Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.

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The presence of God

In 1 Chronicles 13-16 we find a story of King David returning the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David where he had pitched a tent for it. It is an interesting story that raises some questions particularly surrounding the death of Uzza who reached out to steady the ark when it looked like it might topple off of the cart being used to transport it. After this David left the ark at the home of Obed-edom and it took awhile for him to get up the courage to make another attempt and finish the journey. We read that God blessed the house of Obed-edom and understand this was because the ark was at his house.

So what is the Ark of the Covenant? Essentially it was a box that was fashioned according to the design God gave Moses when he was on the mountain where he also received the Ten Commandments. Along with the Ten Commandments there were instructions for sacrifice and for building a tabernacle that would house the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence would reside with the Ark of the Covenant. This was why David sought to bring it to his own home city. He wanted the presence of God and subsequently the blessing of God to be with him.

The ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, a separate area of the tabernacle that could only be accessed by the high priest once a year. Yet here we see the ark, unsheltered, in the midst of the people. This was because during time of war the ark had been captured by the enemy, who thought it was the ark that was giving the nation of Israel success in battle.

When Uzza died trying to steady the ark David was angry with God. Picture all of Israel, worshipping, “rejoicing before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets,” and suddenly one of the men driving the cart on which the Ark of the Covenant rested was struck dead. David, understandably, could not conceive why God would cause such a thing to happen. There is no question that he blamed God.

What impresses me about this story is David’s love for the presence of God. He expected God would be pleased that he was restoring the ark to its proper place, but evidently not even David fully understood the ways of God. It turned out that the instructions for transporting the ark had been disregarded. The ark was later carried by the Levites, on their shoulders with poles, as Moses had commanded them and safely reached Jerusalem.

In the New Testament we read that when Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the temple that separated the Ark of the Covenant from the area where the common people gathered, was torn from top to bottom. To the Jews this was a miracle that symbolized that Jesus opened the way for everyone, not only the priests to have access to the presence of God.

We can read of David’s love for God’s presence in the many Psalms that he wrote. David understood this New Testament truth of the accessibility of God. The death of Uzza merely showed that we must not consider God as common. We cannot presume that he will put his stamp of approval on all we do, even if we are worshipping him with all our heart. He has a pattern, a plan. We must seek it and heed it.

What changed after Easter?

We have just celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Christ. What is the significance of the coming of Christ to earth? What changed after Easter?

The answer is found in the Bible. The significance of Christ appears in the Old Testament as well as the New. A great deal of richness is lost if one does not know the “back story.” There are many layers of truth to be uncovered, not unlike an archeological dig. I find the process fascinating.

I had a small insight concerning Christ in my devotional time this morning. My reading was from the book of Ezekiel, portions of chapters 42-44. In these chapters instructions are given for sacrificial purification. One very marked historical difference after Easter is the discontinuation of sacrifices in the Jewish tradition for those who called themselves disciples of Christ, later known as Christians.

Animal sacrifice for cleansing from sin and atonement of guilt were prescribed by God after the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered by Moses from slavery in Egypt. In chapter 42 of Ezekiel we read of the necessity to make “…a separation between the holy and the common.” Throughout the Bible we are reminded of the holiness and righteousness of God and we see him at work to make a way for an unholy and unrighteous people to approach him. “I will accept you,” he declares in Ezekial 43, when the conditions of sacrifice are met.

This ritual of sacrifice was a considerable burden for the nation of Israel. If the people were straying from God, one of the first signs was the forsaking of sacrifices or the profaning of  sacrifices by disregarding instructions.

Jesus is metaphorically referred to as the “lamb of God,” because he came to put an end to animal sacrifice. He became the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. When Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness there was an occasion when God sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them for their disobedience. Moses, according to God’s instruction, made a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole and lifted it up for the people to see. Anyone who looked at the snake could be healed (Numbers 21). Just like the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness were saved on the day when they looked at the serpent, so anyone today can be forgiven, healed of their sin by looking at Jesus their Saviour. It is so simple.

What stood out for me in my reading was the fact that God’s attitude towards sin has not changed. He still separates the holy and the common. Another translation says, “the holy and the profane.” Forgiveness through Christ is a remedy for sin and disobedience. It is never an excuse to continue in our snake-bitten, and poisoned condition.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:18-23