Accepting/Rejecting Calvinism
(Pt. 6: Job & Ecclesiastes)

, posted by jordanjapo

This is from a series of posts which was copied with permission from Jordan Apodaca’s blog, “Thoughts & Anti-Thoughts,” which can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/

This particular post, which allows comments, can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/acceptingrejecting-calvinism-pt-6-job-ecclesiastes/

Intro

My apologies, but I lied. In my last post I said this one would be about William Lane Craig. But I forgot about two very important steps forward in my journey of faith that preceded the discovery of Craig’s work. And these two steps took place during an Old Testament survey course, both relatively close to each other, while going through the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Looking back, these two books kept my faith afloat. They were what Job’s friends weren’t — comfort.

Job

I learned my lessons from Ecclesiastes while the professor lectured; I learned these lessons while reading Job myself. I entered Job’s world feeling paralyzed and confused by suffering and evil, and these four principles jumped out to me as ways to move forward, as ways to think hard and doubt and wrestle but remain sane and not-depressed:

1) Slow Down Your Questions, and Let the Word of God Question You

“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” These are the first words God says to Job. The book has been dominated by Job’s questions, and it’s as if God says “Job! Slow down. Let me question you.” I was so quick to ask another question that I wasn’t really listening to potential answers. Job slowed my pace.

2) Look Around the Universe

When I struggle with the problem of evil, I try to solve it within my own head, purely analytically. Yet God doesn’t tell Job to think through a logical series of premises and conclusions with Him. Instead, He calls his attention to the created world. Just in chapter 38, God tells Job to consider the earth, ocean, stars, morning, dawn, depths, springs, death, darkness, light, expanse of the earth, snow, hail, wind, rain, thunderbolts, deserts, dew, ice, constellations, clouds, wisdom, dust, lions, and ravens. I’ll get to why He mentions those things in a second. But first, I don’t want you to miss the fact that God encourages Job to look around the universe. Consider all the things. Don’t get stuck in vicious cycles of introspection. God made these things for our instruction. Listen to what they’re saying.

During these days of doubt, the moon became my best friend.

3) Consider your weakness

Throughout the chapters in Job when He speaks, He predominately is asking questions. These questions all are expecting a negative response. For example: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” — the obvious answer from Job is “I wasn’t there at all.” Next question: “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?” — “Umm, no I haven’t.” Next question: “What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?” — “I don’t know.” And so the questions go. God asks, and Job can’t answer.

What is the point of all this? Is God just bullying Job, saying “Don’t ever question me again, smarty pants!” I don’t think so. I think God is honestly helping Job. How is He helping him? By causing him to realize that he is weak and finite. “Job… if you don’t know any of this… then how on earth do you expect to understand why I allow evil to exist? You don’t even know when mountain goats give birth (39:1)! Yet do you think you’re able to understand the depths of my wisdom?” God helps proud sinners dealing with the problem of evil by showing them a million other things they can’t figure out. You’re supposed to feel small at the end of God’s speech. As God hit me with this truth, I wrote down the following. Each of these ideas can be traced to question God asks Job in chapters 38-39.

That God stayed the proud waves and set their boundaries is an answer to the problem of evil. That He commands the morning and entered the springs of the sea and knows the gates of death is an answer to the problem of evil. That Job was not alive when God created all things is an answer to the problem of evil. The fact that I have not seen the storehouses of snow and hail that God hurls down in the day of war and don’t understand the depths of science is an answer to the problem of evil. The fact that lightning doesn’t report to me for duty, and I can’t shout loud enough to make the clouds obey me is an answer to the problem of evil. The fact that my very understanding is from outside of me – that I can’t get a lion its food – that I don’t know the exact moment a mountain goat gives birth – that God gave arid lands to mountain goats – that wild oxen won’t serve me – the stupidity of an ostrich – that I did not make any horses powerful, not even one of them – that hawks soar unaided by my fingers – that I cannot answer a million other questions – these are answers to the problem of evil. We demand to know many things, yet we cannot know the simplest. How shall we who don’t know when mountain goats give birth know the reason for evil?

Isn’t this the same logic Jesus uses in Luke 12? “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?”

Oddly, there is a sort of comfort that comes from realizing how much we don’t know, in realizing how much we must trust God.

4) Seek God

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” These are the final words of Job in the book. It’s a simple reminder: seek to see God in all your wrestling through these difficult problems.

The things I learned from Job didn’t really teach me the answer to the problem of evil, but they taught me how to ask the right questions in the right way while seeking God. And I think that was God’s point. (This by no means precludes rigorous thinking about God and evil; this is meant to direct that thinking.)

Ecclesiastes

In the book of Ecclesiastes, I was directed to two concepts in the book that seemed to explain not only how the book itself works, but how reality works as well:

1) Enigmas

Life is full of them; life is one.

The word traditionally translated “vanity” is, perhaps, best translated “enigma.” Hence, the key idea that opens and sustains the book is “enigma of enigmas, all is enigmatic.” All is difficult-to-grasp, slippery to the comprehension, bar-of-soap-like. (If you want the exegetical argument for this interpretation, I don’t remember it, and haven’t looked into it since then. One day.)

This is essentially the same point that had been impressed in my head a week or two prior from the book of Job. It came to bear especially in chapter 3, where the preacher lists a variety of dualities: birth and death, killing and healing, weeping and laughing, seeking and losing, loving and hating, and he asserts that “there is a time” for all of these things. And then he adds: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” This verse, Ecclesiastes 3:11, is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. We have, as it were, a chunk of eternity burned into our breasts, just enough to fill us with wonder, but not enough to find out how it all fits together.

Similarly, he writes in chapter 7, “I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things… Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things — which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found…” No matter how many times he tried to take the puzzle apart to put it together with different borders, it was impossible. The “scheme of things” eluded him, just like it did me. I saw myself in the Preacher’s inability to grasp the wind.

2) Under the Sun

The words “under the sun” in the book of Ecclesiastes refer to those things that are plain, visible to the senses, non-spiritual. Hence, when the Preacher writes, “There is nothing to be gained under the sun,” he does not mean that nothing we do on earth matters. He affirms that our work does matter, that it can bring us joy, and that it will be the object of God’s evaluation at the end of history. What he means is that from a naturalistic viewpoint, from the vantage of God not existing, nothing seems to accomplish anything or move humanity toward a goal. It just seems to go round and round, like the wind around the earth or the water through its cycles. This is why the Preacher is able to ask in all honesty in chapter 3: “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?” His point is that he hasn’t seen it. And I don’t know exactly why this comforts me, except perhaps to know that doubting and wondering are okay for God’s people to do. I disagree with those who say that it belongs to the essence of faith to exclude any doubts or questions. Certainly, it isn’t ideal, and an overly-skeptical orientation is bad, but if one has doubts it is okay to press into them.

Fun Fact

If you fast-forward a little over a year from when I first learned these lessons, I was discussing them with a Freshman girl at a New Years Eve party, during which conversation my heart first began to fall headlong in her direction. Fast-forward one year and a week from that day, and she and I married.

Anyway, next time I’ll get to William Lane Craig. Sorry for the rambling post with the abrupt ending.