I was supposed to write for the Bible Challenge blog this week, but I missed my deadline and Grace+ is on vacation till midweek, so I'm posting this here till she's back and able to post it on the Trinity blog.
Bible Challenge Week 26: Esther 4-Job 9, Psalm 143-148, 2 Corinthians 2-7
If this week’s readings have a common theme, it is the contingency of mortal existence. Read with modern eyes, it is hard to escape a sense of foreboding for the Holocaust in Esther’s story of a plot to slaughter all of the Jews throughout the Persian empire. Through skillful political maneuvering and some measure of good fortune Esther and her adopted father manage to avert catastrophe and achieve a secure status for the Jews in Persia. But this security is no longer due to Israel being a powerful kingdom. It comes instead from the goodwill of political authorities, and is therefore constantly at risk.
The book of Job, where we’ll be spending most of the rest of August, is a deep theological exploration of the meaning of suffering. In the section we read this week, Job, a righteous man under the law, loses most of his possessions, his children, and his health. His friends begin to posit explanations for his suffering, with those we read to this point focusing on Job’s inherent imperfection as a mortal and the possibility of some unknown transgression.
Meanwhile, the reader sees that God is permitting Satan to test Job. What is most surprising about this is the direct acknowledgment, in scripture, of what we know to be true. Terrible things happen to people for reasons that we cannot discern. It may be too much to say that these things are God’s will, but our powerful God does not stop them. We read in Job a foretelling of our own contingency, that no matter our efforts, injury, accident, or disease stalk us all. To dust we will return.
Yet what is a jar of clay but moist, pliable dust fired in a kiln? We are not without hope. In his second letter to the Corinthians, a loving follow-up to his reproving first letter, Paul emphasizes that contained within our mortal bodies is the spark of our creator. This spark does not protect us from being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, but: “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day...Because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
How then to respond to the challenges, suffering, and affliction of our lives? Well, we can do as Job does in these early chapters: rage against God - a legitimate and sometimes appropriate choice. But this section of the Psalms gives us another way forward. Psalm 148 is a full-throated song of praise to the creator from the whole creation. Paul writes that “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession”, for which songs of praise are typically more fitting than laments as marching songs.