Thursday, January 11, 2007


Eliphaz gets a bad rap for being one of Jobs miserable comforters. Although he certainly misjudged Job he nevertheless had some profound insights into the nature of both God and man. Eliphaz is the first of Job's friends to speak to him and his initial speech is recorded in chapters 4 and 5. His encouragement in 5:17 is taken to be good advice by the New Testament author of Hebrews who quotes Eliphaz: "do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." Eliphaz is often quoted for his saying in Job 5:7: "Yet man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." He has a high view of God: "He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted" (5:9) He gives practical advice: "But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my case before him" (5:8), and "We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself."

Just as Eliphaz misjudged Job and failed to appreciate his integrity and uprightness so we may misjudge Eliphaz and fail to appreciate his wisdom and experience. We all make errors of judgment but no one deserves to be viewed entirely through the prism of their mistakes. Life is just not that simple.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"After this Job cursed the day of his birth..."

Reading Job 3

"After this , Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth...Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come..." (3:1, 20-21ff).

There have been many days in my life where I felt like this. The conclusions of these days are as real to me as any conclusions I have reached about my life on my best days. These conclusions are not more valid or more telling than those I draw on days when everything is going my way and I feel at peace. It is easy to allow the bad days to overrule the good. It is important to remember a few important truths around this story:

1. On either the good days or the bad days I am not in possession of all the facts.

2. My situation is never as simple as to be interpreted on the basis of a few principles and the deductions that can be drawn from them. This is the mistake Eliphaz makes in examining his friend's life when he says: "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it" (4:7-8). The principle is that trouble comes to us when we do evil. The deduction is, trouble has come to Job therefore Job must have done evil. The story and its ending bear out that this simple reasoning was well off the mark.

3. It is important to remind myself and others that I may be having "one of those days" or "periods" but this is not the only kind of day I have had or will have again. I may have to sit down in the ashes for a while but I will rise again.

4. I am continually coming across people who are feeling this way. Remember Job, be compassionate and don't judge!

Monday, January 01, 2007

"...pleasing to the eye..."

"And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (Genesis 2:9)

With the start of a new year I've decided to do a read through the Bible in a year plan. I have always paused at this verse to reflect on the fact that God intentionally created things that were both useful and beautiful. There is really no need for beauty or aesthetics in a purely naturalistic world. The survival of the fittest does not require an aesthetic appreciation of the creation. God created us in his image, we reflect his love of all things good and beautiful. This aesthetic sense is as much an argument for the existence of God as any of the other rational arguments. Our appreciation of a beautiful landscape, the wonder of a dragonfly, Glen Gould playing the Goldbergs, Mozart's Requiem Mass, the poetry of a Dylan Thomas or a T.S. Eliot, all these things reveal that the world is about much more than mere survival of the genetic material of life.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Church of Tough Love"

From a front page article in the National Post by Joseph Brean:

"New polling numbers suggest Canadians are open to religion, but disenchanted with or even ignorant of the current offerings. Contrary to common wisdom, Canadians are not becoming more secular...Faith and spiritual longing are as widespread as ever. It is only church attendance that is down."

"With a flimsy and changing message, the (liberal churches) are less able to attract new members or retain old ones. Modernizing reforms might get good headlines, but in the long run, no one seeks shelter under a tree that bends with the wind."

"They (liberal churches) may be in danger of becoming cults of positive thinking, with too many questions and not enough answers, too much social justice and not enough personal morality, too much humanity and not enough God."

The conclusion of the article is that spiritual interest is alive and well but the church is not well positioned to capitalize on it. While the more conservative churches are affirmed in this article as having the more winning formula it seems to me that the church today, whether conservative or liberal, is a mere place holder in the story of God's action in the world. The story of God and his work is largely bookmarked, on hold, while the fields are ripe for harvest. Anyone interested in the pursuit of God is not likely to find much help in the church. There is however a thriving spiritual enterprise which is taking place at the level of the individual, of informal fellowship, and through the medium of the internet and print. There are thirsty people who are pursuing that thirst wherever the living water can be found.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"... rooted and established in love ..."

Reading Ephesians 3:14-21

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

This one sentence is packed full of hope, and healing, and wholeness. The first thing that we note is that, in life, we are "rooted and established." We are not like those who are "without hope and without God in the world" (2:12). We are not detached from any ultimate meaning. We are not an accident of nature. We have a place in the Universe. Our existence means something.

Paul is clear about the nature of the grounds of our being. We are not about bare existence but about love. Love is always personal by definition. If we are grounded in love then we are grounded in a loving person, God. The roots of our life go down into a bedrock of love and from this we are able to draw up into ourselves continually the love of God. The whole context of our life provides for our need to be loved and cared for.

Paul prays that we will "know this love that surpasses knowledge." It is clear that Paul has two different kinds of knowing in mind. One type of knowing allows us to enter into this love, the other leaves us floundering. Both types of knowing are honored in the Bible. The knowing of the mind and the knowing of the spirit are both encouraged. The knowing that Paul prays for us to excel in with respect to the love of God is one of a deep inner experience and contact that is more immediate than thought. This is not to say that this kind of knowledge is irrational but that it is relational. While words and thoughts fail in trying to grasp the love of Christ there is a deep, personal, and relational level at which we may experience his love. In this way the mind filled with thoughts of God's love only begins to know what the spirit "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" already knows.

I am more than a brain and a body. I have feelings, needs, hungers, desires, motivations, longings, drives, hopes, and aspirations. I hurt, get wounded, experience healing, and taste freedom. Being filled or satisfied is not something that the mind can do for us all by itself. There must be an acknowledgment that we are in a living relationship with God and that our deepest needs are fed out of that relationship. This is why we practice prayer, meditation, and worship in addition to rational reflection and cognitive thought.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"... he may strengthen you with power ..."

Reading Ephesians 3:14-21

The question of the nature and use of power is an intriguing one. This is an important issue in the church and in the world. In the world much of political practice and theory is about distribution of power. Marxism, Communism, Democracy, and other political experiments explore the locus of power and wealth amongst people and how these resources are shared. We are constantly exposed to issues involving the powerless, abuse of power, distribution of power, military power, economic power, as well as philosophies of personal empowerment.

What is the role of power in the Christian life? What can we expect from the working of God's power in the individual, in the church, and in society? In this prayer, in particular, what is the anticipated result of being strengthened with power?

There are three specific passages in this letter that refer to the power of God as it is made available to people. The first reference also occurs in the context of a prayer:

"I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know ... his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church..." (Ephesians 1:18-22).

A couple of observations on this passage:

1. God is drawing an analogy between the power that he exercised in us and the power that he exercised in the resurrection, ascension, and reign of Jesus. The power exerted is comparable. This is an astounding statement especially in light of the detail with which he elaborates on the working of his power in Christ.

2. The comparison is so unexpected that it requires an act of grace to open our eyes to see it ("that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know").

Now, what is it that God has accomplished in us that required so much power and that is analogous to the resurrection of Jesus?

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient ... But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions ... and God raised us with Christ and seated us with him..." (Eph. 2: 1-2,5-6)

In short:
"You were dead ... but ... God ... made us alive."

As a Christian you are a person in whose being a truly mighty power has been at work. You were captive to another power ("the ruler of the kingdom of the air") to such an extent that you were dead and gone. How is it that you are now alive in Christ? "It is by grace you have been saved" (2:8). You were liberated from a powerful oppressor (merry Christmas!) and now live in freedom in Jesus. This is Christian power.

In the prayer in Ephesians 3 we have the same story in other words. The aim of the exercise of God's power is "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." This requires another kind of death and resurrection:

"I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

It takes the working of a mighty power to put an end to the whole of the old context in which I lived apart from Christ and to bring about the living out of the life of Christ in the context of my life in him.

Only after understanding all these things about the working of God's power in us are we ready for the admonition of Ephesians 6:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms ... " (Eph. 6:10ff).

God's resurrection power has not only brought us out of conflict but has brought us into conflict. We now live in a context where we are compelled to dress in battle gear every day, one power standing against another. The battle is intensely personal in that it is not good against evil but the living personal God against a rebellious personality of his own creation (Satan, the fallen angel). It is a personal battle that has Christian soldiers standing against rulers, authorities, and evil beings who comprise companies of spiritual forces. The outcome has never been in question but the process is one designed to test loyalties and to prove historically the all powerful authority and limitless glory of our God.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"... that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith ..."

Reading Ephesians 3:14-21

If the riches of God are intended, above all else, to strengthen the inner being, here is how it is done. God comes into the closest possible proximity to us when Jesus enters our lives. The way in which he is able to "dwell" in our hearts is a mystery that has not been explained to us. Jesus makes himself present within us and reveals to us the nature of God as personal, loving, holy, and powerful. This is nothing like "the force" of Star Wars fame. This is the person of Jesus and there is no dark side of him that empowers evil as readily as it empowers good. Jesus is present in us as a person and as a source of relationship that removes the sense of the universe as being empty and hostile. It is in Jesus that we are reconciled to God and through whom we find hope in the world.

All this comes about "through faith." Faith is about apprehending what cannot be physically grasped, about seeing what is invisible. Faith is a special gift of sight into the world of God.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see... By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Heb. 11:1,3)

Faith is not wish, but being sure. Faith is not 'hope so' but 'hope' in the form of a deep inner certainty. Faith is not irrational but is understanding. Faith is rooted in the existence of God, in his revelation, in the communication of truth by His Spirit, and is made available to us on the basis of Jesus' work of redemption at the cross. It is when we come to believe in Him that he enters into this special relationship with us and comes to "dwell in our hearts."

"They will call him Immanuel - which means, 'God with us'."