We find ourselves in the story of our faith tradition at a moment of reprieve. Enough history as God’s people to have stories to reflect on. Enough history of faith to have struggles and successes. In the story, judgement and new life have been declared, and in short order—at least in page numbers—life will be very different. Yet here, in the in-between, we have the time and space necessary to consider, to ponder life with God and one another, what a whole and good life is or could be.
Living a whole life, a good life with God and others is the point of the “wisdom literature”. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job. Four works written so that we might live wisely. Live good and full lives to the glory of God.
As you read these texts you discover that wisdom is both discovered and discerned. Particularly, discerned as something different that folly or foolishness. Immersed in the sage stories, we recognize that there is a deceptiveness and subtlety to folly and foolishness. Perhaps most evident in Proverbs. The two invitations, one of wisdom and one of folly, sound and look very similar; offer similar lures; and reside in similar places. Yet, one relationship leads to death and the other to life abundant and whole. The story of Job sets up the discovery of wisdom in contrast to foolishness (2:10) and discerning folly (42:8). Ecclesiastes entire rhythm is to juxtapose the vanity of folly and the eternality of wisdom.
So, the question must be asked, ‘Where do we go to find wisdom and to discern folly?’ Each of our four wise writings lead us to this place, just in different ways. Proverbs through memorable idioms to keep us in-step along the path. Ecclesiastes weaving us along the unwinding path of logical progress and experience. Song of Songs through poetic imagination. And, Job, through suffering.
In each, the place we arrive is a place of awe and wonder. Awe and wonder at the invitation and accessibility of wisdom and a good life in Proverbs. Awe and wonder at the intimacy and affection of relationship in Song of Songs. Awe and wonder at the simplicity and ordinariness of design in Ecclesiastes. Awe and wonder in the presence of majesty and mercy in Job.
Contrary to the places of wisdom we ‘naturally’ think—school houses, books, experiences, a sages table, pleasure, a light within us, science, philosophy, etc.—the place we are constantly lead to find wisdom and to discern folly is a place of worship.
You may be thinking,
‘Sure, that is a good churchy, pastoral answer. After all we are in a place of worship right now. A sanctuary. But, life is not a sanctuary. Not a place where I can escape the tyranny of the urgent and be surrounded by the holy, made to feel and given space to recognize God’s majesty and mercy.’
Ah, but wait! The story of Job will challenge our notion of worship, and invite us to imagine a way of life in which each and every context is immersed in the holy, in the majesty and mercy of God our Father. Look with me at the story of Job as we are lead to place of awe and wonder to a place of worship.
The story begins introducing us to Job, a God-aware man. A man who had, by all cultural accounts a good and whole life. He had land, animals, a work force, heirs. Job was also a man in awe and wonder of God—that’s what it means to fear the Lord. Because he was a man of worship he turned away from the deception of evil. The subtle allure to curse God, to accuse God of not being good, that God’s ways of ruling the world were not just and right. That’s the evil Job turned from.
After introductions of the namesake, the story shifts to the heavenly courts. Not any court room our 21st century mind envisions. There is no judge or jury here. But there is a King, making judgments, assigning tasks, pardoning, proclaiming, for the oversight and prosperity of the kingdom. A place where God and the ‘sons of God’ (the divines, some of whom we met in Genesis 6 and Deuteronomy 32), are directing the unfolding story of the world.
Into this divine court room enters the Accuser, Satan, the adversary of God and his rule. He, the Accuser, is surely there to mock God’s choice of good and evil. After all, that is what he has been doing since before ‘the Fall’ of Adam and Eve. The Accuser has different plans for creation and for humanity, different wisdom for life. He has been roaming all about the earth looking for holes in God’s plan and rule, ready to challenge God’s judgment, looking for some inside info to twist, he enters the court.
Yet, before he can bring an accusation, God the Father, knowing the Accuser’s intentions (much like Jesus does with his accusers throughout the Gospels), entices the Accuser, Satan, into a trap of his own folly! How?
God asks the Accuser, the one who thinks his discerning of good and evil is better or at least on par with God’s, to consider Job. The trap is set! The Accuser is very aware of Job. He has been attempting to get this guy to curse God for a while now, but Job keeps turning away. The Accuser knows of Job’s prosperity and his protection, and thinking he has God in a corner now, he challenges God’s claim that Job is blameless, upright; a man in awe and wonder of God who turns away from evil.
The Accuser speaks to the Creator as one who believe he has the world figured out. He accuses Job of worshiping God only because of God’s provision and protection, God’s goodness toward Job. Take away what is good and Job will curse God; Job will think he knows better than God what is good and evil.
God lets the Accuser test his theory of wisdom, his understanding of how the world works and why people worship God. Wisdom verses wisdom. Who will win? Who will be proven the fool?
Stricken by loss as all that culturally signifies a good life is removed from him, Job remains worshipful, in awe and wonder at the good rule of God. Frustrated, the Accuser argues that if loss does not remove a heart of worship then pain certainly will. Stricken twice, Job remains one who recognizes foolishness and remains in the place of wisdom. God is in charge, God is great, and God is good. Job turns away from evil, from cursing God.
And here is where the tactics change. A direct onslaught has been unsuccessful. A new strategy will be necessary for the Accuser to succeed. A much more subtle, subversive approach. The final attempt, the third temptation to curse God and accept the wisdom (folly) of the Accuser is not a matter of circumstances but an attack on the heart of Job. A gruesome violence brought on by good people, by the wisdom of friends, friends of folly whose words masquerade as life but are actually death.
The intention of Job’s three friends cannot be questioned. They desired nothing more than to comfort their friend. To mourn with him. To grieve with him. To be there in his most desperate time of need. And, as good friends do, they sit with Job in silence. Offering the comfort of presence for seven days. Seven days in with the suffering of loss and pain completes its destruction. Job, at the ends of anguish begins finally speaks. Job is at loss for life, and like each one of us, cries out to God in the presence of his friends, seeking wisdom, justice, answers for his suffering. And, just as any of us would do for our friends in the midst of such suffering, Job’s three friends desire to comfort him, to answer his questions of wisdom with wisdom, hoping to relieve some of his anguish, to see their friend restored.
It is here that we discover the subversive, subtle, strategy of the Accuser in this final affliction. The friends of folly, longing only to comfort through wisdom, are actually speaking folly, lies. Read 4:7-8, 13-21.
Every ounce of ‘wisdom’ spoken by the friends of folly stems from this place. From a subtle lie that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. A lie cast in a dream by one who was a ‘servant’, ‘charged with error’, the Accuser!
The Accuser’s accusation is that God’s rule is crushing. ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?’ Humanity dwells in temporary houses, struggles through life and dies without wisdom. Therefore, since God’s rule is strict, your only hope is to be good, to seek purity. The Accuser’s lie that the friends of folly embrace is that the only way to relationship with God’s goodness is through purity. God’s rule is reduced to purity, and therefore a formulation of God that makes the world and God’s way in the world mathematical; without mystery, without majesty, and without mercy. Purity over relationship. Purity leads to relationship and thus purity, living rightly, leads to good things, blessing. Impurity leads to cursing, suffering, bad things.
The friends of folly have God figured out. Wisdom is their possession. Every bit of ‘encouragement’ and condemnation that follows from these friends flow from this place of folly. God preserves life based on behavior, rather than by his majesty and mercy. God is thus predictable, even controllable by our behaviors; says the wisdom of the friends. Suffering comes from my impurity (A), so if I repent (B), suffering will end and I will have a good life (C). Suffering comes
from my iniquity (A), so if I fail to repent (B), I will continue to suffer (C). A+B = C.
Life with God, wisdom, is all about behavior. Sound like anyone from Jesus’ day? Maybe the Pharisees? Job calls his friends of folly such in 13:4! White washed tombs, full of death, whose father is the father of lies (see John 8).
What began as a desire of kind friends to comfort with wisdom, to let Job in on how God works so Job can be restored; spirals into accusations of Job. From declaring to Job the general rule of suffering from impurity (A) with a invitation to repent (B) in hopes of a restored life (C); his friends, confronted by Job’s challenge of their simple God, move to ‘helping’ Job search for the particular sins of impurity; concluding with accusations of sins that Job never committed! After all, Job’s community and God himself said Job was ‘blameless and upright’ (1:8)! His friends frustrated that their wisdom is not being heeded (18:2).
With each accusation, similar to Job’s response to loss and pain, Job responds to his friends and his God. Challenging the friends of folly wisdom and crying out to God for what is right, where wisdom can be found in his pain and suffering (see chapter 28). Job continually recognizes that God’s rule is just, that God and God alone is judge, that God is good, and that wisdom comes from being in awe and wonder of God and turning away from evil. Admissions that come even as Job struggles to believe them, to live them, to understand.
Still, all the while as the accusations continue to flow, Job slowly gives way to the heart of his struggle; that he too has figured out how God works. The Accuser’s tactic is working! While Job does not agree with the same A+B=C mathematical genius of the friends of folly, he nevertheless, begins to buy into the purity myth. Job’s folly is discerned in his declaration that he has no advocate to argue his case before God, that he indeed has a case to argue before God.
You see, Job really begins to articulate the same formula as the friends, just from a different direction. He believes God is just and that as a just God, should not allow suffering to those who are just themselves. God simply must not be aware of Job’s righteousness nor his plight. Job’s pure, so he should not suffer! If he only had some way of making this known to God. If there were only and advocate to confront the accusations...
Here is the question we are meant to ask in the story, ‘Is it true that Job has not advocate?’
The story of Job began with his community recognizing his integrity and righteousness. More importantly, God declared Job to be ‘blameless and upright, a man who fears the Lord and turns away from evil’. God has always been Job’s advocate! Job has never been alone. He has never been outside of God’s wisdom. He has never been outside of God’s majesty or his mercy.
And this is why there is a fourth friend in the story. A younger friend with less life but whose wisdom comes from the ‘breathe of the Almighty’ (32:8); not a dark figure in a dream. Elihu, this fourth friend, is zealous for God and for his friend’s restoration. He wants the same as the friends of folly, Job’s life restored. But he does not use wisdom to comfort; rather, he leads Job to a place of wisdom.
Elihu rebukes the friends of folly and Job too for failing to worship. He rebukes them for assuming they are the same level as God, that they have God figured out. He rebukes them for failing to be in awe at the majesty of God’s rule and wonder at the mercy of God’s judgement.
Elihu starts by confronting the lie of the Accuser. Certainly humanity cannot be like its Creator, but everything God does is not crush humanity but for the salvation of humanity!
Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life. (32:29-30)
Humanity finds wisdom after all!
He continues by rebuking Job’s notion of having no advocate, after all God made, perseveres, and knows all things,
For God has no need to consider a man further, that he should go before God in a judgment. (34:23)
Therefore, Elihu contends, Job and the friends of folly should be slow to declare wisdom, to pronounce judgment as if they have the world and God figured out, seek a day of justice. (36:17-23). Finally, leading both the friends of folly and Job into a place of awe and wonder, a place to behold the majesty of God in creation and mercy of God in his ruling of humanity,
At this [how God controls the weather] also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place...God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend...Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. (37:1, 5, 13-14).
What the friends of folly should have done was not comfort with wisdom but usher Job into a place of wisdom. A place of worship. A place of awe and wonder at God’s majesty and mercy. This is what Elihu does. Showing us that wisdom is not found in age, in experience, in having God figured out, but in a place of worship. For as Elihu concludes his praise of God’s greatness and goodness, Job and his friends find themselves in God’s presence (chapters 38-42)!
It is here, in presence of God, that the story of Job challenges and expands our place of worship! Notice that God never ‘rebukes’ Job, never condemns Job’s person or character. Never declares Job to be impure or a man of iniquity. God confronts Job with God’s own presence and person. He takes Job on a fantastic race through space and time to reflect on the amazing, complicated, vastly incomprehensible beauty of God’s creation—universal as the cosmos and intimate in the very animals and people Job sees every day. Everything comes from God and is made good by the rule of God; even the mystical beasts we fear and know little about. Just stop, look and worship.
Does Job haves such perspective, such knowledge to determine good and evil from God’s place? That’s the question Job is confronted with in the presence of his Maker. And here is what is amazing, Job who stood firm at the accusations of the friends of folly and who showed no response to the rebukes of Elihu, in the majesty and mercy of God recognizes his own limitations—how he spoke without perspective (40:3-5) and repents (42:1-6). In the presence of God, the place of worship, Job is exposed but not condemned. Put in his place as a cherished created being so that he can trust. Shown God’s majesty and mercy so that he can discern folly and live wisely.
The Accuser’s lie that he and we can rule better than God and that to not rule makes us dust to be discarded is squashed. Neither Job nor his friends make the sun rise each morning or give food to the sparrow; but that does not make them worthless. It just makes them not God! A good thing to be!
The story of Job ends with Job getting to do for the friends of folly what they should have done for him, leading them into a place of worship to find wisdom and discern folly. God’s majesty seen, now his mercy extended to the friends of folly, God not allowing their folly to continue by following the A+B=C formula. Surely they were shown to speak untruth of God, but their restoration comes not by their repentance but by the sacrifice of another: Job. The one they accused becomes the one who advocates for them; extends to them an invitation into a place of wisdom.
And Job, once again, lives a life of wholeness, a good life, a full life, a life of wisdom.
Folly and wisdom can be almost too similar. So we need a place to discover wisdom and discern folly. That place is worship. Awe and wonder of God’s majesty and mercy.
The amazing thing in the story of Job is that we do not need to go to a temple or sanctuary once a week to worship. Elihu looked at the weather and worshiped. God used the earth under Job’s feat, the living creatures in which Job interacted daily to declare his amazing grace and good rule. The world—the earth, the trees, plants, animals, weather patterns, family and friends—you wake up to each morning, the context of your work—the building, the people—all cry out for God’s glory and declare his goodness. You and I wake up in the majesty of mercy of God every day!
As Emmerson said, ‘Happiest is the man who from nature has learned the lessons of worship’. Perhaps we could say, ‘Wise is the man who from nature has learned the lessons of worship.’ You desire to find wisdom and discern folly? Walk outside, stroll through the Arboretum, observe the people in your line of sight and we in awe and wonder at the majesty and mercy of God! We are immersed in the holy of God at work, immersed in the holy of God with us!
Like Job and his friends of folly, we need Elihu’s to lead us into the place of wisdom. To help us recognize God’s majesty and mercy in the ordinariness of creation. To help us see and not just hear that good news of Jesus. That’s why we confess and receive together. In a place of worship we invite one another to discover wisdom discern folly. To live a life of worship (Romans 11:33-12:3), walking wisely in relationship with God who is in charge of everything.
Confession and Communion
Confess: choose one
I confess that: I often live as if I have God figured out. Confident in my own wisdom.
I confess that: I often fail to heed the invitation to seek and find His wisdom. Anxious and fickle.
I confess that: I often believe the lie of the accuser that I have to argue my case before God. Blinded to God’s majesty and mercy.
Through the broken body, shed blood, & resurrection of Jesus you _______, have been brought into the presence of God, the place of wisdom! Worship. Living wisely today, full of the Spirit in the awe and wonder of God our Father who is graciously in charge of everything.