Saturday, February 26, 2011

10-Minute Presentation On The Company Of Job

"Shortly after the beginning of the year 2006, I emerged from my man-cave with a stack of paper. I handed it to my wife and said "I've written an opera." She gave me a quzzical look and I said, "But it needs music." She gave me an incredulous look and said, "So what are you telling me for?"

So began a journey... a journey of faith, to be sure, but also a journey of trial and error... of anticipation and frustration; a journey on which we would meet some of the most gifted, talented, and broken people you can imagine... people whose personal lives were testaments to the fact that this world is full of pain and suffering; and it is also full of compassion and grace... people who longed to be a part of something that is so incredible the only fitting word for it is — divine.

Such is the story of Job; an ancient tale that transcends the bounds of time or place... a tale that is as real and relevant today as it was when its unknown author first put it into writing thousands of years ago.

The story of Job is the story of every man... every woman... every child... who ever suffered and in that regard, it is truly every man's story.

Job was a man who was, by all accounts, very, wealthy.

He had vast holdings of real estate, which he leveraged to produce crops... which he sold to feed both local and far-ranging populace.

He had a diverse portfolio in the stock market of his day in the form of oxen, camels, and sheep (and, presumably, many other animals); working animals used to plant and harvest his crops, transport them to distant regions to sell, and even produce meat and clothing for his family and community.

Job had a large family, an extensive household of servants, and he was a well-respected pillar of his community.

But then... one day... he lost it all. In one day... blow after crippling blow destroyed his crops, his livestock, his servants, and finally... his ten children.

Political upheavals... invading armies... natural disasters... does this story sound familiar? Does it sound relevant? Does it sound like it's just a story of ancient times? Or does this sound like a story worth telling today... and tomorrow?

We believe this is story worth telling and The Company of Job has been formed to tell Job's story.

Our desire... is to find the music that lives within the poetry of Job and to let the story speak for itself.

Our mission... is bring the story of Job to life on the musical stage, to tell about real suffering in our world today, and to donate our profits to organizations that help to relieve that suffering.

Our Hope... is that you will help us to do these things."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My head is spinning

"The book of Job has been called one of the most difficult books in the bible. Why is that? What is it about this story that makes it one of the most loved and admired books and yet one that is so difficult to understand? Instead of taking a linear path through the story, we are going to attempt to identify some major themes that are woven throughout the text and examine the story from a variety of viewpoints."

This is what we're using for our summary of the class. There are truly so many things you can talk about within the story of Job that it's virtually impossible to cover it all in a limited amount of time. We hope to at least hit some highlights, ask some probing questions, and hope we can find some answers... or at least some things to think about.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

But then...

After a brief introduction of the man named Job, the next part of the story says "One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord." This comes right after we are told what a great and righteous man Job was. I think it should say, "But then one day..." because it would provide a signal to the beginning of Job's trouble. Things were going well, but then...

It's the "but then" moments that test our faith, unravel the perfect tapestry of our theology, and cause us to re-examine the beliefs we hold so dear, as they did for Job.

"One day the angels came..." is such an innocent and uneventful sounding opening to a passage in which God agrees to allow the satan to destroy his favorite servant's life. "But then..." would at least prepare the reader for the drastic change that was about to occur to this too perfect picture.

I remember a story I read years ago (but have been unable to find any reference to) in which the central character goes about his daily life and then suddenly falls through a "trapdoor in time" when his life completely changes. I don't remember a lot about the story, but the concept has stayed with me through the years. The trapdoor of life when nothing is as it was before.

That's how I envision Job's story. His life was going along quite nicely, thank you, until God opened an unseen trapdoor under him and he fell into a world he did not understand or know existed... a world in which the God he encountered was nothing like the God he thought he knew; a world in which all the theology and philosophy and history and wisdom he was accustomed to wielding with such understanding suddenly held no answers for his dilemma.

A Different Viewpoint

Marcus Borg, in his introduction to the Old Testament ("Reading the Bible Again For The First Time"), says that if we read Job searching for answers to why good people suffer, we are left unsatisfied and wanting... we get no good answer. The real question... the primary question Job seeks to answer is the one raised by the satan... "Does Job worship God for nothing?" Does Job — do we — worship God because of the blessings we expect to get in return? Or do we worship God because He Is God and is worthy of worship?

God holds Job up for review... puts him on exhibit as the poster child of piety and righteousness. That's when the satan throws down the gauntlet and issues his challenge. "Does Job worship God for nothing?" The satan's challenge was carefully constructed to shift the focus from Job's righteousness to God's worthiness. Notice that he did not accuse Job of anything except maybe self-interest. Rather he is raising the question of whether or not God is worthy of being worshiped.

This point of view is startling because of the clarity it brings to the story.
  1. It shifts the focus from man-centered to God-centered. 
  2. It makes God the central character rather than Job. The story is about God's worth... NOT Job's righteousness.
  3. It shows that the satan was not accusing Job of anything. Rather, he was accusing God of not being worthy of being worshiped. That is why God was compelled to engage the challenge. 
  4. Whatever the challenge was about, it certainly was not so God could find out if Job would remain faithful. If it was, then God is not the omnicient God we believe him to be.

Assorted notes

I'm not sure where some of these came from, but I'm attempting to compile them from several sometimes unannotated notebooks.

Principles from Job
I think these came from "A Sacred Sorrow" by Michael Card
  1. If God's ways are truly beyond our comprehension then we must concede that there may well be reasons for suffering other than those we can perceive
  2. If God's ways are truly beyond our comprehension then his blessings may well be other than those we can perceive
  3. Pain and suffering are perfectly compatible with God's promise to bless his children; Loss of health and loss of wealth... those things we generally assume to be blessings from God... is perfectly compatible with God's promise of blessing
  4. The Wisdom literature of the bible is not there to present us with perfect wisdom for living, but rather to show us the inadequacy of wisdom. Solomon bemoans the fact that though he was the wisest man on earth, wisdom was not enough.
  5. Those who want a simple formula for their lives will not find it here.
In "The Prophetic Imagination", Walter Brueggemann says that one of the tasks of prophetic ministry is
"to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely penetrated by grief and lament. Death, and that is our state, does not require indignation as much as it requires anguish and the sharing in the pain."
I believe this is one of the ways God has chosen to use "Job: A Postmodern Opera of Biblical Proportions". It provides a musical, lyrical, poetic vehicle by which we share in the pain and anguish of Job, his wife and family, and even his friends. It is within that sharing that we become community, that barriers of race and religion are overcome, walls are torn down, hands are joined, and wounds are healed.

Three main themes in Job:
  1. Basic reality of life
  2. Moral dimension of life
  3. The problem of suffering
Seen and unseen world are taking place side by side
Satan and the Unseen Council - satan called "God's prodigal son"; Angels are called "the sons of God"; the satan is "accuser, wanderer, cynic, tormentor"

Lesson to learn:
  1. Learn to Expect Suffering
  2. There is a bigger battle taking place 
  3. Everything belongs to God
  4. Worship God no matter what happens
  5. Don't lose perspective

The Friends of Job

"Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures"
 --from the introduction to Job in "The Message" bible translation

Eliphaz the Temanite -  name probably means either "My God is Strength" or "God is fine gold" or some derivation of that; thought to be descended from Teman who was the son of Eliphaz who was the son of Esau. Since he spoke first, Eliphaz was probably the eldest and most noteworthy of the three.

Bildad the Shuhite - A descendant (or follower) of Shuah, son of Abraham and Keturah, whose family lived in the deserts of Arabia, possibly a member of a nomadic tribe dwelling in southeastern Palestine.

Zophar the Naamanite - descendant (or follower) of Naaman, probably also from the deserts of Arabia.

In the story of Job we are told of Job's three friends who hear of his trials and come to comfort him. "When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him."
We are not given any indication that their honest and sincere intention was anything but exactly that... to sympathize and comfort. As we know from the story, however, their good intentions quickly deteriorated when they began talking to Job, so much so that "Friend of Job" has become a catch-phrase for one who is a false friend or one who only pretends to want to help.

The friends sit with Job for seven days and nights without saying a word. It should be noted that a custom at the time was for mourners to say nothing until the one they were mourning with spoke. Then they were free to speak as well. Job's friends honored this custom and allowed Job time to grieve. When Job finally did speak, his words were not was his friends thought they should be. That's when the discussions started and quickly became arguments about who was right.

The three friends are generally thought to represent three approaches of reasoning, but all come from the basic premise of "Torah Obedience" which is the belief that "if I keep the Torah, God will bless me and, in fact, is obliged to do so to keep his covenant." This simple formula gave shape and meaning to Israel's religion for centuries and is, in fact, still operative today even, unfortunately, in many Christian denominations. Many believe the purpose of the story of Job was to burst that particular bubble and return the shroud of mystery in which God so rightfully dwells.

Eliphaz - Experience is the best teacher: "I have learned... I have observed... I have seen..."
Bildad - we must adhere to Tradition and History: "Inquire of past generations; look at how things have always been..."
Zophar - Torah is the Law; legalistic pronouncements: He focused on rebutting Job's words rather than the feelings behind them, causing him to generalize and condemn.

What the friends teach us
  • When you go to see a friend in distress, the ONLY thing you should do is express sympathy and show compassion.
  • Do NOT offer philosophical or theological reasons or explanations; instead, bite your tongue or LEAVE!
  • There is always more to the story than you are able to know.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Background on Job

Martin Luther called Job "magnificent and sublime... the most beautiful and most difficult" book in the bible.
French Author and Poet Victor Hugo said that "Job is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the human mind. If it were given to me tomorrow to destroy all books, save one... I would save the book of Job"

Notes from Walter Brueggemann's "Introduction To The Old Testament"
  • The story is undated; it "uses older genres and patterns of speech and fashions them into the most artistic and practical statement of faith in the Old Testament."
  • "...challenges the basic premises of Israel's faith."
  • "...refuses easy resolution..."
  • Composed mostly of lament and hymn, which it pursues to an "emotional, artistic, and theological extremity."
  • "An immensely sophisticated artistic work that is removed from any particular historical context or crisis."
Notes from Charles Swindoll
  • The book of Job is a protest against religion that has been reduced to explanations or pat answers
  • You never get over grief completely until you express it fully. Job didn't hold back.
Other Notes:
  • The story itself is believed to predate the earliest scriptures. 
  • Some scholars believe the opening and closing of the story, which is written in prose form, frames the basic story from the ancient tale. The poetic sections, which comprise the vast majority of the book, were written by unknown author(s), possibly during the time of the Babylonian Exile, although Jewish Rabbinical authorities ascribe authorship to Moses, who they say wrote it to comfort the Israelites when they were enslaved in Egypt. In short, we don't really know.
  • In Jewish tradition, Job was an actual, historical man who was a very powerful figure in the ancient world. He is believed to be the son of Uz, who was the son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. There is also a minority of Rabbinical scholarly opinion that believes that Job was not an actual historical figure. In this view, the book of Job is a morality tale written by a prophet to convey a divine message. 
  • The Greek historian Aristeas identifies Job as being "Jobab, the great-grandson of Esau", as mentioned in Genesis 36.
  • In Islam, Job is considered to be a historical person and a prophet of Allah. He was struck with all the same tragedies recorded in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, but there is no mention of lengthy theological debates with friends who came to console him. Much of the rest of the story, though is very similar to the Jewish and Christian texts. There is a tomb outside of Salalah, in southern Oman, that local tradition says is the tomb of Job. There are at least two other locations that also claim to be Job's tomb. 
If Job was written, as some scholars claim, during Israel's Babylonian exile, one metaphorical aspect of the story that would not have been lost on its readers of that era is that of Job being an archetypal representative of Israel itself. His ten children directly related to the ten tribes of Israel which were lost, but the restoration of Job's children in the end (or at least getting ten new ones) gave the exiles hope toward restoration and renewal of their country.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wisdom Literature

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon) are the primary biblical witnesses to wisdom within the human experience. They are certainly not the only places wisdom is to be found, but they do provide the canvas on which the majority of thought concerning wisdom is painted. They give place for the full range of experience, emotion, and thought that we mortal humans live in our time on earth. They do not try to shield the reader from anything that may be considered not politically correct or too extreme. They toss up life in all its grittiness as the arena in which God is present and working.

I found an interesting introduction to the wisdom books in, of all places, the bible I'm using now which is The Message translation. It presents the five wisdom books as a grid of human experience with psalms squarely in the middle.

In one corner we have Ecclesiastes accepting us into the boredom of daily living while in the opposite corner Song of Songs celebrates the most exquisite and beautiful love that life can offer. Job and Proverbs share opposite corners with Proverbs providing pithy quotations for living successfully while Job provides an exposition into the extremes of suffering. Psalms ties them all together, providing a melting pot of celebration, lament, cries of anguish, and shouts of joy.

Themes in Job

Clark McNutt and I are slated to teach a class on the book of Job starting in March. Rather than trying to teach the passages in an expository way, we are going to attempt to identify some major themes or topics that run through the story and see what they have to tell us. Having spent the last six years studying a variety of books about Job while working on the opera Suzanne and I have written (with much help from many friends), I think I can bring in some different points of view and differing ideas from those that we are usually presented with (at least those we get in our Presbyterian (PCA) Sunday School classes).

Here are a few I came up with... in no particular order and subject to change without notice... your mileage may vary... do not attempt this at home...
  1. Wisdom Literature - overview of the wisdom books in the bible... Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. How are they interrelated and how are they different?
  2. Background on Job - when do we think it was written and why? what was its context? why is it in the bible? what does it have for us today?
  3. Who is God? What is he? How do the names by which we call him dictate our thoughts about him?
  4. God and the Satan - just what is their relationship anyway? Is "the satan" in Job the same character we are introduced to as the "serpent" in Genesis and Lucifer later on?
  5. Job's Wife - Old "What's-her-name" - Generally vilified for her brief appearance and suggestion that Job should "curse God and die", Job's wife has a lot to teach us about handling grief if we'll look long enough to understand her.
  6. Job's Friends - Friends in Need, or Needy Friends? The dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, take up the vast majority of the book. Their theological debates are far-ranging and lengthy. Let's take a look at Job and his friends and see what was going on. Is being called a "Friend of Job" a good thing or a bad thing?
  7. Justice and Man's Role vs. Justice and God's Role - Is God too busy to deal with issues of justice on earth? Can we continue to believe in a good and all powerful God in the face of the immense suffering we see? How do we reconcile it? Or do we?
  8. God and Creation and Man in Creation - God's response to Job from the whirlwind is a whirlwind tour of creation. What's he trying to say anyway?
  9. From Riches to Rags to Riches - The story's beginning and ending are prose compared to the poetry that makes up the rest of the book. What's up with that? Is the ending a copout? 
  10. These were added by Clark... 
    • Health and Wealth- things we see and feel but not are.
    • God's view of man vs. Man's view of man
    • Why does God allow Satan to interfere?
    • Integrity as a character trait
That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I am going through my notebooks to see if I can pull together some information that is usable for the class. I'm looking forward to it, but a little scared too. Hoping it will go well.