I wrote an article with Peter Leithart a few years back for Touchstone Magazine which you can find here, in which we argued that the book of Job provides a curriculum, a template of sorts for how God loves to grow His people up into maturity, particularly a maturity that is increasingly drawn into the presence of God, a maturity that is able to stand before God, to speak with God, to know God as a friend.
God is the original Principal of the School of Hard Knocks. God beams over His servant Job and sends the Accuser to trash his life. God beams again with exuberant, fatherly pride, and lets the Accuser cover Job’s body in boils. God is apparently still beaming as He lets three backstabbing friends show up, complete with Bible verses, showy religious rituals, and ultimately a Russian novel’s worth of accusations and lies.
Job cries. Job curses. Job explodes in tirades of righteous indignation. Job prays with the vehemence of the Psalmist. He argues. He defends himself. He starts blogging and opens a Twitter account and starts blasting the media, the tar and feather crew outside the royal estate, and all the hate and smear blogs popping up all over the kingdom. The climax is often misunderstood, but when God shows up in the whirlwind, this is not the cosmic smackdown it is frequently described as. Yes, God is glorious and wonderful and transcendent, and Job is a puny ant with a righteous bad attitude. Absolutely. But the thing that most commentators miss is the fact that God has a huge fatherly smile on His face. God is not upset with Job. God says at the end of the story that Job was right! Job is vindicated, justified. God says that Job threw a holy tantrum, and well done, my boy, well done.
As we noted in the article, the way into the storm-presence of God was through the storm of calamities and enemies and arguments. God is the great wrestler, the great fighter, and He runs the universe and plays with Leviathan. God plays with weather systems and in His free time wrestles dragons. And like the faithful father that He is, He wants His beloved sons to grow up to rule the universe like He does. He wants His sons to play with dragons too. And so He sends little dragons, little snakes to attack and tempt and try His beloved sons, so that they can learn to wrestle, fight, and tame them.
It’s a generational temptation to get bored with the old battles, but this is wrong. The particular fronts may change, the hottest spots of the battle may shift over the years, but fight we must. And this leads me to my point: I picked up Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution the other day. And the thing that ticks me off in the first chapter is the fact that he doesn’t want to fight. He’s tired of fighting. Now I don’t know the man, and I’d be happy to find him a gracious brother doing a lot of good in the corner of the Kingdom Jesus has called him to.
But he says at the outset that he wants to tell stories about his experiences because “stories disarm us.” He explains: “It’s hard to disagree with a story, much less split a church or kill people over one. And certainly no one hurts others with the passion of those who do it in the name of God, and it’s usually over ideologies and doctrines, not stories. Besides, people seem to loosen up after a good story. I think that’s why Jesus told so many stories…” (IR, 28) To his credit, he does note in a footnote that of course occasionally Christ’s stories could incite a riot, but Shane is quick to assure his readers that he will “stick to stories that disarm…” (IR, 28)
Now, people are complex, complicated, and God works wonders through our internal contradictions. I don’t have any problems assuming that piles of Christians I disagree with on a plethora of issues are and will do great good for Jesus and we’ll party down at the resurrection together. I’ll drink to that any night of the week. It’s called grace, and God’s grace is ridiculously liberal. But the immediate temptation is to then go all pacifist and throw up our arms and wonder if it’s really worth all the trouble. If God is so full of grace, shouldn’t you be a little more gracious and just be nice to everyone, someone asks in a particularly snarky tone in their Facebook status… hmm? Hmmmm?
Well yes, I’m all for graciousness and kindness and generosity, but some folks seem to have gotten the idea that those fruits of the Spirit are opposed to the armor of God or the sword of the Spirit or the war that Jesus is currently engaged in in history. Jesus gives peace, and He came to make war. Jesus was cool with saying both things, and so should we. We are warriors and peacemakers, and if you think that’s a contradiction, take it up with Jesus.
Shane may be doing great work for the Kingdom, but he says he’s written a book full of stories meant to disarm, meant to avoid fighting, avoid conflict, avoid too much passion that might end up getting someone hurt or (horrors!) splitting a church. And then he has the audacity to point out that Jesus’ stories were actually sometimes different, or if we actually look at the gospels, almost always different. Jesus told stories in order to bring blindness, deafness, and harden hearts.
In other words, Shane is writing (ironically) to offer a shortcut to holiness, a shortcut to maturity. He says he’s after the real thing; he’s tired of youth group charades and evangelical mediocrity. He says he just wants to do what Jesus said to do. But then he tugs his collar and clears his throat nervously and reminds everybody that we don’t actually want anyone to get hurt, especially not their feelings. We’re certainly not trying to get anyone too worked up about any ideas or doctrines. But stories are sexy. Living in cardboard boxes next to homeless people make for fabulously gritty stories. This is a perfect spirituality for a video game generation, for a Reality TV culture, for people addicted to pornographic orgasms. Even if we take him completely seriously and believe his reservations about his celebrity status, Shane still ends up as the star of this Alternative American Idol. You can get all the stimulation and release of the real thing without as much trouble, without as much pain, and certainly without all the struggle, fighting, arguments with real live people. Just stories, dude, just stories that make you laugh and cry.
Well I’ve got a story for you: it’s about a Jewish man who claimed to be God and walked into his church one day and started one of the biggest church splits ever. He made people so mad that they eventually killed him and most of his followers got killed for proclaiming that he was right and that God had raised him from the dead and offered complete forgiveness of sins to all who trusted in Him. And yes, that message includes love and grace for the lost, the hurting, the broken, the suffering, the lonely, the homeless, the dying. And yes, in so far as American Christians live comfortably without care for the hurting and lonely around them, God damn our selfish arrogance.
But when Shane says he finally found Christians in Calcutta, I’m getting ready for the Indie music to start playing and the credits to start running because that’s about as cheesy and bromantic as you can get. Again, I’m not saying Shane planned this all out or consciously cares a ton about how many followers he has on Twitter. He probably doesn’t care, but whether he realizes it or not, he’s playing the part really well.
I’m all for mercy ministry, missions, loving the unlovely but only in the name of the Jesus who I know, the Jesus who picked fights, mocked Pharisees, drove money changers out of the temple, and invited enemies to the same table. By all means, befriend the prostitutes, the drug addicts, the homeless. Invite them into your home, love them, serve them, give generously, sacrificially, but only do it in the name of the One who is actually conquering the cause of all that brokenness, the Son who suffered to learn obedience, the Beloved Son – the greater Job – who throws down, who wrestles, who fights, who argues, who crushed the head of the dragon in His agonizing death for our sins and has inherited glory.
Otherwise, it’s like you work long hours for the burn unit of the nearby hospital during the week and you’re a freelance arsonist on the weekends. But we serve the God who is committed to destroying all arson in order to eradicate the need for all burn units. And until the last enemy is destroyed, we are soldiers, warriors, and sons learning to wrestle, struggle, fight, argue so that we might grow up into Jesus, grow up into maturity, to stand before God, to speak with Him and to know Him as a friend. And we do this so that there will be peace, wonderful, glorious, overflowing peace, and a party to end all parties. But as one your own prophets has said, you gotta fight for your right to party. And Shane doesn’t want to fight.