What We Learn on the Journey

Today I am reminded that January will bring about my final semester regarding classwork in the Doctorate of Ministry.  My next step will be implementing and reporting on my final project. My first assignment will be an analysis of several books, with some course work due before the first day of the semester.  While I always feel overwhelmed, I am giving thanks for the program offered at Austin Seminary.  The academic expectations are very high, and for that, I am truly grateful.

With the acknowledgment of the end in sight, I can’t help but recall the years of struggle that I had making it through my undergraduate program.  My head and heart were not in school.  All I knew is that I wanted to sing.  Nothing else mattered.  Making good grades was not a part of my interest in my early twenties.  It would take many years before I appreciated the discipline of academic achievement.

Seminary gave me a perspective that changed my complete outlook on life.  At Iliff, I recaptured my love of history and writing.  I discovered the depth of my appreciation for theological studies, particularly concerning how others expressed their understanding of God and our place in the universe.  I also reclaimed my joy for academic research.  School to me became a blessing, a way of reaching beyond myself and not being afraid to live within a world of unknowables.  One of the most important lessons that I learned was that God, and how humanity expresses the divine presence, is larger than anything I can ever fathom.  The Holy Mystery is vast and amazing.

Our journey takes us to many places that we would never expect to go.  If someone had told me at twenty-five that I would be pastoring a church before I finished my forties, I would have told them they were insane.  Those that knew me back then probably are still questioning the discernment of a congregation to have me as their pastor now.  What no one on either side of the spectrum realizes is that I have walked a road that is distinct to me.  God illumined my path and blessed me for ministry.  For that, I am truly grateful.

It has been a very long journey.  One that is filled with disappointments as well as blessings.  I would never have enjoyed my experiences if I had never chosen to go down the path, one step at a time and one lesson at a time.  Praise be to God for His holy patience and understanding.  This is my story, and I am sticking to it!

 

J.B. and Job

The ending of the Book of Job, 42:7-17, contrasts sharply to the ending of the play J.B. written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Archibald MacLeish. While the play claims that the end of the story will occur, it does not present a completely tidy ending. The end of the Book of Job provides a very happy ending in which Job is restored to an even better place. The theology of Job stresses the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with God. This relationship endures suffering and pain. Throughout the tragedies of life, Job remains faithful.

In MacLeish’s play, it is Nickles (who is Satan) that returns to the story. His ending dialogue with J.B. suggests that humanity can be pushed to the brink of despair. He is proved wrong as we learn that Sarah, J.B.’s wife, came back. Nickles is forced to surrender his lowered expectations of humanity. Perhaps the premise of the return of Satan was to continue to speak hopelessness in the midst of hope. In the Book of Job, Satan’s voice is muffled quickly and is not present in the speeches of the other characters including the wisdom literature of God and Job’s own proclamation of remaining true to God’s path.

MacLeish unleashes Satan’s voice from the very beginning to the very end of the play. Perhaps this voice might emphasize Job’s struggles in a more human light. Our minds are constantly bombarded with messages of conflict and frustration. Nickles’ voice reminds us that there is still struggle in our enlightenment. There is confusion in our hope.

Another key issue regarding the ending of both the play J.B. and Job is the role of the wife in J.B. All that is told in the Book of Job is that Job’s wealth and health were restored. Scripture treated the wife as property. The most important role that she plays in the Book of Job is to tell Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9 NRSV). In MacLeish’s play she is J.B.’s partner. Her return at the end of play is so powerful that Nickles (Satan) himself must accept defeat. When Sarah is at the door, Nickles leaves. The power of human love overcomes any plague or mind game that Satan can deliver. J.B. concludes that “God does not love. He Is.” Sarah responds “But we do. That’s the wonder” (MacLeish 152). Theologically I do not agree with the concept that God does not love. The whole premise of the Christian faith is built upon the concept that God loved us so much that he sent His son (Jesus).

Sarah’s power is also found in the commitment to her husband. Amid the rubble of life they stand together as a unified force. Together they will sift through the ashes of the city as well as their marriage to discover beauty (as the petals that are present). J.B.’s fortunes were restored to him through the relationship with his wife. There is an analogy at the end of the play that Sarah and J.B. refer to as “the coal of the heart” (153). Coal is energy and when heated produces energy as a source of warmth. Perhaps the struggle to find the heat by which to warm the heart is a challenge for all of us as we find those things that hold us together as a couple, community, and world. It is with a more realistic ending that J.B. offers a message of redemption in a refreshingly new light.

Our Unique God

11Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused* the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

I watched a video of Marcus Borg last week. The conversation centered on the nature of Biblical interpretation. Borg’s approach is to treat the ancient writings as being steeped in mythology. These qualities are expressed in the Biblical text of Genesis 11:1-9. While one might agree that the elements of mythology are fully present in the Biblical text, it is the interpretation of the passage that accentuates the inspired component of Biblical understanding. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God is depicted as not being omniscient, has at least one heavenly compatriot, and is the author of confusion.

James Kugel’s depiction of the ancient “model” of God as not being omniscient is fully realized in the story of the Tower of Babel (Kugel 108). In reading the narrative one clearly sees that God must move to view the city in Genesis 11:5. God had to move down to view the city of Babel which implies he was up somewhere and not present in the city. This ancient description of God as having to move, or not knowing what is fully going on, is in stark contrast to the descriptions of God that are present in the later Biblical texts (Psalm 139).

In Gen. 11:7 there is the implication that God is not alone. God enables the other spirits, or the other spirit with Him, to move down to witness what is happening in the city. This is not the first time in scripture that God implies that there is a dialogue occurring in the heavenly realm. In the creation story God says, “Let us make humankind in our own image” (Gen. 1:26). In the story of The Fall God says, “See, the man has become like one of us” (Gen. 3:22). Who or what else is with God in this story? The three verses that suggest a heavenly court offer no hint as to who else is with God. In following a Trinitarian model of God, the other figures present might include the Son and the Holy Spirit. The concept of the “other” is a part of the story that is left to interpretation. The other participants with God never speak. God does all of the talking. Utilizing reader-response criticism as found in the Post-modern Bible suggests that the interpretation of the “other” is dependent upon “the psychological cluster, interactive cluster, and social or structural models” (Postmodern 27).

Another component of the passage of Genesis 11:1-9 is that God is the author of confusion. Verse 7 indicates that God created confusion on purpose. God created different languages and scattered the people all over the world. There is an implied assumption about this story that humanity was part of one city. Earlier texts seemed to indicate that this was not the case reinforcing Borg’s interpretation of the passages as mythological in nature. There is also the open ended question of why would God create chaos?

While I agree with the idea of many Biblical stories being mythological, there are certain characteristics of God that are present in this text. God is the prime mover and is all powerful so as to create language and scatter the people all over the world. These primitive concepts of God will be developed as society matures.

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