Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?

The Old Testament book of Job is an awesome commentary on who God is and who we are. Towards the end of the book God shows up and speaks to Job. Here is the dialog:

"The Lord said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!' Then Job answered the Lord: 'I am unworthy - how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once but I have no answer - twice but I will say no more.' The Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: 'Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?'"

Well when it all is said and done one thing remains. God is God and man is man. Here the Almighty shows up. He has patiently listened to Job's discourse with his friends and He now makes an appearance to put it all in perspective. At the heart of God's lengthy questioning of Job is Job's heart itself. God counsels Job regarding the things that make God God. He helps him to put the events of his recent life in relationship to God's attributes and character.

As God speaks, Job begins to understand some thing about God. God begins to reveal himself as the Omni-God. By that I mean the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Almighty God. You see, Job suffered, as many of us do, from a small view of God. When he waited and God didn't act and react the way Job expected him to, he became discouraged because he didn't really understand who God is. In the following few sentences I will attempt to put a few words together to describe what makes God God. Knowing that what I write will be inadequate to the task doesn't discourage me … I don't think that anyone could do a truly sufficient job.

To begin let me address three broad categories of God's attributes. I call them is-isms. "God is Almighty". "God is Holy". "God is Sovereign". Each is-ism speaks of a different aspect of God. First "God is Almighty". As we discussed previously God is an Omni-God. Omnipotence speaks of His power to act … this is expressed in creation, in healing and in miracles. Omniscience tells us that God knows everything … every thought and motive … He cannot be surprised. Omnipresence is the ability that God has to be everywhere at one time and at all times … He is not bound by space or time … He sees the future in the same way he sees the past. Doesn't that seem to be enough of a definition for God … surely enough to make most fall prostrate in worship? This, in a small way, encapsulates the idea that "God is Almighty".

The next is-ism is "God is Holy". Here we unwrap the notion of God a step further. For He is more than an Omni-God. "God is Holy" speaks of separateness. Because "God is Holy" He is separate … separate from created beings and things. This is essential to a clear understanding of God. Because He is separate, it is somewhat impossible to understand Him and His ways. Nevertheless, understanding this causes us to see him as unique. This separateness manifests itself in three qualities … goodness, justice and love. Without these the character of God comes into question and He is reduced to a divine despot. The first quality of goodness tells us that at His core God is good … His thoughts, ways and actions are all good … He is a good God. Secondly, God is just. Because he is separate He can judge as no earthly judge can judge. He is the ultimate in fairness and is able to judge because His is separate. Lastly, God is love. In this aspect we see a divine care for creation that is matchless in extent and quality … His love is perfect and unfailing because He is separate. Each of these qualities is important to embrace when we speak of "God is Holy" … each balances the other out somewhat and gives us a picture of a God who is pure in nature … One in whom we can place our trust.

The last is-ism is "God is Sovereign". While the first two is-isms speak of His power and nature this is-ism speaks of God's involvement with creation. It also breaks into three parts … volition, involvement and kingship. Volition firstly speaks of God as one who has a will … not only a will in the most general and universal sense but in the smallest and most personal sense. God has a will for nations and for individuals as well. This concept progresses as we understand that God is involved. He becomes involved in every aspect of creation. He brings the full extent of "God is Almighty" and "God is Holy" to bear on all of creation. He uses His power to accomplish His holiness in our lives. This is where kingship enters in. Job said, "I know that no plan of yours can be thwarted" … this is the essence of kingship. God will have His way … would you want it any other way. But though he rules in the events of our lives … permitting trial and suffering to enter … he allows us to accept or reject His rule in our lives … He gives us free will to curse Him or submit to Him.

So, how does this tie into Job? Would he have acted differently if he really understood who God is? His answer to God's questioning seems to indicate that he would have. For when God appeared to Job, He didn't answer all of His questions … He simply reminded Job of who He is. He said that for Job to justify himself was tantamount to condemning God. Kind of puts it in perspective.

How about you? Does understanding that God's will for you is perfect help you? Does knowing that He brings all of "God is Almighty", all of "God is Holy" and all of "God is Sovereign" to bear to help you be the best person that you can be … one who reflects His goodness, His justice and His Love? Job learned this lesson … may we benefit as well.

Which is easier?

I am in awe of Jesus. He always goes to the heart of an issue. Listen to what is reported of him in the second chapter of Mark's gospel:

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?' Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .' He said to the paralytic, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'

Does this just blow you away? He turned things around on the teachers of the law. He took their 'deep' theological whining to a new level ... their whining was something deeper though ... for if Jesus could forgive sins then their perception of who He was was wrong. You know many of us want to acknowledge Jesus as a great teacher and possibly even a prophet. Like the religious people of Christ's day we want to relegate Him to the normal and the natural - but, like those ancient teachers Jesus does not let us get away with it. For if He can forgive sins then He truly is very God of very God - the Ancient of Days visiting mankind. The writer/theologian C. S. Lewis put it this way:

'I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.'

Determine for yourself which is easier. As for me, I believe that He has the authority to forgive sins for I believe that he is God.

Dear Rabbi

Last month I had an e-mail dialogue with a Rabbi that had published an article on religious tolerance and unity. With hopes of advancing communication and understanding I have included the conversation below.

Dear Rabbi,

I come at forgiveness from a New Testament perspective and was wondering what your take is on the verses in Hebrews 9 that say ...

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep." In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

... since sacrifices are no longer performed how does a modern day Jew appropriate forgiveness?

Dear Bob,

Indeed, forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible was contingent on the kind of passage you quote which alludes to the sacrifice being the vehicle tp forgiveness. That continued in the ancient tabernacle in the wilderness and then afterwards in the Temple in Jerusalem. Once the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70, however, the means of asking God for forgiveness for the Jew transferred to a. the prayer service- both in the daily morning prayers where there is a passage asking God for forgiveness and then on our Day of Atonement through prayer, fasting - and b. not repeating the offense. c. In addition, a Jew is required to "seal" forgiveness" with some act of genuine kindness with another human being.

Dear Rabbi,

Is there a passage in your scripture that you base your reply on or is it based on tradition alone?

Dear Bob,

both. for example, there is a classic passage in the Talmud where two rabbis are walking near the Temple ruins and lamenting that "the place which atoned for the sins of the people of israel through animal sacrifice lays in ruins! To which the second rabbi responds,''be not grieved, my son, there is another way of gaining forgiveness-through deeds of loving kindness for Hosea 6:6 says "Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice." Just one example.

Dear Rabbi,

Thanks so much for the information. I have often wondered about this because of the emphasis in the new testament about forgiveness being appropriated by the shedding of Christ's blood. It sounds like your theology blends in with the thinking that as long as you are a good person, doing good works, you are right with God.

The Pope, Pastors and TV Preachers

I have often thought that there is not much difference between the Pope, Pastors and TV Preachers - many seem to believe that they are accountable ONLY to God Himself and that those in their charge are required to submit to them in spiritual matters. Often these leaders are vexed when people revolt against their authority by either becoming vocal or leaving their church. You know that this is not a new phenomena … religious leaders from the beginning of time have had difficulty with people submitting to them and their authority. This is not to say that rebellion is either good or bad ... it just seems to be.

Jesus faced these religious authorities head-on when he roamed the hills of Judea. These leaders would often come to him trying to trip him up or find fault in His message. On one such occasion they came to him asking for His credentials. Matthew's gospel tells it this way:

"Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

In hindsight it is clear that two authorities are present - spiritual authorities. The chief priests and elders certainly had the weight of tradition, position and even possibly scripture on their side. Jesus on the other hand was at odds with them and seemed a bit out of step with the Judaism of that day … he seemed to have a different kind of authority.

Even today there seems to be two different kinds of authority in church circles. There is certainly still the type of authority that the religious leaders of Jesus' day exhibited. This type of authority doesn't like to be challenged. It is heavy handed and has it's base in carnal power or position. We see this type of authority exercised in many of our corporations. Many husbands and fathers are most comfortable with this paradigm of authority. This authority depends on people who for one reason or another are afraid to disobey the authority. The authority that Jesus exerted was quite different. It is written in Mark's gospel account:

"Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!' 'Be quiet!' said Jesus sternly. 'Come out of him!' The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching--and with authority!'"

Jesus certainly had a rare type of authority. I submit to you that His authority was a blend of spiritual power, wisdom and love. The power was displayed in miracles and demonic exorcism. Wisdom emanated from his teachings. Love was His foundation. It is often written of Jesus that He was moved by compassion when He healed or performed a miracle. I submit that His authority had a basis in love.

Today we would be well advised to evaluate the type of authority we place ourselves under. We are wise when we submit to those who love us with no ulterior motives - and we are wise when we love those in like manner to whom we have authority over. You know, authority is really about influence and the best way to influence anyone is to love them unconditionally. May God take all of your bad past authority problems, redeem them and make you one who is wiser.