Thursday, June 09, 2005

Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes and Order

It's funny how you have to read the whole Bible to passages or books of the Bible in the context of the whole Bible.

Yeah, it's one of the most important mantras of good Bible reading that whatever passage or book you've got your paws on must be read in the context of the whole Bible, the over-arching purpose and workings of God in thousands of years of human history.

But it's difficult to read in context don't know what the rest of the Bible says. You could acquire good books on the subject which trace the different strands of the one coherent story in the Bible for you (like Vaughan Roberts' "Big" series or Graeme Goldsworthy's writings, especially his "Gospel and..." series). Yet somehow, you don't quite get it until you get your hands dirty and wade through the Bible yourself.

Got a glimpse of this recently while paddling through Proverbs. There was this overwhelming theme of order: order that can be perceived in the world, order within the entire human race, a common order that transcends time, place and circumstances. This daily pervasive order found in even the most mundane haggling for fish in the market is a gift from God. Fear God, be righteous and you will be rewarded. Simple cause-and-effect.

But we all know that this isn't an accurate reflection of the world we live in. Not all nice people win in the end.

Enter Job.

Before Proverbs-paddling, spent the last few months reading and re-reading Job (Job's so-called friends are really lor sor!). Seen together with Proverbs, Job clearly shows the hiddenness of order. There is no simple cause-and-effect: fear God and you may not be rewarded. In fact, the righteous Job who is commended by God loses everything and comes within an inch of losing his own life (in fact, with all the suffering he was going through, he wished that he had indeed lost it). There is an order higher than the cause-and-effect we know so well in our world, an order known only to God that we cannot perceive.

Most teenage bloggers will have you know that they don't perceive any order whatsoever in the universe and in their lives. Everything is meaningless.

The first book of the Bible I read as a Christian was Ecclesiastes. You can imagine how flummoxing it was. The wise teacher starts off whining like an angsty teenager (but more poetically than most):
"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless." (Proverbs 1:2)
Order is absent in the universe, it suggests. The world is messy, chaotic and disordered. Confusion befuddles everything. And so, life is completely and utterly meaningless.

Or so it appears.

Yet, there is order in the universe and meaning in our lives, says the wise Teacher:
For God will bring every deed into judgement,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Proverbs 12:14)
There is an end to the messiness and the chaos and the disorder of the universe. There is a God, and there is order in the universe created by God, an order that has been confused by sin. In the End, the God will restore order again and in this restoration, he will judge us for everything we have ever thought or done. Therefore, advises the Teacher, the only smart thing to do would be to
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man. (Proverbs 12:13)

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