Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Too Much Talking

“Let the day of my birth be erased,” Job 3:3

This post is a bit of a part two to the previous post “Who, being innocent has ever perished.” So, if you wanted to brush through that post for some pivotal ideas that’d be fine. Look for the concepts of: roles, the problem with the question “why,” self-interested mourners, and theological encounters in tragedy.

Each of those ideas will be insinuated in the discussion below.

This might be an all too familiar topic for some; and a fortunately foreign one for others. We are going to be discussing suicide as spiritual warfare as seen in the Book of Job.

First, I want to say that I am not dismissing mental illness as the source of most suicides by framing it within the context of spiritual warfare.

If you suffered with me through my series on the liturgical holidays, you will know that I consider the spiritual and physical realms as a completely unified reality.

Also, I hope that you will not dismiss my point of view as I myself have lived with the thorns, thistles, fears, and despair of bipolar 1 disorder for 10 years– and I take medication for it. I have supported my husband through combat related PTSD and survivor’s remorse for the past 7 years– and he didn’t really find therapy helpful; but he found meeting Jesus as his savior changed everything. I’ve walked through mental illness with friends who didn’t want to stay on their treatment plan and friends who were fastidious with doctors, medication, therapy, and groups. I’ve watched loved ones encounter schizophrenia, major depression, paralysis, and suicide some with support and some with none.

I do not say this in any way to elevate myself, nor do I assume that because I have experienced mental illness within my own sphere that that qualifies me to understand your unique experience of heart-ache and sickness.

I reveal these things about myself entirely to remove any trace of me being glib from this post. And also I want to express that just because I think mental illness and suicidal ideation is spiritual that does not mean that I think intervention and treatment is “un-Christian.”

The reality is that suicide is a spirit of death that has breached the walls of the church and as most recently publicized has been affecting devoted clergy members, which removes any delusions that Christians may have previously held onto that suicide is not a Christian issue.

This torturous state– suicidal ideation and attempts and completed suicides– is now in front of us as the Church in the same uncomfortable manner that Job’s friends had to look at. And that is just what we have to do– we have to look at it. And evaluate our beliefs.

When we go to the house of our friend whose spirit is failing within them, we can’t bring in our fear-based, self-serving, God-in-a-box, forget-Satan-is-real, prosperity-adjacent theology that would rather try to protect our ideas about God before challenging them in the face of life’s harshest reality: death.

God will show up to challenge death. Can we?

So. Did you know that Judas Iscariot’s hanging is not the only time we hear of suicide in the Bible? If the instance of the disciple who betrayed Jesus was the only time we heard of suicide in the Bible, it would be easy to vilify suicide along with the villain.

But. It is certainly not the only place we hear of it. God’s servant Job, the finest man in all the earth, blameless, and of complete integrity (God’s words not mine- Job 1:8), experienced approximately 32 chapters of suicidal ideation, longing for death, despairing, desiring to meet his Maker rather than suffer among God’s creation any longer.

To make this easier for you to see, I am going to strip away the poetry in Job 3:1 – 27:23, so that it will become more obvious that Job’s ten speeches and his friends’ replies are in all reality a mere script of what is even today the typical conversation you would have with a suicidal loved one.

Keep in mind then that Job’s friends are considered wicked.

I do want to put a trigger warning here, even though I usually make fun of them. If you are experiencing a pull toward death and despair, can you please pray about how my rendition of Job will affect you? Please pray about whether this will encourage you or discourage you before reading. Thanks, love you.

Here we go:

Job:

I wish I were never born. I wish my parents wouldn’t even have ever had sex so that I could never have been born. Or I wish I would have been born dead and the doctors couldn’t save me. I wish I could have just always rested in oblivion. Why would God create me just to let me live this kind of life. I have no appetite. I can’t eat. (Job 3.)

Eliphaz:

Ok, let me just say something. You are such a good friend. You have done so much for other people. You’ve seen God work in your friends’ lives, don’t you believe He’ll do that for you? Come on, you know that God punishes bad people. You are such a good person. You know, this’ll all turn around. 

You know I had this divine revelation about how awesome God is and how no one is righteous before Him– not even His angels. He is Holy. You need to just pray. Maybe the Lord is maturing you through this. You will have a huge testimony after all this is over. (Job 4-5.)

Job:

You cannot understand. I have this weight on me. It’s too much. Why can’t you let me complain? God is letting me suffer so much. I can’t eat. Nothing tastes good. I want to die. I want God to just take me home. A person can only be so strong. I am a Christian. I have always been faithful, I still am. But this is all too much. 

Why can’t you just be kind and console me. You are blaming me. You’re acting like I am doing something wrong! You are a terrible friend. Please stop criticizing me and tell me something real. Tell me something true about God that I can hold onto instead of making me feel worse!

What, you’ve never been hurt or suffered? Have you ever been depressed? Have you ever been awake all night waiting for morning and then unable to get out of bed? I have sores all over my body for Christ’s sake!

“God! Oh my God! Help me. You see me. I can’t go on like this. I know You can do something, why won’t You?” (Job 6-7.)

Bildad:

You are talking in circles, Job! You’re making it sound like this is God’s fault. Like He did something wrong. You need to pray. Seek God to restore your right thinking, your thinking is wrong. He is going to restore you. Get that right in your head. 

You have to remember what happens to people who don’t believe. Just believe. You’ll be singing praise in no time. You’ll watch everyone who hurt you get theirs when God is on your side ’cause you believed. (Job 8.)

Job:

Bildad, I know. I know God is holy and mighty. I know He is just. But how can a person be good enough for Him? He’s God. The creator. He’s huge. He’s miraculous. 

I just feel so far away from Him. I feel helpless before Him, without His love. 

I’ve got nothing. I have nothing to offer Him or any way to defend myself. I know I haven’t done anything wrong, yet I feel like I can’t draw near to Him. I feel no intimacy. I’ve always tried to please Him, for what?!

I guess I should just pretend to be happy. I’m dying. Might as well put on a happy face. 

There’s nothing I can do. I need someone who God loves to convince Him to spare me. I’ve gone as far as I can on my own. I just don’t know what He wants from me. 

“Lord, why?!!! What is the point?! Lord, I don’t get it! I thought You loved me. I’m so confused.” (Job 9-10.) 

Zophar:

Job, you are talking way too much. Take a break. You’re gunna get yourself in trouble here. You’re saying you’re a Christian, but you obviously do not understand God. You are so off base on what God is like. 

You really, really need to pray. There is obviously some hidden sin in your life. You need to repent. You’ll feel so much better. But if you keep on how you’re going– yeah, death will be your only answer. (Job 11.)

Job:

Oh, you’re so smart, huh, Zophar? Too bad when you die we’ll lose all your insight. What a loss. You know, I have a little insight myself, yet you act like I’ve never studied the Bible, prayed, been close to God, or devoted. It’s easy to mock me when nothing’s wrong in your life.

I think if you really knew your Bible, if you even paid attention to the wisdom in creation, or even looked at history, you’d know that bad things happen to good people. 

You’re such a hack, Zophar. You’re so bent on “defending” God that you are ignoring basic truths. What you’re saying is completely unhelpful.

Prove that God is punishing me because I deserve it and I will happily kill myself. 

“God have mercy. It’s too much. Relent, Lord. Please show me how I’ve sinned. I will repent. Don’t be my enemy. Don’t accuse me, Lord. We all die. You are in control. Lord, kill me. I feel dead already. How can I live again? Give me hope that you still love me and have a desire for me to live and to serve you and to have purpose here on earth. Otherwise I’ll die an insignificant death.” (Job 12-14.) 

Eliphaz:

Oh my God! I cannot believe how you are talking! Those words are sinful. Who do you think you are? Surely, you’re not the first person to suffer; and to talk about God like that!

You can’t say there is no way that you deserve what you’re getting. No one is perfect. Everyone has to go through things to mature. You are talking like a baby Christian. You know better…or I thought you did. 

You are revealing your hard heart. You’re defiance. That’s why this is happening to you. This is exactly what the Bible says happens to stiff-necked people. (Job 15.)

Job:

Wow. Great friend, Eliphaz. Like I don’t know all this. Like I couldn’t say some things about you. But if you were in my position, I’d try to help you not criticize you. 

“God, You’ve destroyed me. And now I’m ashamed as people make fun of how I feel. After I do this, Lord, at least let my death remind you that we need someone to help us stand before You. So that we don’t have to suffer under Your holiness. I don’t deserve anything different, but make someone perfect who could help those of us that You hate.

God, defend me? My friends are stupid and they think they know anything about You. I’m so ashamed. I have to die. I have no hope. They’ll just bury any hope I have left with me.” (Job 16-17.) 

Bildad:

Stop talking, Job! Do you think we’re idiots? The wicked die prematurely. Skin disease like yours is a sign of wickedness. Their homes burn down. They have no children, no heirs. Surely, you have all the signs of a person who has rejected God! (Job 18.)

Job:

Just go away. You guys are torturing me. You just keep insulting me. Why is what I do any of your business anyway? You are using my humiliation as evidence of my sin? Seriously? 

I have prayed. I have nothing and no-one left. There’s nothing left for me to hold onto. 

Geez, the least you could do is show me a little mercy. 

I know that somewhere, somehow, at some time a Redeemer will justify me. I’ll be able to stand before God at last. 

I wonder how you all will stand up on judgment day after judging me, as if you know. (Job 19.)

Zophar:

You know, the Spirit is prompting me to say this. I’m so disturbed. Job, you are a blasphemer.

All of your wealth– we thought it meant God’s favor. But we should have realized that you were just a fake. You are a wicked person who got wealth quickly but lost it because you were truly sinful. (Job 20.)

Job:

Can’t you just listen to me? You don’t think I have reason to be disappointed with God? Terrible things happen to good people and great things happen to bad people. What kind of God does that? Why did I spend all that time being a good Christian? It didn’t help me! I know you’re going to say that evil people who enjoy life on earth will suffer in hell, and their kids reap the consequences. You can’t prove that. That is so cliche. It’s no comfort to me. (Job 21.)

Eliphaz:

What, do you think you can help God do a better job, Job? You need to repent. Now that I think of it, I can think of quite a few shady things you’ve done. You’re not as good as you think you are. Stop pitying yourself. You need salvation. If you reject God, there’s nothing He’s going to do about it. It’s your choice. God will save you if you repent and turn to Him. (Job 22.)

Job:

I would pray to God if I knew how to make Him hear me. I’ve prayed, believe me. I can’t argue my case to Him; I know He is sovereign. I know that God knows my heart. I know the trials He puts us through purify us. He knows that I have been a true and faithful follower. He knows my heart is pure. But it doesn’t make this time any less dark. 

I don’t know why some suffer; why there is poverty or crime or famine; or why people die of exposure in homelessness. Human trafficking. The working poor! Evil people with completely satanic hearts run rampant. I know they will meet judgment. I know that their is no rescuing them from the power of the grave. I know that for sure. (Job 23-24.)

Bildad:

God is awesome and powerful. We all have a sin nature. We all fall short. (Job 25.)

Job:

Don’t think you’re doing some good work by coming to talk to me. You have not offered me any compassion or insight. The Spirit of God is completely discerning. His intelligence distinguishes between the slightest shadows. Don’t think that I don’t know you are operating in a wrong spirit. It is not the Holy Spirit speaking through you. 

The Lord has put me in this place in life. But I will never agree with you that this is my fault. I will never agree with you that this is the consequence of my sins. Don’t think that your plenty equates to favor. Don’t think because you are more well off than me that you are more spiritual than me. Do not take your mental health to mean that you have spiritual health. (Job 26-27.)

So concludes the discourse between Job and his three wicked friends. 

This conversation is difficult to overhear. Where do you think you’d stand? Have you said any of these things to a friend?

But mostly, what is it that makes Job innocent in this conversation and his friends wicked in their communication? Spoiler alert: God sides with Job in chapter 42.

There are two characteristics that put Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz in Satan’s camp during this discourse: accusation and self-sufficiency.

They say a lot of things about God that are true, but they accuse Job. And in their accusation they assume that man’s actions are sufficient to save or condemn him.

Job, on the other hand, remains righteous by standing firm in assurance of his innocence due to a prophetic foreknowledge of an Advocate that can absorb God’s wrath. In other words, he believed that only Jesus saves.

The battle between these two beliefs is the definition of spiritual warfare.

All Satan wants is for us to step out from under grace and into condemnation.

He wants to accuse us, scare us, make us afraid of God, to make us hide from God, and as such, we’d fall into trying to justify ourselves by our own merit. (Does that sound anything like Genesis 3?)

He wants us to try to live in our own will and way, and on our own goodness and strength rather than standing in trepidation, exhaustion, depression, remorse– but!– standing still, in the purity and hope that Christ provides.

To experience mental illness is to experience the deepest dredges of shame. It is to have accusation after accusation whispered in your ear. It is to live under the specter of guilt. And though wicked friends wouldn’t believe it, the feelings of guilt are without cause.

The panic of mental illness is that something rotten– god knows what exactly– will be found out about you. The itchiness of this self-consciousness is like the feeling of standing unclean before the judge.

Yet, Zechariah 3 tells us how the high priest, Jeshua, stood in filthy clothes before the Lord. Satan was making accusations against him, and the Lord said, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan.” 

That is my favorite verse in the whole Bible.

What put Job’s friends on the wrong side of the spiritual battle is who they agreed with. They were accusing Job, agreeing with the Accuser.

God had already proclaimed Job as blameless…that is prophetic. What God says just, well, is. By maintaining his innocence, Job was in agreement with God.

Love covers a multitude of sins. God’s love for Jesus covers the multitudes who believe that they need an Advocate (John 16:26-27).

No matter how true or untrue what Job said about God was (his theology), he got one thing right– accusation is of the Accuser, and we stand innocent when we stand on hope in the Advocate.

Win, lose, or draw in our suffering, we can ultimately only throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus.

Jesus did not save us from our sins so that we could become able to do good works and please God.

My biggest fear after my diagnosis was that if I am some sort of maniac, how can I be good? And if I can’t become fundamentally good, how can I be a Christian? I wasn’t able.

Jesus saved us from our sins and now we do please God. Now we are a pleasure to the Lord. We still aren’t able, we just are. Because: Jesus.

But it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. So, those conversations in your head or with your exasperated friends who are trying to convince you to go to church and stop cutting yourself– can come to a full stop! The cross ended the conversation about your worth, and the verdict was: worthy.

Which is wonderful news for a wretch like me, or anyone else who the Accuser works overtime to destroy.

Your anguish, your loss, your disability might make it so that you are never respectable again. But blessing or cursing, plenty or lean, survive or succumb– you are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. He has given you the one thing you need– being blameless in the eyes of God.

“He is blameless.” Job 1:8 & Job 2:3.