The Gospel of Job

This is not the blog post I was planning on writing.

The blog post I was planning on writing was called “Sometimes The Enemy Wins,” and it was going to talk about the fact that sometimes Satan does get his way, and what happens when he does. I may yet write that blog post sometime, but not today.

In it, I was going to write about the times in scripture that Satan tests people, including my favorite prayer in the Bible. But as I was planning that post, I got caught up on the story of Job, and got to thinking about it in a way that I never had before.

Job’s one of the better-known stories in the Old Testament. There’s this guy, Job, and he’s a pretty awesome and upstanding guy. So Satan comes up and visits God in heaven one day, and is generally putting humanity down, and God’s like, “You seen my boy Job? He’s pretty awesome.” And Satan says that Job’s only all about God because God treats him so good, and if that changed, Job would turn on a dime.

So God says, go for it, and gives Satan permission to test Job, to take away all the cool stuff he’s got and see what happens. So Satan blows up his sheep, and kills his kids and turns his skin into something out of a horror movie. And all Job’s friends come by and tell him he should admit it’s his own fault, and his wife comes out and says he should just curse God and die and get it over with.

But Job, true to God’s assessment, stays the course, and doesn’t curse God. And so, at the end, God shows up to talk to him, and Job’s all, “Dude, … the hell?” And God’s all “OK, look, I’m God, who are you? ‘Cause, um, yeah, unless you’re God, you really don’t have much ground to tell me I’m doing my job wrong, because you couldn’t begin to understand it, much less do it.” God, pretty much by definition, has to be a pretty humble guy, in as much as that He is, by definition, infinitely awesome, and thus can’t really do justice to how awesome He is without taking an infinite amount of time. But the end of Job is one of those rare times where He kind of points out, just a little, that He is, in fact, rather amazing.

And so Job is blessed with new sheep and kids and clear skin, and they all live happily ever after.

And because of this story, we hold Job up as a pretty commendable guy. Even those who don’t know his story may know his name from the phrase, “the patience of Job.” And we put this story down in the W column in the God versus Satan scorecard, and, while we perhaps acknowledge that it’s a messy story to deal with in some ways, chalk it up to the virtues of being virtuous.

But …

What I got to thinking about was, what if it wasn’t. What if this was one of the stories were Satan “wins”? What if Satan had been right, and when he took everything away from Job, Job says, “This is crap; up yours, God!”? How is it different? What do we do with that story then? Would it have even made the Bible with a different outcome?

And what I came up with is this — I’m not sure it would matter.

In fact, it’s really not hard to imagine pretty much the entire book playing out the same way, save that one small detail. God brags on Job; Satan tests him. His friends and wife all give their little pep talks. Job curses God. And God shows up once again and still says, “OK, look, who are you?” and still makes Job understand that His ways are not our ways, and that He is above our ability to comprehend; that it’s not our place to second-guess the job He does unless we fully grasp the job requirements. God still restores his sheep and kids and skin, and everyone still lives happily ever after.

Because, ultimately, the lesson is this — it’s not about us.

God doesn’t show up and tell Job, “Hey, man, great job; you deserve to have everything restored! Congratulations!”

God shows up and says, “Job, son, it’s not about you. It’s about Me. It’s about grace.” And then He demonstrates that.

And we love the other side of grace.

We love that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our sins, our failings, our fallenness don’t have to matter. It’s not about us; it’s about Him. He paid the price so that we don’t have to. And that’s a rather agreeable thing.

But we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the opposite is just as true. Grace also means that when Christ died on a cross on Good Friday a couple thousand years ago, it meant that our virtue and our good deeds and our righteousness don’t matter, either. If our good deeds mattered, then by definition our sins would have to also, since they affect our good deeds.

None of this, of course, is license to act without thought of Him and His ways; we follow His path not to earn anything, but because He laid the path out because it was best for us.

It just means that it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Our sins and our virtues, our failings and our righteousness, are all irrelevant; however good we are, it’s still not good enough to earn salvation. When Christ paid the price for our salvation, He paid it in full, with no room left for us to pay off any part of it through our own merit.

The Gospel of Job is this — in His grace, we don’t have to worry about the end of the story, because we aren’t the ones writing it.

Ultimately, it’s about Him.

This Is My Body

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “The Rite Of Communion.”

Yeah, this one I can’t even begin to do justice to.

I’ve touched on some of the themes already, in my Reconstruction post about saying grace over dinner and in my Passover post.

But of all the topics on this list, I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about this one in the last couple of years as any of them. For those thatdon’t know, I spent a year visiting different churches, observing the differences in how people worship, and how that affects their view of God and their relationship with Him. And one of the main things I paid attention to was how churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Or the sacrament of Eucharist. Or Communion.

The latter name, by the way, is my favorite, and the one I prefer to use. The Lord’s Supper is descriptive, but superficial; it focuses only on the significance of the fact that we are repeating the ritual as instructed by Christ, but fails to reflect the meaning of that ritual. Eucharist — thanksgiving — goes a little further, but is still vague in my opinion. Communion? Yeah, there’s meaning there.

I won’t delve into all the differences I saw. Churches that observe communion every week. Churches that do so quarterly. Churches for whom observing communion is the heart of the service. Open and closed communion. Juice and wine. Crackers and bread. Intinction. Altars.

I’ll get into a quick aside, and say that I’m not as big a fan of intinction, dipping the bread into the cup and taking both together. My usual congregation has adopted this practice, and I really wish we would go back. I prefer to take the two elements separately, and to have the time to meditate on each individually. The exact thoughts I have vary each time, but the themes that keep coming back are the two elements as two aspects of grace through the cross — the bread representing the body, broken for me, the price paid for my sins so that I don’t have to pay it; the cup representing the blood shed in the breaking of the body, the cleansing that comes after the price is paid so that I can move on, righteous once more, not through my righteousness but His. The cup is the second chance, the bread the price that makes it possible.

During my journey, the observance that made the most profound impact on me was at the home-based church I’ve been a part of, however. Almost every time we met, we would begin by having dinner and fellowshipping together before moving into our discussion. And one week, early on, our pastor was saying a blessing over the food, and he used verses from the Lord’s Supper, blessing the bread and the cup.

At the time, it completely caught me off guard. Those words don’t go with this situation. But then — why not? We were gathered together as a church body, we were breaking bread and drinking, we were there to worship Him.

And reading through the epistles, one could make the argument that that was probably not unlike a way “breaking bread” took place in the early church. Not a cold and liturgical ritual, but a social celebration. And that’s why I like “communion,” to be, at its best, that’s what the observance should be, not just communion with Him, but with His church. (That doesn’t mean there’s not merit in the other as well; I celebrated the meaning of Easter this year while in Florida for the launch by observing Eucharist on my own.)

I mentioned in my “saying grace” post that when I pray before eating with other people, I usually include either thanks or blessing for “the opportunity to break bread together.” And that’s the origin of that. If two or more believers are gathered, and are consuming bread and drink, then we are at that point the church, and the prayer recognizes that and consecrates it for His use.

Because when Christ broke the bread, He was talking of it specifically, and in terms of His immenent sacrifice, when He said, “This is My body.”

At the same time, however, there was another level to that — As He spoke the words, He was surrounded by His apostles, the foundation of His church. As He looked around the table, He recognized, “This is My body.”

Today, that honor belongs to us. It is our place to carry on His work. Eucharist should remind us of the cost and atonement delivered through the crucifiction. But communion, whether it be with a large congregation on a Sunday morning or simply two believers at Cracker Barrel, should remind us of the privilege of service for Him that cost and atonement bought.

THIS is His body.