Saturday, December 17, 2016

Judgement Day and Job's Friends

Job is one of the most interesting and uncomfortable books of Scripture. I won't get into all the reasons why, but my primary focus will be on the role of Job's comforters. These men were his friends and they came to help Job "understand" his predicament. They are ultimately rebuked by God for their foolishness.

What did his friends say? One friend said, essentially, God is punishing you, you must have done something wrong, even if you don't know what it is, it is your fault and you must repent. This is sufficient enough to see what they all tried to do, and what Job refused. His friends sought to provide a cosmic framework for Job, in which he can assume his place and responsibility. In this particular framework, God rewards the just and punishes the unjust. Thus, all suffering must be the result of some injustice. This is a personalized karma.

The most horrible manifestation of this is in the metaphor of the cosmic painting. It goes thus: when we look at life we might only see darkness. But if we step back, we can see the whole picture that is made up of both light and dark colors. Our darkness is made sense of in the coherent fabric of the universe. If we can appreciate this, then we can bear the burdens of life.

I think this is totally bullshit and mostly worthless in teaching people the Gospel in moments of suffering. What this does is make evil a necessary, and harmonious, part of Human existence. This goes with a view of the Fall as 'felix culpa'. This makes Human suffering not only a reality, but a necessity. In a sense, evil makes God better. This is absolutely Pagan, akin to yin-yang of the Tao. Sin had to be in order for anything to be, and thus operates as a necessary component part.

In contrast, the Athanasian Revolution, as I've discussed elsewhere, posits the deeply disturbing real possibility of Creation slipping back into oblivion. This is the complete horror of sin, which God reveals in the unleashing of the floodgates in the days of Noah. Evil is not the dark colors in an ordered picture, it is the threat of disorder disrupting God's creative designs. Yet God, even as God made creation in complete freedom, He is related to it in the way that an artist is related to his arts. Yes, an artist may heap his art in the trash (Creator-creation distinction of creatio ex nihilo), but to do so is for the artist to reject his own creativity in pronouncing His verdict over the art. God can and cannot let Creation tumble into the dark.

Yet, if Creation is actually in serious trouble, with sin as a real threat, what does God do? The cross presents the absurd response, an inversion of darkness. This is a creative act in the presence of the decreative void of sin. This is the Divine joke where the most horrible and evil is gutted and completely refigured. This is the sovereign majesty of God's creative power, where even the darkness of sin vomits up the light it obscures.

The practical point is that when we see tragic events, the judgement of the cross ought to guide our ability to perceive them. In that event, we recognize something truly bizarre. Evil has no necessary value, nor does it belong to the cosmic harmony of "everything happening for a reason". Yet God can give it a reason, even as it is inherently destructive to the Creation He made. God does not need darkness to make the light shine, for the life of God is best described by the Psalmist, "in Your light we see light".

The problem with Job's friends is that they did not see an issue that needed to be judged, to be intervened upon. Instead, they sought to master it in their understanding of a cosmic order. The problem with saying "It was God's will for x" is not that it is impolite when someone has lost a child or been in a horrible accident. But because it seeks to explain God's judgement. There will be a day, when in the light of Christ's returned presence, when we will all be able to say with Joseph, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good". In other words, there will be a day when God will judge events and make even the meaningless give meaning.

This is the glory of God's providential lovingkindness, where even things against His predestinations can, and will, become co-opted for His glory.

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