Friday, April 12, 2013

Job 34-42, Psalms 1-28

Job 35:6-8
If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him?
Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him?
If you are righteous, what do you give Him?
Or what does He receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects a man such as you,
And your righteousness a son of man.

Sometimes, i hear people (especially high school and college students) agonizing over Doing the Will of God. They don't want to choose the wrong college, or the wrong major, or the wrong elective, or the wrong sandwich topping. Even the smallest action can ripple outwards to change the whole trajectory of history, and whatever you do, do it for the glory of God, so if i have pickles instead of banana peppers, World War III might happen, or the Rapture or something. And everyone i love will go to Hell. It's a natural and logical progression.

It's also crazy and heartbreaking and wrong.

Does God care about everything you do, even down to what you put on your sandwich? Yes. Is He so powerless that He can't do whatever He wants in your life regardless of where you go to college or who your roommate is or which of your family members you've "witnessed" to? No. Look at Jonah: he deliberately did the opposite of what God wanted, multiple times, and God's will was still accomplished.

This doesn't mean we can do whatever we want and trust God to pick up the slack. But it does mean that we can stop panicking about every choice we make. Think about it, pray about it, ask for advice from others, and then do something. You can always change your major, transfer to another school, have pickles AND banana peppers. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that your sin is more powerful than God's will. There is nothing you can do that can derail what God wants.

Job 40:8
Would you indeed annul My judgment?
Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?

I'm going to paraphrase a story from a source i can't remember: A man had a dream that he visited Heaven and met God. He said to God, "There is one question I have always wanted to ask You. How can You look at the world, and see all of the poverty and disease and cruelty and suffering that we go through every day, and not do anything about it?" And God said, "Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing."

Sometimes when we talk about the Will of God, we're copping out. We pray for the people of Haiti, who were already in pretty bad shape before the earthquake, and we trust that God will take care of them. How many of us send money, or supplies, or go to rebuild houses? How many doctors go to tend to the sick? How many wealthy people make donations to relief funds? Sure, some people gave lots of time and money and energy immediately after the earthquake, but things were shitty before and they're shitty now, and we've all moved on. We do this in lots of situations, every day, all over the world. A very small percentage of people actually get involved in the beginning, and a very small percentage of those stay involved until things are actually better. Instead of waiting for a disaster to be brought to our attention so that we can donate a week's worth of latte money right away, we should be looking for opportunities to donate, to volunteer, to support, to rebuild. Goodwill is always looking for volunteers. Soup kitchens always need donations. Not sure where to find people in need? Walk around a city in the evening. Go to the park. Look for homeless people settling down for the night. I know people always feel weird about giving money (what if they use it to buy alcohol?! Horrors!), and i personally never carry cash, but you can buy a cheeseburger or a cup of soup or maybe some coffee and bring a cold, hungry person some dinner. I've seen college students literally give the coats from their backs, because they might be cold on the way back home, but they're going back home; they'll survive. I've spent a lot of time this semester talking about all the times and ways that God is not very nice to us, from neglect to actual mistreatment, but the fact that God doesn't always help us in the way we think we should be helped does not excuse us from the responsibility of helping one another.

Psalm 4:4
Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

I'm about to get all pop-psychology touchy-feely for a minute. I think that we should spend less time worrying about controlling our emotions or making sure that our emotions are appropriate and just allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling.

It's not always appropriate to give way to your emotions entirely. Say you're teaching a class, right, and say that you're gay, and say that your students don't know this, and say that one of your students makes a rude and terrible homophobic remark. Your immediate reaction, your immediate emotion, might be to scream and shout and cry and swear at the kid. You will get fired, and the kid probably won't learn anything. In the moment, you should gently and politely and firmly explain that that kind of remark is intolerant and rude and you won't allow it in your classroom. You may even be able to have a "teachable moment", and take some time to open up a class discussion about homophobia and LGBTQI issues and appropriate ways for us to all interact with one another. But when you go home at the end of the day, you should scream and shout and cry and swear. You should go for a long, hard run. You should beat up a punching bag. You should play the piano. You should do whatever you need to do to work through that anger and hurt. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself be hurt. Let your feelings work themselves out on their own time. But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that your feelings aren't important and can be ignored. They can't. If you don't take care of them now, they'll fester and explode out at an even less appropriate time.

Let yourself feel whatever it is you're feeling, and don't feel guilty about it, but don't sin. Don't let your feelings be an excuse for bad behavior (like yelling at a student who may not have known that that was an offensive term).

Christians somehow have honed in on all of the verses about cheerfulness and joy and gladness, and have ignored all the verses like this one, and have inferred that the greater your faith, the bigger your smile. We have somehow come away with the impression that Christians are only allowed to access "positive" emotions, and that the rest of them are inappropriate. I think that, regardless of religious orientation, healthy people allow themselves access to a full range of emotions, and focus on working through their feelings and channeling them into productive avenues, rather than trying to shut down the ones we don't like.

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