21 August 2010

Aug 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

Book of Job! Let's see what our references have to say about it. According to Understanding the Bible:
A bold challenge to traditional views of God, the Book of Job dramatizes the plight of an innocent man whose tragic sufferings inspire him to question the ethical nature of a deity who permits evil and the unmerited pain of sentient creatures. ...
Although scholars do not agree on when Job was written, the general period of its composition can be inferred from the theological issues it confronts. ... In its questioning of God's right to prosecute a person of exemplary goodness without just cause, however, the book is far more than an edifying study of the hero's fortitude and loyalty under sever testing. The Tanakh's most fully developed theodicy ... Job seems to express the deepest concerns of the postexilic era, when old assumptions about rewards for faithfulness and penalties for wrongdoing had lost much of their former authority.  ...
After Babylon's destruction of Judah, however, when thousands of Torah-abiding people permanently lost family, health, land, and possessions, confidence that righteous behavior could ensure a good life was less easy to entertain. Observing widespread injustice that turned the Deuteronomistic thesis on its head ... the anonymous author of Job could accept neither Deuteronomy's simplistic theories nor Ezekiel's implication that human misery always drives from sin. Combining traditional reverence for Yahweh with an acutely critical intelligence and demand for moral logic, Job's author protests comfortable but outmoded notions about the connection between good behavior and good fortune. ... the writer ... forcefully illustrates his conviction that old theological claims about the certainty of divine justice were woefully inadequate to explain the apparent random and arbitrary nature of human pain.
On to today's reading!

Job starts with an introductory passage where the satan, God's monitor of humanity responds to a challenge from God that Job is a truly righteous man. The satan posits that Job will not be so righteous if he experiences misfortune and God gives the satan leave to test Job.

In modern Christian thought, the satan has evolved into an individual, Satan. Satan, the individual, is seen as God's enemy. Thus, this exchange between God and Satan often seems highly problematic. Even the traditional Jewish view that the satan is God's servant charged with monitoring humanity is problematic to the popular view that God is all goodness and love. The book of Job shows that, in the mind of its author, God is the author of both good and misfortune. There is no separate entity responsible for that which humans consider bad, only God's assistant who carry out his sometimes incomprehensible will. As we will see, this theme will be enlarged upon.

Job first loses his children and his wealth. Although this causes him great grief, he does not curse God. This causes the satan to go back to God and suggest that Job might not be so reconciled if he were to experience bodily harm. As a result, Job is afflicted with painful boils.

Job still refuses to curse God, but he suffers greatly and eventually speaks out, beginning the transition from the prose prologue to the poetic core of the book. Job curses the day he was born and comments upon the release from suffering of those who are dead. Essentially, Job is laying out poetically the problem of evil. Why would a just and good God allow unnecessary suffering? Why would God let people live lives that can only be improved by death?

This poem also gives interesting insights into the author's beliefs about the afterlife. In general, the Old Testament presents the afterlife as nothing. There is no great reward for the good or eternal suffering for the wicked. There is only punishment and reward in this life and then an afterlife of neutral blankness. Popular conceptions of heaven and hell did not develop until the period between the Old and the New Testaments.

New Testament

After going on about how all of the spiritual gifts are important, Paul tells the people of Corinth to prefer the gift of prophecy over all others but love. That's something of a mixed message.

Paul then goes on to describe why prophecy is to be preferred over speaking in tongues in a way that gives useful insight into communication generally:
Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle?
It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.
Psalms and Proverbs

The proverbs the last couple days have felt redundant with ones we have read before. Today's proverbs continue that trend.