Job’s three friends, as Job stubbornly clings to his own innocence.

We have navigated two full cycles of dialogue between Job and his friends – Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, Job, Zophar, Job; Eliphaz II, Job, Bildad II, Job, Zophar II, Job.   But in this third round — Eliphaz III, Job, Bildad III — the dialogues come to an abrupt stop.   In a 6-verse finale, Bildad rails at Job:  Fear the rule of the Lord!  Behold the stars, his countless heavenly armies.  Yet God shines still brighter.  Man is a maggot, a worm in God’s eyes.  How dare you claim that you are righteous?

Job retorts, sarcastically:  Thank you for helping the helpless!  Thank you for saving the weak, for counseling the stupid!  Thank you, oh thank you!

Fear God?  Yeah I fear God!  The underworld trembles, even Death and Destruction lie naked before Him.  God who stretches out the heavens, hangs the world in space; God who bags the rain in thunderclouds, covers the moon in shadow;  God who draws the horizon.  A rebuke from God shakes the pillars of heaven.  “By his power he stilled the sea.” (v. 12) His wisdom shattered the Chaos Monster, his breath blew darkness from the heavens.  “His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” (v. 13)

In the act of creation, God tamed the primordial sea of chaos (Genesis 1:2).  He even made the sea fruitful, teeming with marine life (Genesis 1:20).  Later, God saved the Hebrews by dividing the waters of the Red Sea, allowing them to pass on dry land – and then closing the sea over the armies of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:21 – 29).  Much later, Jesus demonstrated the power of God by rebuking the wind and the waves, creating instant calm on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:24).  The disciples marveled:  “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”  (Luke 8:25).  Only God can do that!

But who is the fleeing serpent?  We are reminded of another passage, from Isaiah:  “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”  (Isaiah 27:1).  Since the Garden of Eden, the serpent or dragon has been associated with Satan (Genesis 3:1).  In addition to the destructive forces of nature, there are darker, spiritual forces working in the world as well.  Just as Christ tamed the sea, he will come to pierce the serpent forever (Revelation 20).

Not satisfied with the Red Sea miracle, Moses asked to see God’s glory.  God agreed, with certain limits for Moses’ own protection.  God would hide Moses in a rocky crevice, and then after God had already passed, Moses would be able to see God’s back.  (Exodus 33:22-23).  That was all Moses could handle.

Job concludes:  Everything we know is but the smallest whisper, the fringe of his garment.  Truly, the power of God is beyond understanding.  Yet, in Christ, God gave us more than a whisper, more than his back as he passed us by:  he gave us himself.

Christ suffered for us, he endured the rage of the mob for us.  He is with us in our suffering now, and he will end all suffering forever.  Bildad was wrong, we are not worms and maggots to God.  In the fringe of Christ’s garment, the outcast found healing and forgiveness (Luke 8:44).  And so can we.

Job 24 (The Widow’s Ox)

 Job abruptly looks away from his own suffering, and pleads on behalf of all the oppressed.  God, why haven’t you come in judgment?  Injustice is endless.  Job calls attention to the immoral acts around him:  thieves move ancient boundary lines and steal entire flocks; lenders cruelly repossess the orphan’s donkey and the widow’s ox; brutes run the poor off the road.  Skipping ahead to verse 9, perhaps most traumatic: Babies are snatched from their mothers, taken as a pledge against the poor. 

Today, these crimes sound anachronistic – when was the last time you saw a widow with an ox?  Yet modern equivalents are not hard to find.  Corporate greed that promotes mindless borrowing and shakes the stock market.  Phone and internet scammers who prey on the elderly and confused.  Policies that incentivize the breakdown of the family, creating a cycle of struggling single mothers.  Companies, both legal and illegal, that encourage women to sell or abort their babies as a solution to poverty.

And what can those poor people do?  They scatter and hide; they labor and seek food for their children in the wasteland.  They glean animal fodder and eat what the wicked have cast away.  They shiver without adequate clothing; they are rain-drenched, homeless; they are left clinging to a rock.  With growling stomachs, the hungry harvest grain for others; their throats are parched as they tread the winepress. 

Job describes the pitiful condition of the poor around him.  I wonder, did his suffering make him more sensitive to the suffering of others?  We know Job was a kind man before his trials (see chapter 29).  But perhaps this close kinship with the poor was something new.  When we suffer, we learn to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).  We are able to comfort with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).  After my son was diagnosed with a brain disorder, I gained instant empathy for parents going through similar hardships.  And even a “small” tribulation — like potty-training your child – is hard to share with friends who have never walked that road.

But Job has found no comfort for his sorrow, at least not yet.  “From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God charges no one with wrong.”  (v. 12).  Is there no justice?

The darkness of Job’s suffering (23:17) finds a mirror in the moral darkness around him.  “There are those who rebel against the light,” (v. 13) who do not walk the path of God’s word (Psalm 119:105).  Murderers, thieves, adulterers – they wait for darkness so they can do their evil deeds in secret.  Like vampires, they shut themselves up during the day.  The same darkness that terrorizes me is a friend to the wicked.  (v. 17).  Light clarifies and exposes.  People who do wicked things hate the light and remain in darkness.  (John 3:19-21).

Verse 18 has caused some trouble for translators, but it appears that Job is calling a curse on evil oppressors:  May they be washed away, may their vineyards be barren.  Just as the drought snatches away the snow melt, may the grave snatch away the wicked.  From womb to worm, may they be forgotten and their wickedness broken.  Job hates those who hate God (Psalm 119:21-22).  Even though Job is suffering, even though his friends accuse him of wickedness, Job still clings to right and wrong.

Job continues:  Even while they mistreat widows, the wicked enjoy power, good health, financial security.  But this is only temporary.  They will be brought low.  Mark my words, the Grim Reaper will come for the wicked.  With unusual clarity, Job reassures us – and himself — that God will judge in his own time.

Ding, Dong, the EEOC Is Shut Down

EEOC Shutdown

As a labor attorney, I have multiple cases pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.  Recently, when I went to the EEOC website to check on my cases, I received the following notice:  The EEOC is “closed because of the federal government shutdown.”  Apparently, the EEOC is not considered essential government services.  But should it be?

The Mission of the EEOC

Over half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson pledged to end racial injustice as part of his Great Society speech.  Shortly afterwards, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which created the EEOC.  The EEOC is tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on various protected categories.  These categories currently include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.  The EEOC also protects employees who make complaints about unlawful discrimination.

So how is the EEOC doing in its mission?  According to Jacqueline Berrien, Chair of the EEOC under President Obama, “the goals of Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in its entirety are not yet achieved… The EEOC receives nearly 100,000 charges of discrimination each year… too many women are paid less… too many people are forced to choose between their jobs and religious beliefs… too many persons with disabilities are excluded… too many older workers are screened out… too many LGBT employees suffer harassment…”  Sounds like the mission is not going well at all.  Yet Berrien recommends that “this generation… continue the unending search for justice.”  In other words, the EEOC intends to keep doing more of the same.

The Methods of the EEOC

At its core, the EEOC is a complaint-based system.  If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work, based on any protected category, you are encouraged to file a complaint against your employer.  An EEOC investigator will then contact your employer to request documents and witness interviews, for the purpose of determining whether discrimination actually took place.  Because this process is intimidating, most employers will retain a lawyer to respond.

The EEOC has quite a backlog of cases (see Berrien’s comment above re: 100,000 charges each year).  Investigations linger for years.  Notably, the vast majority of EEOC cases – over 97% — close without a finding of discrimination.  Yet the investigation of those cases still requires massive amounts of public and private resources.

Here is a case in point:  A certain night supervisor was tickled by a funny animal poster, which he tacked to the office fridge.  When the day supervisor arrived, she took offense and proclaimed the poster to be racist.  Other employees were divided as to whether or not the poster could be interpreted as racist.  Certainly, the night supervisor was horrified to discover that he had offended anyone.  The poster was immediately removed, Human Resources conducted an investigation, and everyone moved on.

Just kidding!  The day supervisor filed a complaint with the EEOC, claiming that she was subjected to harassment.  The EEOC contacted the employer to investigate, and the employer retained my services.  I conducted my own investigation and prepared an 8-page position statement, complete with exhibits A-F.  Several months later, the EEOC requested additional documents, which I provided.  Another several months later, the EEOC requested more documents, which I provided.  Twenty-seven months into the investigation, the EEOC requested witness interviews, which I facilitated.  That was last year, and (as far as I know) the EEOC has not determined whether unlawful discrimination took place.  Yet my client has paid thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, not to mention lost time and productivity.

Whether the EEOC admits it or not, investigating juvenile workplace disputes is a drag, perhaps for the investigator as much as the employer.  For this reason, the EEOC offers a “mediation program” where the employer and the employee can settle their differences without an investigation.  In other words, the employer can pay money to the employee (without any finding of discrimination) and the EEOC will dismiss the complaint.  Although the arrangement smacks of extortion – especially when the EEOC itself does not find discrimination 97% of the time – many employers are happy to pay and, finally, move on.

The EEOC’s complaint-based system has become self-perpetuating.  Employees can allege discrimination and receive money as a result, without ever having to prove that discrimination actually took place.  This encourages more employees to file more complaints.  When you multiply this effect by all of the other complaint-based agencies and programs (including workers’ compensation, the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, etc.) employees can actually make more money complaining than working.

The Mistake of the EEOC

Israel Kalman has written a thoughtful article on why anti-bullying programs don’t work.  Kalman describes how a top-down, law enforcement paradigm is irrational when it comes to human social behavior.  Like anti-bullying programs, the EEOC’s anti-discrimination methods encourage helplessness and victimhood.  Instead of learning to shrug off boorish comments, we run to an agency that will translate our hurt feelings into a payoff.  Employee and employer are trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of escalation, especially once lawyers become involved.   (Important caveat: law enforcement should be involved in criminal behavior, for example, assault).

Obviously, our legal system must treat all people equally and fairly.  It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that Jim Crow laws were an abomination.  Yet at the same time, we must admit that the Great Society is an unattainable utopia.  Today, instead of racial harmony, we have an intrusive bureaucracy, complete with thousands of pages of regulations, that restricts our freedom and perversely perpetuates the problem.

No government agency can regulate or investigate away prejudice.  Discrimination is bound up in our individual human hearts.  But this does not mean racial reconciliation is hopeless.  Each of us has the ability to implement the Golden Rule in our own lives, to build meaningful relationships with people who are different from us.  Each of us has the ability to forgive, and to ask forgiveness.

And, with the EEOC shut down, there is no better time to try.

Job 23 (Seat of God)

Throne of SapphireJob has been wrongly accused of oppressing the poor and violating God’s law.   Slander has been piled on top of all Job’s other suffering.  “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning” (v. 1).  Where can Job go for justice?

Job longs to enter God’s heavenly courtroom, but he doesn’t know where to find it.  Job imagines explaining the whole situation to God, and finally hearing God’s answer.  Job recognizes God’s great power, including the ability to win every debate!  Nonetheless Job imagines God voluntarily handicapping Himself, putting everything else aside to listen to Job’s argument.  Under these conditions – where God Himself has leveled the playing field – Job imagines being “acquitted forever.” (v.7).

Thankfully, the way to acquittal in God’s courtroom has been revealed. As Job imagined, God did handicap himself, taking the humble form of a man doomed to die (Philippians 2:6-8).  And by his death, Jesus became the Way to the Father (John 14:6).  For this reason, we can approach the seat of God with confidence, receiving His grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:16), just as Job imagined.

But for Old Testament saints like Job, these mysteries were hidden.  Peter tells us that the prophets (and I would include Job here) “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”  And in this diligent searching, Job was serving not himself, but us, the future saints.  (1 Peter 1:10-12).  What a long and difficult search it was!

Job says: “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.”  (v. 8-9).  But even though I do not see God, God sees me!  And I will be refined by this trial!  Peter agrees:  through suffering, our faith will be tested and found more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Though we do not see God now, we believe (I Peter 1:8).

I believe! says Job.  I have walked faithfully in God’s ways.  I treasure the words from God’s mouth more than my daily bread (v. 12).  These are the words of a man after God’s own heart.  These are the words of Christ himself, tested by Satan in the desert: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).

And then the curtain falls once more.  God doesn’t change, he does what he wants to do.  “For he will complete what he appoints for me” (v. 14) and so far, it looks like all horrible things.  How could I have imagined being in God’s presence?  He terrifies me, he has made my heart faint.  You were right about one thing, Eliphaz:  thick darkness covers my face and I cannot see (v. 17; compare 22:10-11).

Job rejects the “God-in-a-box” described by his friends.  Job knows God will not be manipulated, does not operate by formula.  But how does God operate?  Job fears that God’s sovereignty will lead to yet more pain.  Perhaps you have had this fear as well – God can do anything he wants – which means, God can do things I don’t want.

But we have promises: “For those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) and “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  God will complete what he has appointed for Job, and for us.  And though the way is paved with suffering – after all, Christ, the Way, was the suffering servant – the end will be good and glorious.

Job 22 (No Charity)

Begger Job stubbornly insists that prosperity doesn’t automatically follow obedience.  An angry Eliphaz begins his third and final speech:  God doesn’t need your help Job.  Help yourself instead.  Quit insisting that you are right.  “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?” (v. 3).

For the record, the opening story tells us that God is, in fact, pleased with Job.  God brags on Job to Satan, twice!  (Job 1:8, 2:3).  There is a sense in which God places His own reputation on the line by allowing Satan to test Job.  Eliphaz seems to be repeating the message from the night spirit:  God views humans as nothing (Job 4:17-21).  But this spirit lied about God’s view of man.

Eliphaz continues:  So what’s the alternative — you want me to believe that God is judging you because you fear and honor him?  That doesn’t make any sense!  Just admit that you are wrong.  “Is not your evil abundant?  There is no end to your iniquities.” (v. 5).  Eliphaz launches into a litany of accusations against Job:  You extorted your brothers. You stripped the naked.  You denied water and food to the needy.  You showed favoritism to the powerful.  You turned away widows and crushed the strength of the fatherless.  How do I know this?  Because you are being punished by traps and terrors and darkness and flood.  There is no other explanation.

Of course, charity has always been an important component of the Christian faith.  The law of Moses required the Israelites to treat strangers, widows and orphans fairly (Exodus 22:21-24).  Similarly, in the New Testament, James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  (James 1:27).  Jesus closely identifies with those who are suffering from hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, sickness and imprisonment.  In one sobering passage, Jesus states that our very salvation will be judged based on how we treated “the least of these” (Mathew 25:31-46).

Eliphaz is claiming that Job lacks these markers of a follower of God.  However, we know that Job is righteous.  We also learn later, in chapter 29, that Job did care for the poor and needy (Job 29:12-17).  Eliphaz bases his false accusations solely upon the suffering that Job is experiencing.  But wouldn’t that mean that Job is now one of “the least of these,” and deserving of compassion himself?

Eliphaz goes on to accuse Job of hiding secret sin.  Look at the night sky, see how high God is.  But you think God can’t see you from that distance.  You are ignoring the destruction of the wicked who have walked that way before you.  Eliphaz takes Job’s description of the wicked in chapter 21:14-16 and spits it back at Job.   Wicked men said to God, “Depart from us,” and “What can the Almighty do to us?”  All the while they blatantly ignored the God who showers them with blessing.  I reject their counsel.  Why shouldn’t the righteous be glad and mock the wicked when they are cut off?

Then Eliphaz changes tactics, issuing a heart-felt call to repentance.  Submit to God and be at peace!  Good will come to you if you receive instruction from the Lord.  Return to the Lord and be built up.  Lay your gold in the dust, and the Almighty will be your treasure.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will hear you.  Your decisions will be established, and light will shine on your ways.  If you will only humble yourself, he will lift you up.  And you in turn can be an agent of salvation to other sinners.

These are wonderful promises, echoing many similar Scripture passages.  But in this case, they are wrongly applied to Job.