Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Truth Is Out There

I have often thought pityingly of people who lived before Christ, especially those who lived before God’s Law was written down for Moses and Israel: How did those poor savages go about pleasing God? What were their chances of avoiding punishment — let alone of successfully navigating their way to eternal life — without any clear directions?

I suppose my underlying assumption was that God had somehow been unfair to them. How do we explain that?

How Ancient is the Book of Job?

Most serious Bible scholars agree that Job is its oldest book. The actual age is the subject of debate and efforts to date the book have revolved largely around the assessment of internal evidence from the book itself. G.L. Bartholomew has Job as a possible great-grandson of Esau and the events described in the book taking place between 1280 and 1270 B.C. in an area near Edom well before the people of Israel left slavery in Egypt. Rick Brentlinger, blogging at GayChristian101, makes an interesting case for somewhere in the range of 1900-1700 B.C. Modern, largely disbelieving, scholarship of course opts for a later date as it does with most books of the Bible, since most secular scholars begin with uniformitarian assumptions and disbelieve in miracles, Satan and anything else they have never personally encountered in their relatively few years on the planet.

Which makes one wonder why they bother expending the effort, but they’d have to answer that themselves.

Oh, wait, I’m going to answer it in a moment.

A Working Assumption

I go with the earlier dates myself since the book of Job shows a complete absence of any reference to Israel, Jews, Judaism and the Law, concepts that could hardly have failed to arise if the book had been penned much after the Exodus. Indeed, there would be little reason not to include them if the human author was aware of them, which could hardly fail to be the case if the book was written later on.

I’m going to assume that, when Job had his epic debate with three friends and a young man named Elihu over the reasons for human suffering and the nature of God’s dealings with man, Moses had not yet come down the mountain with the Decalogue and that the Law of God for the nation of Israel had not yet been encoded.

Certainly no written record of God’s rules or desires for mankind of any significant length from that period has survived into modernity.

Job’s Moral Code

The author quotes God himself as saying of Job that “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” In chapter 31, Job unwisely seeks to demonstrate that he has indeed behaved righteously and we find out in detail exactly what it was about him that pleased God:
  • “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” This is a man so concerned with pleasing God that he has conquered lust. He wouldn’t even consider taking a lingering glance at a young, attractive woman. Wow. Just … wow. He specifically says this is because he knows God is watching: “Does he not see my ways and number all my steps?”
  • “If I have walked with falsehood then let me sow, and another eat.” Job says he has been scrupulously honest in all his dealings.
  • “If I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, then let my wife grind for another.” He reiterates his sexual propriety.
  • “Did not he who made me in the womb make him?” He maintains he believes in the value of each human being and has therefore always treated his servants well.
  • “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired … then let my arm be broken from its socket.” He has been extravagantly generous.
He goes on: Despite being ridiculously wealthy, he has never trusted in gold but in his God. He has never taken delight in the ruin of those who made themselves his enemies. He has taken care of, fed and given shelter to, any traveler who happened by. He has been open about his failings (not that we can find too many failings if what he says — and more importantly, what God says about him — is true). He has been fair in his business dealings and paid fully for everything he has used in his life.

These were Job’s daily habits, not the pinnacle of his moral experience.

And they show one seriously advanced morality, don’t they? He’s not only concerned with appearances but with the inner reality of his walk with God; his motivations, his thoughts, his plans. He has made all of these subject to God.

Job’s Morality and the Teachings of Christ

It almost reminds one of the sort of thing Jesus himself taught in the gospels, usually beginning with the formula, “You have heard it said that …” (followed by an instance of currently acceptable Jewish piety) and leading to the words “But I tell you that …” (what was really important to God). The Lord was telling his listeners that outward compliance was not enough. True worshipers of God worship “in spirit and in truth”. It is the core of our beings with which God is concerned, not with appearances.

And the funny thing is that none of Job’s listeners contest his claims. Nobody says, “Hey, Job, that’s not true; we saw you eyeballing a virgin on Tuesday.” They know he’s right.

Back to those poor folks who lived before the Law and before Christ. Doesn’t look so bad for them now, does it? It seems at least some of them had a very clear idea what God was like and what he wanted from man. How did they get it before the Law? We’re not told. But they obviously had it.

Active Suppression of the Truth

Paul says in Romans:
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
Not that the truth isn’t evident, but that it’s actively suppressed so that men can go on living their lives the way they please. He goes on:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened”.
They knew. We know.

If we’re honest, it’s not that evidence for God isn’t out there. It’s not that the sorts of behavior that please God are unknown or unrevealed. And 2,000 years after he came, it’s not that Jesus Christ and the way of salvation are unheard of. The knowledge of God — his existence, his character, and now even the way to be saved — is everywhere. It always has been.

The problem is that most of us don’t want to know.

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