Everyone has a set of mental wall pegs or hooks, like you would hang clothing on but these are pegs for hanging life experiences on.
The mental pegs are a collection of ideas about how we think the world really works. What is good and bad. What is true and false. What is real and not real. What is the good life and how do you get there?
These mental pegs come from a wide variety of sources…parents, our culture, our own minds, experiences, media, Scripture.
When these pegs are unable to “hold” a life experience then a person’s view of the world is shaken, or sometimes altogether undone.
Last week I asked a friend who had had a severe stroke, 1.5 years ago at age 50 how it had impacted his faith.
He reflected for a few minutes, his voice choked and tears came…he said his faith had held but it was enormously hard.
Its not that we actively doubt these things can’t happen to…its just that we don’t actively think that they can.
Or if we do think of them…we do so by being anxious…rather than by becoming prepared.
You can’t fully prepare for these things…but you can prepare in a way where even though the pegs might strain…they hold.
What happens when the pegs don’t hold…or there are just no pegs for certain experiences at all?
What happens when the experiences just fall to floor and others join it there…and they pile up in growing disarray…when life becomes confusing, disordered?
What happens when what you thought was true of life…is not matching your experience of life…what then?
Life will test your pegs…the hooks you hang your experiences on
-Are they real (or they able to hold life as it really is)
-Are they firmly anchored (planted in your own mind and soul such they can hold the real weight of life experiences)
A famous military general, Von Clausewitz coined the term the “Fog and Friction of war”
The fog refers to the reality that in war nothing is as clear and simple as you thought it might be and the friction refers to the reality that in war nothing is as easy as you thought it would be.
Life can become a war…the fog and the friction can set in.
No matter how prepared you thought you were…certain experiences will test you to your limits.
But if unprepared…life can undo a person altogether.
Listen to Paul’s description of dealing with life’s experiences from a fully Christian perspective…
2Cor. 4:8,9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Does this description surprise you at all?
Hard pressed…being nearly crushed
Perplexed…unable to make sense out of a situation at all
Persecuted…under attack and you have done nothing wrong
Struck down…a phrase that means “thrown to the ground”
*Do you have it in your mind that if you “really” had faith and were mature in your faith and were really a good person…life would be easy…troubles won’t not be so troublesome?
Do you think you can reach a place where troubles fall away like water off a duck’s back?
That is not the goal…it’s not even possible in this life…listen to the proceeding verse…then the verse again.
4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2Cor. 4:8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
We are clay pots…not steel pots…the fact that we are not crushed or in despair or abandoned or destroyed…is not due to our own strength…but to the reality of God.
The goal is not to look strong and powerful…or even to be strong and powerful…it is to more fully trust God in all the situations and experiences of our lives.
Even when, especially when…we are perplexed…things in our lives don’t make sense.
Paul said it like this to the church at Ephesus…
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. Eph. 6:10
This quarter we are looking at God’s word as a single narrative with multiple sub-plots.
We have a single goal: Confidence
The Bible is full of virtually every kind of communication possible…laws, poems, songs, proverbs, narrative, prayers, prophecy
God has given us a book that communicates to us in ways that address our full humanity.
There are hooks enough to hang all of life’s experiences on.
Even experiences that touch us in our deepest emotions…but we cannot use mere logical descriptions to make sense out of them.
It’s not that they are illogical…they are just beyond our ability to reason them out for now.
Many have found the Bible inadequate to hold their life experiences…this is not because the Bible itself is inadequate for life…it is because their understanding of the Bible was NOT fully biblical.
The Scriptures address us in all of our complexity…spiritual, social, mental, physical.
*Some see every human difficulty, every struggle as being only or mostly a “sin” problem.
-Suicidal ideations, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, addictions
-All that is necessary, in their minds, is to isolate the sin involved, repent of the sin, and the problem will be solved…but this is not always the case.
*On the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t believe in spiritual reality at all so all problems are biological or cognitive thus medicine or cognitive behavioral therapy is all that is needed to solve the problem…this is not the case either.
The fact is for every human there are four pillars of thriving:
There is no adequate model for human resiliency that doesn’t include all four factors.
Spiritual, Mental, Social, Physical
Without attention to each of these…we are not adequately prepared for life’s events.
They are like oil, gas, water, and air in a car…you can drive “low” on one of these but you cannot drive for long with “no” on any of these.
The Bible treats us a spiritual, mental, social and physical beings…these four things interact with one another and are how God has created us.
Your “pegs” that you hang life’s events on…must be fully biblical…good theology and good anthropology…who is God, who are we?
If they are going to be fully adequate for the reality of life.
Life will still have fog and friction…we will be perplexed…but we need not be undone.
Today we look at the books of the OT that deal with worship and wisdom.
They are sometimes called the “Poetic books.”
The books that are not primarily historical narrative or direct teaching but are designed by God to touch our hearts and minds and souls in a different way than other forms of communication might.
To address the fact that life is complex, we are complex…and life can be confusing…so what are the pegs that will hold and what do you think and when the pegs are severely tested?
These poetic books are Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Solomon
By Poetic…don’t think “not real”…think…truth communicated to the heart.
So let’s finish our overview of the OT by looking look at some of these books.
We are going to focus mainly on two…Proverbs and Job today.
Psalms are clearly the largest of the poetry books
–But we spent an entire year in the Psalms a couple of years ago, so I’ll just mention them briefly this morning.
They were written over a 1200-year span of time from Moses to the times of the Kings to the exile and return from Babylon.
They are songs and poems that are designed to shape our lives by shaping our thoughts and feelings towards God.
It has been said “You are probably not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.”
Psalms is designed to shape us in our minds…via our feelings; and to shape our feelings…via our minds.
They are not full of logical development of thought for each situation…they are often raw expressions of struggle in the midst of life’s confusing situations.
*They help us see that our experiences can be normal response to what for us are abnormal situations…we have not been here before…but someone else has.
We are going to focus on two books from what is called the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs and Job…and briefly mention Ecclesiastes.
If you read these books without considering they are a part of the whole you will likely come to some wrong conclusions. (Context is king in terms of understanding Scripture)
This is why the “drive by” Bible critic…get it so wrong, so often…they pull things out of the larger context.
The wisdom books, taken together, tell us what kind of world we live in (God’s world) and how we are to live in that world (with wisdom in our choices) and what to do with the many things we will not and cannot understand…humility and ultimately trust in God.
PROVERBS: Is conveniently organized in 31 chapters so you can read through it in most month
What is it?
–A collection of the observations of a wise person who has looked broadly at a number of situations and offered advice on how to align life with God’s design
-Short, catchy statements that use the fewest words possible to communicate truth about the way life generally works.
What it is not:
-A book full of Bible promises.
-If you read it this way you are missing the point altogether.
Prov. 18:16 A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.
So is this a “promise”…will it always hold true in situation?
No…but if you use good sense and think it through clearly…it has wide spread application.
*I got into a fight in the 4th grade in front of my house right after school.
-I was terrified of this kid who had threatened me so I pounced first and beat him bloody
-That night I told my dad I couldn’t go to school anymore because I had lost the element of surprise and the kid would kill me.
-My dad gave me a brand-new pocket knife to give to the kid as a peace offering..(yeah, it was a different time.).
-I took to the knife to school and handed to him without a word and he looked at the knife, then at me, then he took the knife and without saying a word walked away.
-The next weekend I was hanging out at his house…we were buds…and I thought my dad was brilliant.
Does it always work that way? No…but is there is general wisdom in the principle that my dad had figured out.
If you read Proverbs to grow wise…to align your life with how life generally works…you will read it correctly.
Chapters 1-9: Give the pegs to hang things on.
Chapters 10-31: Gives a ton of different situations that demonstrate how the pegs work.
The foundation for all of this is: The Fear of the Lord
The phrase is found many times in the book of Proverbs:
9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
It is a healthy respect for God’s definition of God and evil.
It is respect for God’s authority in the universe and in our lives…he made us and he knows how things work.
So fear (awesome respect) for God’s will and ways…is letting him define the good life…it is the beginning of wisdom.
*It is sort of like “fear” respect of natural laws…gravity, fire, etc…but of the one who designed these and the Moral laws…how life works.
Then Proverbs sets out to describe that life in short witty sayings…these sayings, are not rules….they are the path to be walked as you walk with God.
Prov. 26:4,5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
So which is it? Depends on the kind of foolish person you are dealing with…either way could be the way of wisdom but it is situationally determined.
In Proverbs wisdom is personified as a woman…she calls out to everyone…but not everyone hears her voice.
This is a poetic expression of the reality of God’s wisdom.
God is wise…and he has designed a world of cause and effect…it works a certain way.
A believer can do things that are unwise and suffer for it.
A non-believer can do things that are wise and prosper for it.
So…be wise…don’t be a fool…if you want things to go well for you.
And this is generally true…it works really well…super helpful.
So Proverbs 3:5-10…is the accurate description of how life generally works…this is how God has designed things to function.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
This is how life works…cause and effect…good choices matter.
Wisdom…living life God’s ways…works really well.
So if you do things just right…everything will go perfectly for you, right?
If things are not perfect…it’s your fault, right?
So…is this the full picture of the world we live in?
Remember the Bible is a unified story…the books work together to tell that full story.
Let’s ask Job the question
“JOB, if you follow all the rules…make good choices…then life will have no problems right?
Job “Well, I once thought so, but my perspective was not fully biblical.”
Job was the Proverbs poster child…he got it right…he lived that book
He was the OT Mary Poppins…practically perfect in every way.
Job 1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
Job lived just east of Canaan and likely during the time frame of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
After we are introduced to how good a guy Job is we are given a peak into the heavenly command post.
There Satan…literally “the accuser” is going to try and convince God that the only reason Job follows Him is because God is blessing him…he isn’t doing it because he loves God.
Job 1:8-9 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
So what follows is a series of disasters for Job…he loses everything…all his wealth, and his entire family except his wife.
At first he maintains his faith…the pegs hold.
Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
But then Job loses his health.
And his own wife becomes the accuser…”Are you still holding on to your integrity?” Curse God and die!”
What she is saying is “Are you still saying you are innocent?”
“Look Job, either you have sinned…or God cannot be trusted…but you cannot maintain both your innocence and God’s at the same time.”
*They lived in a completely fixed world of cause and effect…do good/get good, do bad/get bad
So Job is bad or God is bad…there is no other way here.
Job was determined to somehow hold onto to his innocence and God’s.
Job 2:10 Job replied “You are talking like a foolish woman Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Then some of Job’s friends show up.
They gave Job what was appropriate and what he most needed…a ministry of presence.
They sat with him for 7 days and 7 nights and didn’t say a word because they saw how great his suffering was.
Then Job’s pegs began to loosen and things began to drop to the floor…his world view of “If I’m good…then only good will happen” was not holding up to reality…something had to go…he was shaken to his core.
Would he blame God or self…either was inconceivable?
So he began to curse the day he was born…this is full-fledged despair.
This finally proved to be too much for his formerly silent friends and they foolishly began to open their mouths and talk.
And they became Job’s third set of accusers…Satan, his wife, now his friends.
Remember: All them have a peg board that is entirely “cause and effect”
-If you do good, you get good
-If you do bad, you get bad
Since Job got bad…he had done bad.
To presume anything else was to say that God was bad, he was unjust.
So one said to Job…
Job 34:12 “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.”
So God since can’t do wrong…and it is wrong for you to suffer…then you must have done wrong Job.
There was no third way in their minds.
But Job knew he had not sinned AND he had thought that God was just…but he was super confused by the facts of his own life.
The bulk of the book was this back and forth between Job and his friends…him declaring his own innocence (which he was)
Them, saying he must have sinned and taking him through various sins he might have committed to deserve what was happening.
Finally Job becomes so frustrated he is ready to take his case directly to God…he said “If I knew where to find him, I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments” (Job 23:3)
At this point three of his friends give up on Job…they are convinced he has sinned and that he will never admit it.
Job 27:1 And Job said 2 “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul, 3 as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. 5 I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. 6 I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. 7
A fourth friend jumps in, after the first three had become quiet…he is the energetic new comer that just by the sheer force of his brilliant argument…Job will suddenly go “Ah, I see, of course you are right.”
It doesn’t work that way…this fourth friend doesn’t get an answer from Job but God finally speaks…and he does so from a storm.
His words are: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”
He is talking to all five of them…Job and friends…none of them, including Job knows what they are talking about.
God is unhappy with Job…because in his attempts to maintain his own innocence…he has thrown God under the bus.
Job 40:6 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: 7 “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 8 “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
God then goes into detail about how he has designed the universe and oversees it in all its intricacies.
We have trouble handling more than few details at once…he knows the universe down to every atom.
He knows history to the second…past, present, future.
This is not because he is petty and controlling…or frantically multi-tasking…it is all done without effort…all knowledge is immediate and perfect to him.
He doesn’t have to remember, or think…all knowledge of everything is right there all the time.
He doesn’t count hairs or birds as they fall from heads or trees…he just knows.
After he has taken Job on this virtual tour of the universe…showing Job how much complexity God holds in his mind…he then rebukes Jobs friends for being wrong and foolish about him.
They were wrong…Job had not sinned.
Job was wrong…God was not unjust.
Bottom line…None of you really are able to understand…it is all beyond you.
Job responds with this insight.
Job 42:1 Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 [“You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
The book ends with God restoring everything to Job, in double.
But God never tells Job why the things that happened to him happened.
So…does God bless Job because he had learned his lesson? Because he was now a really good guy?
No! He does so because he chooses to do so…to think otherwise would be to miss the point.
The bad didn’t happen because he was bad…the good didn’t happen because he was good.
So what do we do with Proverbs and Job together?
We live with the balance they present to us.
We are responsible to choose wisdom…God is sovereign over all things.
This IS a world of cause and effect…it is not random…God is not random…but his purposes are often going to be beyond our understanding.
To do right is right. To live with wisdom is wise. To do good is good.
And very often…most often…these ways will lead down a good path with good outcomes.
But…God is not a vending machine…coin in, candy out.
It is not a mechanical world of cause and effect and it is not a random world of chance.
*It is a world that God has designed to work a certain way…and a world that God stays engaged with in intimate details.
Job received no answer as to why he suffered…but he experienced God.
“My ears had heard of you, now my eyes have seen you.”
So, can you trust Proverbs or not?
Of course, it is full of wisdom that when appropriately applied will better align your life with the way the world actually works.
But it is not rules for living that can be woodenly applied without regard for the reality of God’s ongoing interaction with our lives.
Proverbs minus Job=Deism
Deism is a view of reality that says there is a God, a supreme being who has designed everything…and then went off to let it run on its own.
You are like a program in a computer…you were designed and now you run as designed without ongoing intervention by the Creator.
There is a God…but he is not personal.
Job’s story turns this world upside down…Job does it all right and things go very wrong…why is this?
Job doesn’t know but he is given some choices.
- Accept the fact that you sinned or bad would not happen to you
- Blame God for his problems…he has sinned against Job
- Trust God…period.
He receives no explanations for his suffering.
But Job is satisfied with God even though God doesn’t answer the why.
There is a third book in the wisdom literature we didn’t discuss…Ecclesiastes.
If Proverbs is “Do good and get good”…the optimist
And Job “Do good and get bad”…the disappointed
Ecclesiastes is “What difference does it make…you are going to die”…the cynic
All together come to the same conclusion…not “blind optimism” or “broken disappointment” or “cruel cynicism”
All end up here…Trust God.
Even the cynic of Ecclesiastes…says at the end of his long and foolish journey
Ecc. 12:13 “All has been heard and hear is the conclusion…Fear God and keep his commands this is the whole duty of man.”
Trust God by living with wisdom
Trust God when life becomes a difficult mystery
Trust God when things look empty, when days feel meaningless
Trust God not yourself…this is wisdom.
The wisdom books force us to choose…what or who do you choose to trust?
Your own ideas, your own goodness, your own cynicism, your experience, your suffering?
He does not demand we trust him…he won’t bully you into belief.
He will allow us to go our own way…(Proverbs says we can choose folly)
*Because love calls but it does not coerce.
If you demand he explain himself to prove he is trustworthy…he will not comply.
We have reason to trust God…more so than even Job did.
Job got a virtual tour or God’s power on display in the universe.
We have God’s love on display on the cross.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”