Job 21 – God Loves You Even When You’re Angry

“Is my complaint directed to a human being?
    Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be appalled;
    clap your hand over your mouth.
When I think about this, I am terrified;
    trembling seizes my body.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

I saw a post in the Progressive Christians group I’m a part of on Facebook a few days ago that just broke my heart.  The writer said they had left Christianity in their youth, and spent a lot of time very angry at God, openly mocking the religion, Jesus, and God Xyrself.  The writer was worried that, even though they had returned to Christianity, they may have said things that were irredeemable, and that God would not welcome them back into the fold.

This is the damage that overbearing, fire-and-brimstone, purity-culture churches do to people.  These churches manage to obscure and pervert the most consistent messages of the Bible: God’s unending forgiveness, God’s bottomless love.  God so wanted us to be with Xyr that Xe sent Xyr only son to earth to make that happen.  (Perhaps the two most important blog posts I’ve ever written, you can read why this happened, and why I now believe in universal reconciliation, here and here.)  This love does not come with a bunch of conditions, or is offered to only a few, it is freely offered to anyone, even those who have committed the most heinous of sins.  So yes, God will still love the writer mentioned above even after their words of anger, because God loves us when we’re angry.

I mention this story because Job is clearly angry in today’s reading.  And not just vaguely angry – angry at God.  Everybody makes such a big deal about Job never cursing God through all his trials, but he comes pretty damn close in this passage when he says: “It is said, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.’ Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it!”  In other words, “What the fuck, God?”  Basically all of verses 17-21 are a rhetorical challenge to God on his dealings with wicked men (and their innocent children).  Job is clearly wrestling with the idea that God is a just judge when so many wicked men prosper at the same time an innocent man, such as himself, is so heavily burdened.

Job speaks truth when he says “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?”  It is dissatisfying to say the least, but we don’t know the whole picture, as God does.  Perhaps sometime in the afterlife it will “all make sense,” but I must admit that’s pretty weak comfort right now.  I did, however, come across an analogy that may help it be a little easier to bear (I’m sorry I can’t remember where! Contact me and I’ll happily credit it!):  Imagine two men are sentenced to breaking rocks (a là prison yard work) for a year. It’s hard, hot, dusty, monotonous work.  Yet one man knows he’s getting a million dollars at the end of his year, the other man just thinks the drudgery will finally be over.  The work isn’t any different for the two men, but their attitudes are going to be markedly different.  Having faith in God doesn’t make the bad things go away, or mean we don’t have to do the hard things, but it helps us put them in perspective, and hopefully make them a little easier to bear.

That being said, we’re still going to get angry, it’s in our nature.  We may even get angry at God.  But if we view God as our parent, as we are taught to do over and over by Jesus and other passages in the Bible, then we know that God will continue to love us even when we are angry.  My youngest is almost three, and she gets angry at me all the time.  Sometimes I get angry back (especially if she’s trying to hit me or bite me), but most of the time I’m understanding because I know she’s just tired, or frustrated, or has more feels than her little toddler self can handle.  And in those times that I do get angry back at her, I don’t stop loving her, and I’m always ready to forgive her and give her a snuggle when she cools down.  Imagine all of that, but raised to the magnitude of God.

I hope you’re not angry with God, but  I certainly understand if you are.  And I apologize, on behalf of the broadest definition of Christianity, if the faith traditions you were raised in have anything to do with you being angry with God.  At the risk of annoying you further, please know that God loves you, as you are.  God wants you to heal and turn back to Xyr (however you may now comprehend the idea of “God”), but do it at your own pace.  If there’s a third truth we can learn from the Bible today, God is never one to rush things, even if we wish Xe did.  God will not rush you, but will always be there, waiting for you, because God loves you, exactly as you are right now.

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Romans 16 – Women in the Bible: Phoebe

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

The importance of the messenger

Paul greets a number of women in this chapter in addition to presenting Phoebe, the messenger delivering his letter.  In fact, Paul is reported (and reports himself) working closely with many women in the early church.  Phoebe caught my attention because, having read about how these letters were distributed and presented, I knew Paul must have held her in very high esteem for such an important task.

You see, these letters were not merely handed over by an impartial messenger.  The messengers, including Phoebe, read the letter to its recipients, and expounded upon it aloud, answering questions from the recipients and clarifying Paul’s words when needed.  The reading was often dramatic.  I think it was N.T. Wright who theorized Paul and his messengers standing in view of a crucified body for dramatic effect when talking about Jesus’ crucifixion.  If not that extreme, they certainly were impassioned public speakers who would have to know scripture inside and out – perhaps almost as well as Paul did – in order to fully deliver the message of the letter.  I’ve also seen it said that the spoken word was, in fact, the primary message.  The letter was a secondary or supporting document.  So whoever is doing the speaking has a very important role.

Phoebe’s background

So who was Phoebe?  The only concrete thing we know about her is that she comes from Cenchreae.  Cenchreae was a small but prosperous port town not far from the larger Corinth.  It had a deep, protected harbor that made it important for trade.  It was thought to have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and is still inhabited today.  If lifestyle magazines had existed in ancient Rome, Cenchreae might have been included in a list “Top ten small towns in the Empire” for it’s array of temples, historic attractions, strong economy, and proximity to Corinth.

We can assume that Phoebe was wealthy, and probably single (widowed or never married is harder to guess).  The Greek word, sometimes translated “servant” or “helper” can also be translated as “benefactor” or “protector,” which the NIV translation above uses. She was in a role similar to Lydia, the wealthy female dye merchant of Thyatira we meet in Acts, then.  Given her freedom to move about society, I think she was also Roman, or at least part of a very Roman-ized social class, as many contemporary cultures, particularly Greek and Jewish, were a little more restrictive for women.

The Roman Empire was not a bad place for a woman of means.  Rich Roman women could often keep their finances, particularly their inheritance, out of their husband’s hands.  A Roman woman who had borne a certain number of children could also legally request that her finances be her own affair (in payment for producing so many little Roman citizens).  Aside from politics, Roman women were visible and active participants in society: attending functions with their husbands, hosting mixed company in their own homes, donating to social, theological, and civic groups. As we’ve seen in the example of Lydia, they could even run their own business ventures.

A woman with a ready heart

The picture we develop of Phoebe is this: a wealthy, independent woman with a bright, creative mind (I doubt Paul would have entrusted her with this important letter otherwise) who is not afraid of adventure (traveling to Rome was no small undertaking).  Most importantly, she is a shining example of an open heart.  I don’t know what may have troubled Phoebe in her lifetime – because we all have troubles.  But overall, it sounds like she was doing just fine before finding Jesus.  She had enough money. She lived in a lovely little town.  She probably had friends and family – community – before joining the early church.  Honestly, she could have picked anything to attach herself or put effort (and money) into.  But Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation with the one true God was the one that caught her attention, the one she wanted to help bring to the world.

Perhaps she saw the plight of women with less means than her, and saw Jesus as a way to uplift them.  Or, perhaps it was the other way around, and Jesus opened her eyes to the plight of her sisters.  It’s just a suggestion, but speaking more broadly, I think concern for others led her to a love for Jesus, or, through the love she developed for Jesus a concern for others developed, also. Either way, caring and love went (and continue to go) hand in hand.  Phoebe, in short, is a woman who used what privilege she had – status and money to be sure, but also time and intellect – in service to  this fledgling movement of Jesus-followers.  Remember what I said last post, about how it’s the responsibility of the strong to bring justice and love to the weak?  Phoebe did that when she became a benefactress, helper, servant, or whatever other translation you want to use.

Listen, if being a churchy-church person isn’t for you, that’s fine. I think donating money to a worthwhile church and volunteering for church-based events that you believe in is great, but we can see Phoebe’s service to the young church as an example of service in the broader sense of the word.  I think God sees and approves of any work being done to fight inequality and hate, whether it is led by a church group or not.  The important thing is that Phoebe had an open heart, was willing to listen to this strange new message of Jesus dying and being resurrected, and hear God at work in it.  She let that message of love and reconciliation guide her to service and to action.  God bless Pheobe, and may she be an example to the rest of us.

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Romans 15 – The Responsibility of the Strong

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

Major takeaways from Romans

This is the second-to-last chapter in Romans, with the last one being mostly greetings and salutations.  It seems fitting to try and tie it all together, so I went back and read Romans again as well as what I had written about in previous chapters.  I write slow, so I’ve been at Romans for a month and a half, which means a lot happened between then and now.  And I made some truly eye-opening discoveries along the way.  Perhaps most paradigm shifting, for me, was discovering the difference in translation between “Faith of Jesus Christ” instead of “Faith in Jesus Christ,” which opens the door to universal reconciliation as well as putting a whole new, joyous meaning on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  (You can read about it in my post on Romans 03,  You Are Holy.)

But as a mother and a farmer,  I am forced into practicality above all else, and my instinct is to leave Romans with actionable points for myself and for you, dear reader.  As such, I would say my biggest actionable takeaway from Romans is this: it is the responsibility of the strong to enact justice and peace for the weak.  Paul talks about this mostly in terms of Jewish and Gentile groups, because that was the major distinguishing factor of this new Jesus-following movement he was fostering at the time.  But it can apply today to so many dichotomies of power: white and black, male and female, corporate and ecological even.

What positions of power do you hold?  You may be surprised.  You can use these positions to amplify your message.  (Not sure what positions of power you hold? This post is a great reminder of ways you are influential in both personal and public life.)  And what message, exactly, should we be amplifying? Inclusion, stewardship, and of course, love.  This will take many forms, but all of them require at least a modicum of effort.

#wetsuwetenstrong

It can start small.  In fact, I urge you to start small.  My specific challenge for you today is to donate $1 (or more if you can!) to the Wet’suwet’en.  The Wet’suwet’en are an indigenous peoples standing up to the Canadian goverment and mining/pipeline corporations that want to invade their unceded land.  They have managed to seriously disrupt trade in Canada (NOT because they are anarchists, but in a desperate effort to protect their home), yet it is getting very little media attention outside of Canada.  Twitter or Instagram, honestly, is the best place to get some information upon it.  The hashtags #wetsuwetenstrong or #shutcanadadown will get you on the right track.  I support them because they are doing important ecological work, and it’s also high time that governments stop bulldozing the wishes of the people over the wishes of big business.

The time for waiting is over.

Next week is the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday.  It is a time of self-reflection, restraint, and waiting.  But too many people have been forced to wait for too long.  Forced to wait for recognition, for justice, for basic human needs and quality of life.  We have no more time to wait on climate change.  And make no mistake, the evils in the world (whatever you perceive them to be) will not wait for us to catch up or catch our breath.  As this change in the season-both liturgical and seasonal-happens around us, I urge you to be active.  Look around you with open eyes at what needs to be changed, and what your role (however small) could be in implementing that change.  Over the next month or two, I’ll be reading about community activism and organizing, and sharing what I learn with you.  I hope that we can all learn something, but we don’t need to wait until then to start doing something now.  It is our responsibility. Let’s get out there.

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