Something like two decades -- perhaps a little longer -- ago I began a slow journey into the realization that most of the Christians I know, the people I grew up with and meet every week in church, most of them do not understand the religion Jesus Christ taught. When asked what's important, Jesus pointed to the Commandments, specifically the First Great Commandment ("You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength"). The Second Great Commandment (what we call the Golden Rule), he said, is like it [Matt.22:37-40]. But it is second. If you read the Bible at face value, most of it teaches these two commandments in one way or another.
Many people consider the book of Job to be an enigma, because they have lost two things: First, they have forgotten (or never knew) what Jesus actually taught about God, and then they have forgotten how to read what is actually there without twisting the text into something that the original author never intended. Mike Mason is one of those people.
Mason is a Feeler, and his values come through loud and clear. His commentary of the very first verse of Job displays the Feeler value of unconditional affirmation:
The real question is not whether God loves us, but whether he approves of us. [p.21]Approval is about affirmation, pure and simple. Mason's theology is conservative enough to recognize that God sends sinners to Hell, so obviously the "love" God has for the whole world is insufficient to qualify as approval. He wants God to "like [us]." Affirmation is an important value for people like Mason, and I will not take it away from him. The Bible (modestly) supports affirming people when possible. But that's a different essay.
The problem is that Mason is so caught up in his own self, that he has lost the essential teaching of the Bible. It is not that Jesus died on the Cross for me -- as important as the Cross is, it is not central to Jesus' teaching -- but that every one of us owes God our unconditional and supreme devotion. It's not about me at all; it's about God. Once I began to understand the centrality of the First Commandment, the book of Job (taken at face value) suddenly made a lot of sense. Job is about the First Commandment.
God knew that Job obeyed the First Commandment, which means that he would not stop loving God even if there were no benefit for himself in it. That's what true love is, self-sacrificing love. The kind of love God Himself showed by sending His only Son to die on the Cross. I have it good in the USA. Although not particularly well off by American standards, I have wealth many -- perhaps most -- Christians in the rest of the world will never see in their whole life. How could I demonstrate self-sacrificial love toward God? Only if God took it all away, and I still loved Him. It happens. I read about such people, but not much in the USA. We are too materialistic. Job loved God the way God wanted him to.
God was so confident in Job's success, that he even bragged about him. The book starts out with this brag: "This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." Mason spent a whole mini-chapter on this one half-verse -- and gets it wrong. He correctly recognizes that "blameless" in the NIV might better be translated (as the KJV does) as "perfect", but then he absurdly explains the whole idea away:
if someone is blameless ... it means no matter how horrible his offenses may have been, all the charges against him have been dropped. [p.22]No, it means there were no charges to begin with. He is a Good person, not a forgiven scoundrel. Mason wants to deny the plain sense of the text and make Job into some kind of "Everyman" (his word, including the capitalization). Job is better than the rest of us. God Himself said so, both at the beginning and at the end of the book. The Hebrew word here is used also (in the plural) to describe the works of God in Deut.32:4 and the "way of God" in 2Sam.22:31 and the Law of the Lord in Psalm 19:7; what God does is not merely bad things being overlooked and forgiven, He is actually and factually "perfect", the same kind of perfect He describes of Job.
At the end, after God comes to give His explanation -- make no mistake: God does answer Job's criticism, and He answers it well -- Mason is still trying to equalize the guilt of Job with his three friends, again in total denial of the text. They were wrong, and had not told the truth as Job had [Job 42:7]. They were so wrong, in fact, that God was unwilling to accept their prayers; Job alone was righteous enough to pray for them. That's what the text says; Mason wants it to say something else. Later on, Ezekiel mentions Job as one of the three most righteous people he could think of. Mason also noticed that, but he still gets it wrong.
I have a confession to make: I have never walked in Mike Mason's shoes. I've been a little depressed these last couple years because I could not find something to do that people find valuable. That's part of my compliance with the Second Great Commandment, and it's tough not being able to do it. But I was never so down that "I stood in the middle of the living room and screamed at [God]" [p.xii]. Maybe that colors Mason's thinking. I admitted in my blog to having a tough time with the 9 chapters in the middle where Job's three friends criticize him, because God said they were wrong. I feel like it's a waste of good Bible study time to plod through chapter after chapter of wrong theology. Most people -- Mason included -- are unwilling to accept God's take on their pontifications and admit these three guys were just plain wrong. Mason calls them hypocritical. Hypocrisy is pretending to be somebody you are not. Maybe these guys were doing that, but we are not told, and have no reason to believe it. In modern Feeler usage, "hypocritical" seems to be a synonym for "critical" (disaffirming). You can criticize somebody by telling the truth, or you can criticize them wrongly; it's all the same to a Feeler. In this case they were wrong, and that's what God criticized them for. The fourth guy, Elihu, also criticized Job, but he never said anything wrong. At least God didn't say so. Truth is what matters most, not whether it is criticism.
Mason gets other (less important) details wrong too. Everybody I have ever heard on the subject wants to make Job out to be the "oldest book in the Bible" because it doesn't mention the Jewish temple sacrificial system. Of course not! Job was not a Jew, and he did not live in Israel. We are told where he lived: in the land of Uz. A quick look in any concordance or reference Bible tells us there are two other mentions of Uz, both by Jeremiah. In Lamentations 4:21, Uz is placed in a poetic doublet that equates it with Edom. Job was an Edomite. One of his friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, was also Edomite, because Teman was the grandson of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. If nothing else, the fact that he was a Temanite (not merely the son of Teman or in the family of Teman) makes Eliphaz no earlier than a contemporary of the Egyptian bondage of Israel. The younger fellow Elihu (the fourth visitor, of whom God had no criticism) was of the family of Ram, who was about halfway between the patriarch Jacob and King David, making Elihu a contemporary of Moses at the earliest. Bildad was a Shuhite, and Shuah was a half-brother of Isaac (by Abraham's second wife, Keturah). Shuah is earlier than Teman, but not by much. The land of Uz was known to Jeremiah, but never mentioned in the previous catalogs of persons and locations, such as Genesis 11 and 36, and 1 Chronicles. That suggests that it's a very late name for Edom, which could place the book as late as the time of the Babylonian captivity. Not a big deal, but little problems add up.
In all his whining, Job never criticized God. He was wrong in one small fact, however: he thought God was unaware of his plight. Job just wanted a hearing with God, so he could explain how he didn't deserve all this calamity. He was right, he did not deserve it. His mistake was supposing that God had not noticed, and God answered that one error in four long chapters of the most awesome tirade I have ever seen anywhere. What is the point of all this? Mason has not a clue! God is telling Job that yes, He is very much aware of absolutely everything that is going on in the entire universe, so obviously yes, He also knew what was going on in Job's life. We are never told that Job ever found out about the wager with Satan -- of course God couldn't tell him in the thick of it, because that would spoil the bet -- but Job did apologize explicitly and specifically for doubting God's omniscience. It was a small thing, compared to the bad theology from Eliphaz and company, so God accepted Job's apology, but he had to pray for his friends because they weren't good enough.
In his introduction Mason gives the reader permission to not read his "book from cover to cover." I accepted his offer, and read only enough to see where he was going. I don't think I will try for more, it's too much like reading Eliphaz or Bildad. I wouldn't recommend it.
2009 December 11