The Adult Sabbath School Lesson: Promotion of a Reckless God?

At the time of this writing, the global church was halfway through the 2022 3rd quarter Sabbath School studies, entitled In the Crucible with Christ. This is a dedicated attempt to assure the church that Jesus is always in the “trenches” with us during life’s most devastating punches. But there is something not quite right with the presentations. And I think it begins with the author’s use of the “crucible” metaphor – that when “dross” is subjected to intense heat, it metamorphoses into “gold.” Through this purifying process Christians are encouraged to view trials and difficulties as God’s way of bringing about this desired transformation. And, like gold from dross, the goal is to make them better. But there are limits and dangers to metaphorical usage. Not every part fits. The relevant comparison might be only a particular point which, if not properly clarified, could wrongly infer that all aspects of the referent are equivalent.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11989
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I am increasingly finding the notion that God ‘allows’ or ‘encourages’ trials and tribulations to be rooted in pagan concepts. I have questioned that for many years and find it gratifying to hear a push back on that concept.

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‘Grappling with the Problem of Evil – how to reconcile evil and suffering with an all-powerful, all-knowing, supremely benevolent God – is always laudable.’

God made everything good, but after the fall everything went into chaos like a multidimensional Rubics Cube that is scrambled up and won’t be solved until Jesus Christ returns. There are some scriptures in the bible that mention God giving people circumstances that look like a trial- like teling Abraham to sacrifice his son and telling Hosea to marry Gomer to name a couple. I think that more often, God is guiding us and transforming our character in the trials that already exist.

Between the effect of the fall on the natural world including people, the lack of knowledge about God and His love and the freedom of choice that God has given people there are already no shortage of trials.

And trials aren’t simplistic. People are constantly
(and mostly unknowingly) affected by decisions that other people make including decisions from people we don’t know and people who lived even centuries ago. Its too complicated to wrap up in a neat little lesson. We can only stay close to God and do what He asks of us in His word.

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About the shepherd. There is only one shepherd that walked through the “valley of death”. (Hint, hint) - Perhaps this psalm is why Jesus is seen as the “good shepherd” not willing that any sheep gets los; and would walk trough that valley of death to retrieve it.

As for the rest - it sounds like the SS lesson is trying to “carry water” for God. He doesn’t need our help. Let’s face it - “life is just a bowl of cherry pits” (like my friend Ginny used to say on cloudy days). The rain falls on the good and the bad; and, if we live long enough - we all die. Before that happens, we suffer - watching others die. That’s just how it is. In the mean time, we can either fill our lives with the good stuff - the glimpses of heaven, - or complain about God allowing the pain. God isn’t the “Genie in the bottle”, granting our every wish; and most Bibles don’t survive house fires, no matter what the primary stories said.

The bottom line here is - we create our own “crucibles”; and the “good shepherd” did walk through that valley so that we wouldn’t have to.

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Thank you, Matthew, for so clearly identifying the causes of my discomfort with this current quarterly. I take a turn teaching an adult Sabbath School class 3-4 times a quarter. As a retired academy Bible teacher, I usually like to take the first lesson of the quarter in order to “set the table” for the quarter’s topic. In preparing that first lesson I saw the same troubling issues you identify in such well grounded theological reflection. Your article validates my first perceptions. Nice to know I am not alone in my now retired theological interests.

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The reality of making full sense of evil/suffering and a benevolent and caring God lasting for thousands of years is impossible to achieve. What I do believe is what Scripture says is that God in Christ lived among us, suffered for us, and arose to someday claim us in full. Until that time of reclamation, we are in a time of trust without full answers to why so much heartache in the presence of an all-powerful, all knowing, all loving God.

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The cross shows God with us in our suffering. It shows him suffering under the weight of accumulated evil. It doesn’t solve all the riddles and particulars of why we suffer in this present time. The disciples asked Jesus that question about the man born blind in John 9. Who sinned? What’s the reason? Whose sin is behind this? Jesus didn’t answer their question. It was based on having to know cause. Jesus just healed the man, revealing that this is what God is ultimately like, bringing relief and help in the midst of suffering.

I would posit that this is far better than trying to arrive at answers with theological models…a near mania in Adventism that needs to construct the answers for everything. It’s to bring practical help and relief in the midst of our sufferings that counts far more.

This is also the cross. The crucified and risen Christ through the outpouring of his spirit helps people in their weaknesses. This was written by Paul in Romans 8 in the context of present suffering amidst future hope. He didn’t offer all the answers now. Neither does the Spirit. Neither can we. But we can help and uplift each other in the way of Jesus. It’s the way the Spirit primarily delivers help. Through us. I think this is solid biblical theology. Of relationship. And love.

Frank

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The author has determined that the entire book of Job is an allegory and simply an invention of someone’s imagination, not inspired by the Holy Spirit, And then criticizes the quarterly for misinterpreting the suffering presented in the Bible. He has destroyed the Bible’s authority as the word of God simply because he cannot reconcile or understand how the God he believes in can act that way. If job can be an allegory, then we can just remove any part of scripture we disagree with. Why not eliminate revelation as it has God throwing people into a lake of fire etc? One day we will know why God did, or allowed all He allowed. But if we’re going to have any hope of getting those answers it starts here and now by exercising faith in his work. If we remove part of His Word, none of it can stand.

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I am uncomfortable too with passing off Job as an allegory as it presents some explanations for evil by a real adversary. Yet I can understand the writer’s unwillingness to see God using Job as a test, for I am also uncomfortable in reading about God’s actions in the OT as described in their context. I have to admit that “His ways are way above ours” and we can’t understand them. Trying to understand ancient peoples is like imagining another planet. Nor would they believe what we have and do today. And we can kill millions and have.

However, if Adventists really believe that death is a brief temporary state without knowledge of passing time, as they say, why find these “strange acts” so horrendous? Perhaps because those left alive witness them? Most of the time, it appears to be in order to save God’s people so that they are not lost to history and the world given to the adversary.
I think Job’s life purpose was to be part of a story that tells an important truth, even if he suffered like millions of others of God’s people.
I was always taught that Job was the oldest of the Bible stories written and Job wasn’t a Jew. Has that changed or has it fallen in the hands of secular theologians like Bart Ehrman ( he is popular in the Great Courses studies)?

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Remember that Jesus spoke in parables and allegories. That fact does not make His stories any less inspired. And by the way, the Bible is not God’s spoken word, except in cases where such is specifically referenced…rather, He gave the prophets and authors thoughts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which they, then, put into words which were told or written down. Our denomination (at least on paper) does not take the view that the Bible is inerrant. In fact, if you read the gospels carefully, you will see differences in how parables are recounted…for example, the parable of the absentee vineyard owner who sends his son. The story is told differently in each of the synoptic gospels. This does not suggest that they were not all inspired, but each of the writers had a perspective which influenced their retelling of the story Jesus told.

Further, the author of this piece does not say he disagrees with the book of Job, but rather, our insistence on interpreting it as a literal circumstance when there is no real basis to do so, particularly when it flies in the face of Jesus’ demonstration of what God is like during His time here on earth.

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Thank you Matthew!! I cannot fully state what a sense of relief I felt as a result of reading your essay. As a co-teacher for an adult SS class, this quarter has been torturous for all the reasons you cite and more. In fact, in today’s lesson, I noted that the term “God’s will” or some derivation occurs at least 16 times, and that does not include the Teacher’s section. I see that your piece was written before you got to this lesson, or you would surely have pointed out such a blatant misrepresentation of God and how He wants to interact with us through the Holy Spirit. I commonly hear class members describe their angst over trying to figure out who God wants them to marry, where they should live, what job He wants them to choose, which house they should buy, etc. etc. We have inadvertently taken the “I know, but I won’t tell you” model to a whole other level.

And you hit the nail on the head with respect to the principle concern for both the overt and covert implications of each week’s lesson…the picture we have of God, and how we represent that to our class and others. In my view, every week has presented a new distortion to try to overcome.

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The author of the article never said Job wasn’t inspired by the Spirit. He is saying that it very likely isn’t literal history, but was written to address Israel’s situation and existential questions in exile…why did our suffering happen? Why does evil seem to be ascendent? Why would God do this to us, or allow this to happen to us?

The literary genre of the book would indicate that it is not a literal account, even if one believes that Job is a literal, historical figure. It is written in poetic verse. The dialogue is written as such. No one speaks in this way. The events of losing family, business, health, etc., all in the space of minutes, all heralded by servants through the same language leads to the the idea that this is obviously a literary construction. But, it is a literary construction used to convey truth and questions about God, his wisdom, his justice, and the tough issues of why human suffering and evil. These themes are universal and grappled with by people of all ages and places.

The book shows that despite the prologue of a satan in the heavenly council challenging God’s justice as the behind the scenes reason for what happens to Job, when God confronts Job he gives him no answers. Job and his friends believed that the universe worked by the law of retributive justice, and that God was bound to this. If one does good, God gives good. If one does evil, they are also repayed accordingly. Thus, Job’s trials happened because he sinned, according to his friends. And, Job is saying that they shouldn’t have happened because he didn’t. This is behind his continual challenge to God, wanting to confront him in court so to speak, and to to take him to task for his injustice.

Their whole moral paradigm is blown up when God confronts Job. Not by the answers that God gives him, but by the lack of answers. If Job can’t understand God’s creation and how he created, what makes him think that he has the wisdom to understand why such suffering happened to him? This is then behind Job’s repentance. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have sufficient wisdom…only God can understand what to us is unexplainable, the reasons for suffering that invades our lives even if we do nothing to bring it upon ourselves. Job’s friends apparently don’t admit their own lack of wisdom, clinging to their paradigm of how God must work. They are in worse shape than him in the end before God, and need Job’s prayers.

This leads us to the place that we just do not have all the answers regarding why we suffer, why bad things happen to good people, why suffering and evil are allowed to continue in God’s creation, etc. It humbles us into saying that we don’t have all the answers, even while we maintain faith. How is a book that provokes this type of thinking and discussion not inspired? Why does its inspiration have to hinge on it being literal history?

Frank

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If Job relates actual events, then the god described therein is a monster.

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Very much like your observations than my pithy offering to this subject. Thank you.

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I understand your concern, but why would allegory not be inspired? What of the Song of Songs? The entire book is written in allegorical and poetic language, though both Solomon and his bride are literal people. I think it could be the same for Job. He was probably a real person, and a tragic life, but the story could be allegorical to make a point about the continual mystery over evil/suffering in the presence of the Almighty God. Even if one holds that Job is the oldest book and written by Moses (as I still do) that doesn’t change the fact that it is mostly allegory.

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Which parts of the Bible are Gods word? We’re taught that it all is, but what are the chances?

I always recommend Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman. It’s so interesting you hate to put it down. (The Hebrews split up and north and south developed differences–in the same pericopes–over the years.)

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What? No crucible metaphor holds that the dross metamorphoses into gold! What a bizarre concept. Are we seriously that scientifically confused that we have forgotten how gold is refined, It is not created from the dross, the dross is the contamination that has to be separated from the gold. How one can write an article and completely misunderstand the metaphor is amazing to me.

Then the next paragraph again misinterprets the lesson. He quotes the lesson as the Christian can trust the promise that things work together for good. That becomes Jesus shields us! I don’t like to defend the quarterly but this in two paragraphs is some of the poorest reading of the English language one could produce and that it sets up the rest of the article is a foundation that simply crumbles.

Why? The point of the book of Job is that we don’t fully understand why God does what He does, or allows what He allows. But just because we can’t understand it, it doesn’t mean He’s wrong. Job questions God and His motives the entire book, until He actually sees Him, then once he sees God in the whirlwind and catches His power and awesomeness, He no longer doubts Him. He may seem like a monster to you…but then you would be in the position Job was in before his encounter with God. God shows Job that we as humans know so very little of what’s actually going on that we can’t condemn Him just because we don’t understand Him.

The fact is that we can and must remove parts of the Bible as new information comes in, otherwise one’s belief in the book becomes stale idolatry rather than a viable teaching tool.

For example, listen to any atheist pod cast. He’s going to say that the Bible condones slavery, genocide, misogyny, rape, etc.

And the fact is that these accusations are factually correct.

So unless one is willing to say that some parts of the Bible need to be deleted and/or edited, he will be ostracized by more modern thinkers, and rightfully so.

(For further details, google “Jefferson’s Bible” from which he excised any mention of the miracles attributed to Jesus. In other words, how much or how little one wants to pick and chose from the text is always going to depend on personal preference and subjective opinion.)

As to the book of Revelation, it my understanding that there were those who opposed including the book in the canon for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was written in code strictly for the people of John’s time, thus the chances of any future generations being able to correctly decipher its unique imagery and intentions are a statistical zero.

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I think that’s the whole point of Job, right? Job couldn’t understand how a god God could allow him to suffer so carelessly. But God shows him, not by answering his questions or ever even explaining why he’s going thru what he’s going thru, but by showing him how little he actually understands that Job does not know enough to doubt or question God. I feel we too often take the position of Job before his encounter with God. Job had very real complaints, and to our perspective we would probably all agree that he had every right to ask and think what he did. None of us would disagree with his complaints. But when he saw God, he said “I spoke about things I didn’t understand”. In other words, after all the horrible things that happened, all it took was to encounter the fullness of God and he no longer questioned or doubted that God was good, even in bad circumstances. And the lesson for us is the same. When we read about questionable things God did or said, can we have the humility to admit we don’t know enough to judge God? That He is good even if He appears not to act that way? It’s not easy, but the God who dies on the cross will never do anything that isn’t good. Job teaches us to trust that even when we don’t understand it. Blessings!

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