“The more you see the less you know,
The less you find out as you go.
I knew much more then than I do now” (U2: 2004).
We see reinforced repeatedly in the Writings the fact that God is God, the creator of all things, and our purpose is to be in relationship with the creator God not to become God. The Writings ascribe lordship to God. They show that God is at work in the world, even when it does not appear that God is in control (Ester, Ecclesiastes). From these books, we find that our purpose in life is to fear the Lord first, and live a life of belief that God is in control. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man; For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The faith of the Writings is rooted in God’s lordship. This is the faith that we need to emulate. It is praise in everyday life that reminds us that God is Lord and an active agent in our everyday life. This is the importance of the praise in Psalms and the praise that we find in other books of the Writings. I counted 176 praises to God in the Psalms in my New International Version Bible, sometimes even at the point of excruciating loss. Job says, “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” (Job 1:21).
This idea of attributing lordship over actions and lives is powerful. In Jacobson’s article The Costly Loss of Praise, we read of the ideology that develops in our churches and society when we attribute lordship to the set of beliefs or doctrines (Jacobson: 2000). When we do this, we essentially are ascribing lordship to ourselves. The Writings tell us this is foolishness (Proverbs 8, 18, Psalm 14, 53).
This is the challenge that the Writings bring before us. It is very easy to confine God to a building and forget that God is present in the reality of life. By ascribing lordship to ourselves, our systems, our structures, and we place God in our little box and, in effect, separate God from everyday life. We live lives believing in a set of rules that we can control. If people agree to those rules then they can join our group. If people do not agree then they cannot join our group. There is no room for questioning. There is no room for lament. Justice is not an issue, but a prize. Jacobson gives an example of this when he writes, “In this way, the ideology of the autonomous self blames the victim for suffering: The poor man is responsible for his poverty, the abused woman for her abuse, and the sick man for his illness” (:381). In actuality, this system of belief leaves no room for faith in God because there is no room in this system for a God that is bigger than our answers.
Yet, God is bigger than our answers and the Writings remind us that we find God’s sovereignty in God’s hesed. Even when God’s people have turned from God to ascribing lordship to idols and themselves, God is faithful. There are consequences for the unfaithfulness of the people to God. But in God’s faithfulness, God remains present, accepts our repentance, and heals relationships.
This is evident in the book of Nehemiah. In chapter one, after hearing of the situation in Jerusalem and the status of his people Nehemiah falls down and prays to God. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (:4). Yet, in Nehemiah’s prayer, we see a reflection of belief in a God that is sovereign and faithful.
O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses (1:5-7).
Then, Nehemiah in an act of faith laments and asks God to show hesed.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man (1:8-10).
Nehemiah, asks God to be faithful so that he can be faithful to God and his people.
In Lamentations, we see another example. “Jerusalem has sinned greatly, so she has been tossed away like a filthy rag. All who once honored her now despise her, for they have seen her stripped naked and humiliated. All she can do is groan and hide her face” (1:8). The writer of Lamentations makes the connection between the sins of the people and the turning away from the people by God. Then, we see the power of this belief that God is steadfast. “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:21-23).
This brings us to the point—God is God and we are not. In Job, we again see evidence of the lordship and sovereignty of God.
Then Job replied to the LORD : “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 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. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (42:1-6).
Job repents, despising himself and giving lordship to God and God is faithful to Job. God says it is Jobs friends that have wronged God. Job’s friends hold fast to the beliefs that they believe in rather than living in belief of a mysterious and faithful God. Their faith is in the rules and they place the rules in the position of God. They make idols of the rules rather than acknowledging the tragic in Job’s life and loving Job. They chose the certainty of belief in a God that they could grasp rather than the openness of life and tragedy in the grasp of a mysterious and sovereign God.
God is God and we are not. Will we choose the certainty of our beliefs, or a life grasped by a sovereign God?
Jacobson, R. 2000. “The Costly Loss of Praise”. THEOLOGY TODAY -PENNSYLVANIA-.57: 375-385.
U2 . 2004. “City of Blinding Lights”. How to dismantle an atomic bomb. [United States]: Interscope Records.