Too Much Talking

“It is I– and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,” Job 42:3

Confession is warfare speech.

Job’s confession: The man who maintained relentlessly his innocence throughout a brutal trial of public opinion, confesses his sin of presumption, in that he spoke of “things far to wonderful for [him].”

God called him blameless. His dutiful commitment to sacrifice, offering, prayer, and conscientious living was unparalleled. Indeed he was rich in integrity and in possessions. He experienced what the psalter proclaims in Psalm 112:

How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying His commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed. They themselves will be wealthy, and their good deeds will last forever. Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust in the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. The wicked will see this and be infuriated. They will grind their teeth in anger; they will slink away their hopes thwarted. Psalm 112

Before Job’s afflictions, this psalm described his life perfectly. He was committed to goodness and from his giving he received.

But this is the gospel that Job learned– the wretched and poor and blind and naked, the unclean must look to Jesus so that from His giving they might receive.

Job’s most damning affliction was his skin disease, the boils and oozing sores. The reason this was more oppressive to his spirit than losing everything, even his children, was that it mortified his attempts at righteousness. A skin disease made him unclean.

Job of course predates Levitical law, but even if just prophetically, let’s contemplate the spiritual weight of his ceremonial uncleanness.

His religion was useless if he couldn’t perform it. An unclean person could not sacrifice. They were quarantined. They couldn’t be touched, less they render the other person unclean.

If the skin disease was chronic they were required to leave their hair uncombed, tear their clothes, and call out as they passed other people, “Unclean! Unclean!”

For a person who did heal, they had to present themselves to the priests to be examined, receive a purification ritual involving sprinkling on of blood, shave their head, wash their clothes, and take a bath. (Leviticus 13 & 14)

I want to draw a parallel here between pre-affliction Job– wealthy, religious Job– along with his wealthy, religious friends and the church of Laodicea.

We meet the Laodicean church in both Revelation and Colossians. Paul instructed the Colossians to pass on his letter to the Colossians to the Laodiceans, and for the Colossians also to read the letter he wrote to the Laodiceans (which is unfortunately lost in antiquity.) The two must have had a bit in common for their individual admonitions to be mutually applicable.

In Colossians and Revelation you will find 4 shared themes: references to riches, treasure, inheritance, wealth, and gold; references to “putting on,” “clothe,” “clothing,” and “white robes;” baptism and water; and the identity of Christ as the only saving, renewing, justifying authority in the universe.

The Colossians are told to” put on your new nature.” Putting on our new nature is our baptism in Christ as we have died with Christ, are hidden in Christ, and have been born again a new creation– find this argument everywhere in the epistles of Paul.

Paul also tells the Colossians to “be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him,” Colossians 3:10.

The Colossians, and also the Laodiceans, did not think very much of Jesus. They didn’t take very seriously what Jesus did by sprinkling His blood on their uncleanness and being the living water baptismal font into which they were cleansed.

The Colossians bought into a lie that Jesus was an angel. So Paul begins his admonition to  the Colossians with a strong statement about Christ:

Christ is the visible image of an invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realm and on earth. Colossians 1:15-16a

In Revelation, Jesus introduces Himself to the Laodicean church saying:

This is the message from the one who is the Amen– the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation. Revelation 3:14

The Amen is the “let it be so.” In other words, their is nothing God does without materializing it through Jesus. Strong parallels between Colossians and Revelation!

But also to the book of Job! Oh my goodness, if only Job and his friends could know what we get to know through our inheritance of scripture!

That our works do not save us, that Jesus was not just a good teacher or our chummy guru. His is the blood for our purification and the baptism that makes us clean–

A clean that we must have to approach God!

We are baptized once to be cleansed, and it is enough, because Jesus died once for all to purify us and we only need to be baptized once, not over and over and over as it was under the old law, because Jesus is the Amen; once you’re baptized in Him “it is so.”

Jesus could easily say to Job and His friends what He said to the Laodicean church:

Buy from Me gold that has been purified in fire! Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be ashamed of your nakedness. Revelation 3:18 (paraphrase of NLT). 

“Trade in your good works for my good works!”

The Laodiceans are famous for their indifference. If they were anything like the Colossians, indifference does not mean that they lacked in religious fervor and diligence. Job gave fastidiously and energetically to his religious practice. So does the American church.

The Laodiceans water, of course, is also famous. They had no water of their own, so they piped it in and travelled it through valleys using a siphon. A siphon is basically a big U, so enough water had to pour down into the bottom from one side of the valley to create enough force to push the water up the hill and out the other side of the pipe.

Because the water was piped in from an outside source rather than being generated from a natural spring, I’m imagining that water could settle at the bottom of that siphon for a while before there was enough water accumulated to move it up and out. The pipes of the siphons of Laodicea are still scattered about its ruins. They are heavily corroded and are thought to have gone into disrepair frequently while in use because of quick calciferous build up.

Colossians 2:21 tells us of the works of the ceremonial laws: “that such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.”

In comparison, Jesus is Living Water.

Living Water, in rabbinical tradition and still used today– is the name given to a baptismal font (Mikva) connected to a natural source of water. Being tapped into a natural water source causes the baptismal to stay clean as opposed to a bath that would need to be emptied, purified, and refilled.

The Laodiceans, and Job, and his friends were indifferent about their baptism. They were indifferent about the glorious, praise-worthy, awesome, re-creating power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our partaking in His work through our one-time cleansing baptism.

They instead preferred their own riches of goodness. Lame.

They say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing! Revelation 3:17

Presumption of the highest order! They were so satisfied with the heady perfume of their own trifling, ceremonial rightness, that they didn’t want very much for Jesus. And they didn’t think very highly of His taking away of their uncleanness and His washing of their garments.

They’d rather crucify Christ over and over for justification, and empty and refill that baptismal font over and over and over for their purity.

Job’s oozing, chronic, boil-y, skin disease is the best thing that ever happened to him.

The one thing that he couldn’t fix himself– the one point of righteousness he couldn’t attain himself– lead him to the Living Water, which alone could make him clean.

And that is what he confessed when he said, “It is I– and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things that are far to wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen, I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard of you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:3b-6

Buy from Me… ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. Revelation 3:18

Our confession, what we must speak out, especially if you have been a Christian for awhile is: I will never stop needing Jesus.

 

 

For a more detailed study read:

Revelation 3:14-22; Colossians 1-4; Zechariah 3; John 1; Hebrews 7-9; Matthew 23; Matthew 8:1-4; John 7:37-39; John 2:23-4:42; Luke 4:27; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Leviticus 13 & 14; Hebrews 6:1-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Much Talking

“Let the day of my birth be erased,” Job 3:3

This post is a bit of a part two to the previous post “Who, being innocent has ever perished.” So, if you wanted to brush through that post for some pivotal ideas that’d be fine. Look for the concepts of: roles, the problem with the question “why,” self-interested mourners, and theological encounters in tragedy.

Each of those ideas will be insinuated in the discussion below.

This might be an all too familiar topic for some; and a fortunately foreign one for others. We are going to be discussing suicide as spiritual warfare as seen in the Book of Job.

First, I want to say that I am not dismissing mental illness as the source of most suicides by framing it within the context of spiritual warfare.

If you suffered with me through my series on the liturgical holidays, you will know that I consider the spiritual and physical realms as a completely unified reality.

Also, I hope that you will not dismiss my point of view as I myself have lived with the thorns, thistles, fears, and despair of bipolar 1 disorder for 10 years– and I take medication for it. I have supported my husband through combat related PTSD and survivor’s remorse for the past 7 years– and he didn’t really find therapy helpful; but he found meeting Jesus as his savior changed everything. I’ve walked through mental illness with friends who didn’t want to stay on their treatment plan and friends who were fastidious with doctors, medication, therapy, and groups. I’ve watched loved ones encounter schizophrenia, major depression, paralysis, and suicide some with support and some with none.

I do not say this in any way to elevate myself, nor do I assume that because I have experienced mental illness within my own sphere that that qualifies me to understand your unique experience of heart-ache and sickness.

I reveal these things about myself entirely to remove any trace of me being glib from this post. And also I want to express that just because I think mental illness and suicidal ideation is spiritual that does not mean that I think intervention and treatment is “un-Christian.”

The reality is that suicide is a spirit of death that has breached the walls of the church and as most recently publicized has been affecting devoted clergy members, which removes any delusions that Christians may have previously held onto that suicide is not a Christian issue.

This torturous state– suicidal ideation and attempts and completed suicides– is now in front of us as the Church in the same uncomfortable manner that Job’s friends had to look at. And that is just what we have to do– we have to look at it. And evaluate our beliefs.

When we go to the house of our friend whose spirit is failing within them, we can’t bring in our fear-based, self-serving, God-in-a-box, forget-Satan-is-real, prosperity-adjacent theology that would rather try to protect our ideas about God before challenging them in the face of life’s harshest reality: death.

God will show up to challenge death. Can we?

So. Did you know that Judas Iscariot’s hanging is not the only time we hear of suicide in the Bible? If the instance of the disciple who betrayed Jesus was the only time we heard of suicide in the Bible, it would be easy to vilify suicide along with the villain.

But. It is certainly not the only place we hear of it. God’s servant Job, the finest man in all the earth, blameless, and of complete integrity (God’s words not mine- Job 1:8), experienced approximately 32 chapters of suicidal ideation, longing for death, despairing, desiring to meet his Maker rather than suffer among God’s creation any longer.

To make this easier for you to see, I am going to strip away the poetry in Job 3:1 – 27:23, so that it will become more obvious that Job’s ten speeches and his friends’ replies are in all reality a mere script of what is even today the typical conversation you would have with a suicidal loved one.

Keep in mind then that Job’s friends are considered wicked.

I do want to put a trigger warning here, even though I usually make fun of them. If you are experiencing a pull toward death and despair, can you please pray about how my rendition of Job will affect you? Please pray about whether this will encourage you or discourage you before reading. Thanks, love you.

Here we go:

Job:

I wish I were never born. I wish my parents wouldn’t even have ever had sex so that I could never have been born. Or I wish I would have been born dead and the doctors couldn’t save me. I wish I could have just always rested in oblivion. Why would God create me just to let me live this kind of life. I have no appetite. I can’t eat. (Job 3.)

Eliphaz:

Ok, let me just say something. You are such a good friend. You have done so much for other people. You’ve seen God work in your friends’ lives, don’t you believe He’ll do that for you? Come on, you know that God punishes bad people. You are such a good person. You know, this’ll all turn around. 

You know I had this divine revelation about how awesome God is and how no one is righteous before Him– not even His angels. He is Holy. You need to just pray. Maybe the Lord is maturing you through this. You will have a huge testimony after all this is over. (Job 4-5.)

Job:

You cannot understand. I have this weight on me. It’s too much. Why can’t you let me complain? God is letting me suffer so much. I can’t eat. Nothing tastes good. I want to die. I want God to just take me home. A person can only be so strong. I am a Christian. I have always been faithful, I still am. But this is all too much. 

Why can’t you just be kind and console me. You are blaming me. You’re acting like I am doing something wrong! You are a terrible friend. Please stop criticizing me and tell me something real. Tell me something true about God that I can hold onto instead of making me feel worse!

What, you’ve never been hurt or suffered? Have you ever been depressed? Have you ever been awake all night waiting for morning and then unable to get out of bed? I have sores all over my body for Christ’s sake!

“God! Oh my God! Help me. You see me. I can’t go on like this. I know You can do something, why won’t You?” (Job 6-7.)

Bildad:

You are talking in circles, Job! You’re making it sound like this is God’s fault. Like He did something wrong. You need to pray. Seek God to restore your right thinking, your thinking is wrong. He is going to restore you. Get that right in your head. 

You have to remember what happens to people who don’t believe. Just believe. You’ll be singing praise in no time. You’ll watch everyone who hurt you get theirs when God is on your side ’cause you believed. (Job 8.)

Job:

Bildad, I know. I know God is holy and mighty. I know He is just. But how can a person be good enough for Him? He’s God. The creator. He’s huge. He’s miraculous. 

I just feel so far away from Him. I feel helpless before Him, without His love. 

I’ve got nothing. I have nothing to offer Him or any way to defend myself. I know I haven’t done anything wrong, yet I feel like I can’t draw near to Him. I feel no intimacy. I’ve always tried to please Him, for what?!

I guess I should just pretend to be happy. I’m dying. Might as well put on a happy face. 

There’s nothing I can do. I need someone who God loves to convince Him to spare me. I’ve gone as far as I can on my own. I just don’t know what He wants from me. 

“Lord, why?!!! What is the point?! Lord, I don’t get it! I thought You loved me. I’m so confused.” (Job 9-10.) 

Zophar:

Job, you are talking way too much. Take a break. You’re gunna get yourself in trouble here. You’re saying you’re a Christian, but you obviously do not understand God. You are so off base on what God is like. 

You really, really need to pray. There is obviously some hidden sin in your life. You need to repent. You’ll feel so much better. But if you keep on how you’re going– yeah, death will be your only answer. (Job 11.)

Job:

Oh, you’re so smart, huh, Zophar? Too bad when you die we’ll lose all your insight. What a loss. You know, I have a little insight myself, yet you act like I’ve never studied the Bible, prayed, been close to God, or devoted. It’s easy to mock me when nothing’s wrong in your life.

I think if you really knew your Bible, if you even paid attention to the wisdom in creation, or even looked at history, you’d know that bad things happen to good people. 

You’re such a hack, Zophar. You’re so bent on “defending” God that you are ignoring basic truths. What you’re saying is completely unhelpful.

Prove that God is punishing me because I deserve it and I will happily kill myself. 

“God have mercy. It’s too much. Relent, Lord. Please show me how I’ve sinned. I will repent. Don’t be my enemy. Don’t accuse me, Lord. We all die. You are in control. Lord, kill me. I feel dead already. How can I live again? Give me hope that you still love me and have a desire for me to live and to serve you and to have purpose here on earth. Otherwise I’ll die an insignificant death.” (Job 12-14.) 

Eliphaz:

Oh my God! I cannot believe how you are talking! Those words are sinful. Who do you think you are? Surely, you’re not the first person to suffer; and to talk about God like that!

You can’t say there is no way that you deserve what you’re getting. No one is perfect. Everyone has to go through things to mature. You are talking like a baby Christian. You know better…or I thought you did. 

You are revealing your hard heart. You’re defiance. That’s why this is happening to you. This is exactly what the Bible says happens to stiff-necked people. (Job 15.)

Job:

Wow. Great friend, Eliphaz. Like I don’t know all this. Like I couldn’t say some things about you. But if you were in my position, I’d try to help you not criticize you. 

“God, You’ve destroyed me. And now I’m ashamed as people make fun of how I feel. After I do this, Lord, at least let my death remind you that we need someone to help us stand before You. So that we don’t have to suffer under Your holiness. I don’t deserve anything different, but make someone perfect who could help those of us that You hate.

God, defend me? My friends are stupid and they think they know anything about You. I’m so ashamed. I have to die. I have no hope. They’ll just bury any hope I have left with me.” (Job 16-17.) 

Bildad:

Stop talking, Job! Do you think we’re idiots? The wicked die prematurely. Skin disease like yours is a sign of wickedness. Their homes burn down. They have no children, no heirs. Surely, you have all the signs of a person who has rejected God! (Job 18.)

Job:

Just go away. You guys are torturing me. You just keep insulting me. Why is what I do any of your business anyway? You are using my humiliation as evidence of my sin? Seriously? 

I have prayed. I have nothing and no-one left. There’s nothing left for me to hold onto. 

Geez, the least you could do is show me a little mercy. 

I know that somewhere, somehow, at some time a Redeemer will justify me. I’ll be able to stand before God at last. 

I wonder how you all will stand up on judgment day after judging me, as if you know. (Job 19.)

Zophar:

You know, the Spirit is prompting me to say this. I’m so disturbed. Job, you are a blasphemer.

All of your wealth– we thought it meant God’s favor. But we should have realized that you were just a fake. You are a wicked person who got wealth quickly but lost it because you were truly sinful. (Job 20.)

Job:

Can’t you just listen to me? You don’t think I have reason to be disappointed with God? Terrible things happen to good people and great things happen to bad people. What kind of God does that? Why did I spend all that time being a good Christian? It didn’t help me! I know you’re going to say that evil people who enjoy life on earth will suffer in hell, and their kids reap the consequences. You can’t prove that. That is so cliche. It’s no comfort to me. (Job 21.)

Eliphaz:

What, do you think you can help God do a better job, Job? You need to repent. Now that I think of it, I can think of quite a few shady things you’ve done. You’re not as good as you think you are. Stop pitying yourself. You need salvation. If you reject God, there’s nothing He’s going to do about it. It’s your choice. God will save you if you repent and turn to Him. (Job 22.)

Job:

I would pray to God if I knew how to make Him hear me. I’ve prayed, believe me. I can’t argue my case to Him; I know He is sovereign. I know that God knows my heart. I know the trials He puts us through purify us. He knows that I have been a true and faithful follower. He knows my heart is pure. But it doesn’t make this time any less dark. 

I don’t know why some suffer; why there is poverty or crime or famine; or why people die of exposure in homelessness. Human trafficking. The working poor! Evil people with completely satanic hearts run rampant. I know they will meet judgment. I know that their is no rescuing them from the power of the grave. I know that for sure. (Job 23-24.)

Bildad:

God is awesome and powerful. We all have a sin nature. We all fall short. (Job 25.)

Job:

Don’t think you’re doing some good work by coming to talk to me. You have not offered me any compassion or insight. The Spirit of God is completely discerning. His intelligence distinguishes between the slightest shadows. Don’t think that I don’t know you are operating in a wrong spirit. It is not the Holy Spirit speaking through you. 

The Lord has put me in this place in life. But I will never agree with you that this is my fault. I will never agree with you that this is the consequence of my sins. Don’t think that your plenty equates to favor. Don’t think because you are more well off than me that you are more spiritual than me. Do not take your mental health to mean that you have spiritual health. (Job 26-27.)

So concludes the discourse between Job and his three wicked friends. 

This conversation is difficult to overhear. Where do you think you’d stand? Have you said any of these things to a friend?

But mostly, what is it that makes Job innocent in this conversation and his friends wicked in their communication? Spoiler alert: God sides with Job in chapter 42.

There are two characteristics that put Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz in Satan’s camp during this discourse: accusation and self-sufficiency.

They say a lot of things about God that are true, but they accuse Job. And in their accusation they assume that man’s actions are sufficient to save or condemn him.

Job, on the other hand, remains righteous by standing firm in assurance of his innocence due to a prophetic foreknowledge of an Advocate that can absorb God’s wrath. In other words, he believed that only Jesus saves.

The battle between these two beliefs is the definition of spiritual warfare.

All Satan wants is for us to step out from under grace and into condemnation.

He wants to accuse us, scare us, make us afraid of God, to make us hide from God, and as such, we’d fall into trying to justify ourselves by our own merit. (Does that sound anything like Genesis 3?)

He wants us to try to live in our own will and way, and on our own goodness and strength rather than standing in trepidation, exhaustion, depression, remorse– but!– standing still, in the purity and hope that Christ provides.

To experience mental illness is to experience the deepest dredges of shame. It is to have accusation after accusation whispered in your ear. It is to live under the specter of guilt. And though wicked friends wouldn’t believe it, the feelings of guilt are without cause.

The panic of mental illness is that something rotten– god knows what exactly– will be found out about you. The itchiness of this self-consciousness is like the feeling of standing unclean before the judge.

Yet, Zechariah 3 tells us how the high priest, Jeshua, stood in filthy clothes before the Lord. Satan was making accusations against him, and the Lord said, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan.” 

That is my favorite verse in the whole Bible.

What put Job’s friends on the wrong side of the spiritual battle is who they agreed with. They were accusing Job, agreeing with the Accuser.

God had already proclaimed Job as blameless…that is prophetic. What God says just, well, is. By maintaining his innocence, Job was in agreement with God.

Love covers a multitude of sins. God’s love for Jesus covers the multitudes who believe that they need an Advocate (John 16:26-27).

No matter how true or untrue what Job said about God was (his theology), he got one thing right– accusation is of the Accuser, and we stand innocent when we stand on hope in the Advocate.

Win, lose, or draw in our suffering, we can ultimately only throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus.

Jesus did not save us from our sins so that we could become able to do good works and please God.

My biggest fear after my diagnosis was that if I am some sort of maniac, how can I be good? And if I can’t become fundamentally good, how can I be a Christian? I wasn’t able.

Jesus saved us from our sins and now we do please God. Now we are a pleasure to the Lord. We still aren’t able, we just are. Because: Jesus.

But it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. So, those conversations in your head or with your exasperated friends who are trying to convince you to go to church and stop cutting yourself– can come to a full stop! The cross ended the conversation about your worth, and the verdict was: worthy.

Which is wonderful news for a wretch like me, or anyone else who the Accuser works overtime to destroy.

Your anguish, your loss, your disability might make it so that you are never respectable again. But blessing or cursing, plenty or lean, survive or succumb– you are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. He has given you the one thing you need– being blameless in the eyes of God.

“He is blameless.” Job 1:8 & Job 2:3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Much Talking

“Have you considered my servant Job?” Job 1:8

The opening scene of Job provides us with a quick introduction to the wealthiest man in a land called Uz.

The narrator gives us a bird’s eye overview of Job’s character: “This man is noble, righteous; and blessed with more land, livestock, and children than one needs. Job is conscientious about pleasing God in all his actions.”

And then in Shakespearean form the narrator exits stage left; the stage lights brighten inviting us onto the set of heaven’s courts in mid-session, God and Satan entering theatrical discourse.

”Have you considered my servant Job?”

I have certainly considered His servant Job! As have many others with a degree of confusion and apprehension.

The Book of Job raises some of the most uncomfortable theological questions a Christian could ask:

“Does obedience provide me immunity from harm? If God takes from me will He give it back? Do good things come from God and bad things from Satan? Was Job too pious—if I become too religious, am I inviting punishment? Are judgmental friends really Christians?”

These kind of questions are traditionally grouped in a category of existential distress known as: The Problem of Suffering.

In the next six months, I am launching into a 12-part exploration of the Book of Job.

I will, however, let the problem of suffering alone for the most part.

Instead, I will focus on this unique scene of the hosts of heaven gathered in court before the Heavenly King giving account for their actions in the Realm of Earth.

The Book of Job begins with a depiction of Heaven’s interest in Earth.

Before Job suffers any trial or loss, he is considered in heaven.

More than being a book about suffering, Job is a book about spiritual warfare.

The Book of Job encompasses spiritual warfare themes like speaking curses, consulting horoscopes, suicide, principalities, and even the need for an Advocate to intercede on a man’s behalf in the courts of heaven.

Of special interest to me is the theme of spiritual warfare in friendships found in the Book of Job.

Job’s wicked friends weren’t just self-righteous jerks, they were his most challenging temptation to overcome.

He lost everything— his wealth, his health, his wife’s esteem, his reputation— yet he did not blame God. He overcame those temptations!

Yet, a few conversations with his friends led him dangerously close to losing his battle and blaming God for his misfortune.

So, this series is called “Too Much Talking: Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Job.”

Couched within descriptions about the various forms of spiritual warfare present in the Book of Job, we will be looking at idle talk, bad advice, misinformed philosophy, preconceived ideas, presumptuous judgment, destructive compassion, and other ways that our friendly conversations can be the worst thing for us in times of trouble.

Welcome to the series! I hope it will be informative on spiritual principles and challenging to your personal approach to communication.

 

 

 

 

Liturgical Holidays

“Job would send for his children and perform a ceremony…” Job 1:5

“Job would send for his children and perform a ceremony as a way of asking God to forgive them of any wrongs they might have done. He would get up early the next morning and offer a sacrifice for each of them, just in case they had sinned or silently cursed God,” Job 1:5 CEV.

We as humans are religion creators. We have an innate tendency to perform ceremonies, be pious, do extra, go extreme, and settle into ritualistic security.

Job was a religion creator just like the rest of us. Most bible translations add to vs. 5 that this ceremony to cleanse his children not of actual, but of fictitious sins, was Job’s “regular practice.”

Job deeply desired to please God– and God completely recognized his piety and blamelessness– but Job approached God through religion not faith. He displayed a type of existential anxiety in relation to the Lord that would be common to the pagans of his day.

I think many of us begin our journey toward faith in a superstitious religiosity in the midst of which, and despite of, the Lord extends to us an offer of experiencing Him through faith and freedom from our “regular practices.”

Job was a contemporary of Abraham– both of them would have begun as idolaters. Job was a religious man in the fashion of the spirit of the age– ritual sacrifice. At that time everyone offered sacrifices to the gods and burnt offerings. Religion always emerges from culture.

But Job’s faith emerges outside of his culture. He has an encounter with God that has nothing to do with his sacrifices.

I know that can be hard to take in, being that Mosaic religion is a religion based on atonement by sacrifice– on that note let me remind you that in at least 21 passages of scripture God says that sacrifice and offering is not what He really wants, desires, or accepts. He says it first to Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22);that His true desire is obedience.

In subsequent scriptures throughout the Bible, God relays His preferences over sacrifice as being: love, knowledge of Him, a broken and contrite spirit, righteousness and justice, mercy, to love Him with all our heart and strength and understanding, love our neighbors, love kindness, walk before Him humbly, walk in the way He commands us, delight to do His will, carry His law within our hearts, draw near to listen, faithfulness, to attend to others, to be reconciled to our brothers, to obey, to listen to His voice, and to do all He commands us.

This explains the entire book of Hebrews! Isaiah 1:11-17 says:

What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? says the Lord. I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and Sabbath and your special days for fasting– they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourself and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. 

This is a little confusing in light that God instituted all of those rituals. But! The author of Hebrews tells us that the first model that was given us was in fact only a model! It was a model of the heavenly things put into an earthly context, but once Jesus came that earthly context was no longer needed because Jesus revealed all to us, and now our worship is not to be in the fleshly way– for the fleshly way is in fact quite replicable by the world– but rather we are to worship in spirit and in truth for God is spirit (John 4:24).

See in Hebrews 10:1-10 how Jesus’ sacrifice put an end to ritual sacrifices to make way for true religion. The Apostle James defines this true religion in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The sacrificial system was in a sense a syncretistic in that the Lord allowed a world system to act as a spiritual system. It was a system that seems to have emerged from the world not outside of it.

It’s not that God didn’t act, interact, or accept the sacrifices but religious piety– which was all the sacrificial system accomplished en masse– was not the ultimate goal, but rather the goal was relationship with God through faith. We see this starting all the way back with Job– the oldest book in the Bible. He is the first to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and “If only I had an advocate.” The first person whose rebirth through faith is set into record was the first to say, “I thought I knew before, but now I know.” And that knowing is knowing that religion is a shadow— it is merely a carbon-based form for our carbon-based brains.

Religion speaks to us in our fleshly, worldly context before we are born again into the spirit.

We are a people in context, but we are called to live out of context. We are treasure in a field (Matthew 13:44). We are in the temporal but are of the eternal.

As we are surrounded by a worldly context it is difficult to not be saturated by that context. It is difficult to keep ourselves “undefiled.” And by undefiled I am actually not talking about by sin, but by religion.

It is the inevitable human tendency to create religion, I say again.

We as Christians have inherited both a faith and a religion. How do we interact with the religion we have inherited– the part of our worship that is of the earth, of the age, sometimes borrowed from false religion and often syncretistic?

How do we maintain faithfulness and obedience when even our own institutions and leaders bait us into unspiritual practices that emerge from man and culture?

The liturgical holidays are a great example of practical syncretism in the Christian religion.

I will now finally define syncretism for those of you who don’t have that definition on file. Syncretism is the practice of two religions at one time. It is the blending of a person’s old religious practices while believing in the tenets of one’s new faith. It is borrowing traditions and practices in one religion for use in another.

This is why I postulate that ritual sacrifice was possibly syncretism. Sacrificing made sense to pagans– still does unfortunately. Even modernly, it is in fact, legal in America to ritually sacrifice animals, and neo-pagans in Britain are committing kidnappings for human sacrifices today.

The most important point I want to make about ritual sacrifice, is that Jesus ended it. God may have allowed blood sacrifice as the agreement for atonement for a time, but it was only for a time until a better agreement was made. There is, therefore, in the same way, no longer a place for sacrifices or any other forms of culturally emergent Christian religious practice.

Inadvertently, American Christians still practice syncretism through the liturgical holidays. (You are in fact reading the preface post for my Liturgical Holiday series.)

Let’s identify syncretism in Christian religion and contemporary Christian practice by playing a game called “Who Borrowed Whose Holiday?”

  • Halloween is actually a Catholic holiday that the neo-pagans borrow, not the other way around!
  • Thanksgiving is not actually a Puritan holiday but is an assimilation of the Catholic St. Martin’s Day, a holiday that is still huge all throughout Europe.
  • And Christmas, the holiday we consider to be ultimately Christian, is actually the only one that is not Catholic by origin but pagan!
  • And just a side note: The only holidays that are ordained in the Bible are in the Old Testament, which very few Christians even know about. And, we are not commanded to celebrate Jesus’ birth nor His resurrection day. We are however, commanded to remember Him through participating in the Lord’s Supper and providing for each other’s needs– ordinances which we treat flippantly, without cheer, and with a bah hum bug closed-heartedness.

So, with this back drop let me explain what this series on the liturgical holidays will and will not be.

It will not be an exhortation to stop celebrating the liturgical holidays. I will make the argument that it is not going to damn you to celebrate Christmas. We will be talking through Paul’s perspectives on pagan feasts in 1 Corinthians to explore our freedoms regarding the liturgical/pagan observances.

It will be an exploration of the spiritual warfare involved in the liturgical holidays. On this count we will explore Balaam in Numbers, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.

It will be a spring board to critique the emergent, missional, and discipleship Christian movements to assess in what ways our post-modernist efforts to evangelize do in fact “fish” men out of their context or if we are simply falling into the same assimilation traps that resulted in the Catholics giving us the liturgical holidays– occasions that leave us fat, sleepy, broke, accidently falling prey to spiritual attack, and very little conformed to the image of Christ.

Don’t worry: I don’t hate the holidays. But I do think they are a far better litmus for the state of the American church than we think. They are a great indicator that we love our “regular practices” and our ceremonies more than we love “walking humbly” and keeping his covenant (Exodus 19:5).

Warning! Through this seasonal series, let’s keep more in mind our own failings in practicing “pure and genuine religion,” than transferring blame onto Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. This exploration’s goal is to draw us into humility not pride.

The Lord is notorious for His patience with worldliness in His holy people so that they might eventually learn to recognize godliness. None of us can boast.