Questions and Reflections

June 2016

A reflection on Psalm 63

Our first reading is Psalm 63.

By the end of the day today, according to our Year with the Bible reading schedule, we'll have read 89 of the 150 psalms. Many times we've encountered a place called Sheol. Sheol is a vision of what happens after death. Our vision of heaven and hell are not contained in a vision of Sheol. Sheol isn't a half-way part or a way point until people end up with God or not. Sheol, instead, is a wasteland where all end up. It's dark, lonely, and silent. When Sheol is described in scripture, it is without possibilities. Everyone there feels like they're waiting for something to happen. But since the people are dead, nothing will happen. Those who live in Sheol wait, and wait, and wait, for something that never comes. 

For the author of Psalm 63, that silence is the epitome of life in Sheol. Silence is a firm description of what death is all about. This psalm is a trust psalm where the author longs for God's presence. The author trusts that God is present and loves the author. The author has experienced God, felt God in their lives, and cannot stop talking about God. For this author, to be with God is to speak about God. To speak about God is to experience life and opportunity. A life with God is a life of words, sounds, and music. A life without God is a life that will only end in permanent silence. 

The author of Psalm 63 is not saying that silence is bad but they are encouraging us to share. To trust God is to trust that we matter to God and God is active in our lives. When we experience God or see God active in someone (or something) else, we're called to share that with others. We're called to share our experiences of faith. These experiences are gifts from God that can do more than just nourish our relationship with God. By sharing these experiences, we can bring God and God's love to someone who needs it. 



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A Reflection on the Psalms

The first reading today is from Psalm 10:1-4,9-18.

When you see and experience God, what are the words that come to mind? I'll admit that even a professional religious person, my experiences of God cannot be fully described. There are times I experience such grace, love, or heart break where words are just not enough. But God-moments are not limited to only experiences that take our breath away. There are times when our spirit cries out in words of joy and lament. In those moments, we don't usually know what to say. We can sometimes worry about what we can actually say to God. We're usually comfortable having God speak to us but what words can we use to speak to God? 

Faith is more than just a belief; faith is also a language. The book of Psalms helps us to speak faith-language. These 150 short (and not-so-short) poems and songs all serve different purposes. Some are prayers asking for God's help while other's celebrate God's creation. Some were used when the King of Israel was crowned and others were the hymns and songs sung in worship. The psalms are meant to be spoken, sung, and heard. They are faith-filled words that cover the full range of human experience and emotion. Fear and joy, sadness and love are all covered in the book of Psalms. There is nothing we can bring to God that God hasn't already heard and the book of Psalms helps us bring our pain and joy to God in whatever words are comfortable to us.

Today's reading is Psalm 10. This is a Psalm centered on human suffering. In the face of evil, the psalmist wonders where God is. After last Sunday's recent terror attack in Orlando where men and women were targeted for being LGBT, that is a question we can ask too. The psalmist knows that God sees what happens and they plead for God to break the power of the wicked and evil. Their prayer is our prayer. We seek justice, love, and peace so that "mere mortals may strike terror no more." 
 



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A Reflection on the end of Job

The first reading today is from Job 38:1-7,12-13; 40:1-5.

Last Sunday, we saw the beginning of Job. Today, we're seeing it's end. The story began with God and Satan, the Accuser, playing a game. They want to see if there anyway that Job, an upright person who is faithful to God, would curse God. God empowers Satan to take away his family, his wealth, and his health. He's left with his wife and three friends who come to comfort him. In a dialogue that lasts the bulk of the book, Job's friends try to convince him to repent. They believe that his punishment is caused by something he did. If Job returns to God, God will turn his life around. But Job, knowing that he did nothing wrong, instead argues his innocence and a desire to take God to court. Job's words are directed to his friends and to God. Job dwells on suffering, pain, and what kind of world we live in. It's at the end of the book when God finally responds. 

God never answers Job's questions. Instead, God points to creation. God asks Job if Job was at the beginning when the universe was made and if Job can create like God can. God takes Job on a whirlwind trip through all of creation - from the stars to the sea monsters that lurk in the deep. Job sees God's "bigness" and can only affirm his smallness. God challenges Job to take on God's attributes and defeat the wicked. Job, knowing he's only human, cannot accept the challenge. 

In the end, Job admits that an assumption he carried isn't true. His goal to bring God to court was built on the assumption that human beings are the center of God's creation. God affirms, however, that humans are a part of God's reality. The summation of everything is bigger than just the human experience. Humans might not be the center of the universe but they, along with the rest of creation, do receive God's love and care. Suffering is a part of what humans experience but God isn't absent and God doesn't desire our suffering. Instead, God is present with us through it because God loves us. And God doesn't run away from our suffering but walks through it, even to the cross. 



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A Reflection on Job, Satan, and Suffering

Our first reading is Job 1:1, 2:1-10.

Who is Satan? In Job, Satan isn’t who we think they are. In the Hebrew text that our English translation comes from, Satan isn’t a proper name. Satan is a title (“the Satan.”) A better translation would be “Accuser” or “Adversary.” In Job, Satan is like a prosecuting attorney. God gives this divine being, this angel, the job to investigate wrongdoing and bring it to God’s attention. In Job 1:7, God asks this accuser what they have been doing. The Accuser has been traveling the earth, seeking out things to bring to God. God points Job out to the Accuser. The Accuser claims that Job, if all that he has is taken away from him, will eventually curse God to God’s face (1:11). The parameters of the game are set and the Accuser is given the power to make Job’s life miserable.

Why does God let this game take place? This is one of the harder questions from the book of Job and is a question the book doesn’t answer. To me, the book of Job isn’t a historical book. Instead, it’s a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. The Lutheran Study Bible shares that Job is tackling questions about the suffering of innocents, where God is in our suffering, and what kind of world we live in.

The vast majority of the book of Job is a dialogue between Job and three friends. His three friends come to console their friend in his suffering but also to tell him why he is suffering. Job’s friends do not know about the game between God and Satan. Instead, they assume that Job did something to deserve what happened to him. But he didn’t. Suffering came to Job. The dialogue they share is the conversation we all share when senseless suffering happens to us or our family members. We sometimes know why we or others suffer. But there are times when something sudden, like an illness, disease, or tragic accident, just happens. Like Job, we wonder, “why?” And, in the end, we’re left with a mystery that even the book of Job doesn’t fully explain.



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