Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Lessons of Job or What I Did on My Summer Vacation

"Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high? It lives on the rock and makes its home in the fastness of the rocky crag. From there it spies the prey; its eyes see it from far away.” Job 39:26-29

This past week my family (son, husband and in-laws) took our annual canoe trip into the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. My very first trip into the BWCA was with my then boyfriend, his parents and some friends exactly 11 years ago. He likes to say that he took me camping early on in our relationship to see if I had what it took to be a permanent fixture in his life. It was a wonderful and strenuous trip, and there have been six since, four of which have included our now six year old son.

On our first day, as we pulled into the first portage of the trip, I told my son how lucky he was that he got to come to such a beautiful place each year and to have such a good time with his family. My husband chimed in with how lucky he was to have found a wife who was so excited to go canoeing with him. Our son quickly added how lucky I was that I married someone whose parents lived so close to the Boundary Waters, so I could get to go camping there each year. The counting of blessings went on and on.

It was eerily reminiscent of the blessings of Job, as recounted in the Old Testament fable. Job is a wealthy, blessed and fruitful husband, father, grandfather, landowner, friend and worshipper of God until Satan and God gaze down upon him and debate whether or not he would be so faithful if he were not so blessed. God allows Satan to take away all of Job’s blessings, destroying his wealth and killing his family, and yet Job remains faithful to God.

It is important for me to read this story as a fable and not as a historical account of actual events. There are no other instances in the rest of the Old Testament of God and Satan talking together in this way. It is much more likely that this is a narrative tool to make the larger point of God’s sovereignty and the importance of remembering that all that is in the earth and all that we have are gifts of a powerful God.

Interestingly, my father-in-law, a retired Old Testament professor, used to take groups of seminary students into the Boundary Waters to camp and study the Book of Job. I used to joke that they must have studied Job together because of all of the afflictions that one encounters on the trip – insect bites, sore shoulders and backs, tired arms, blistered feet, wet packs, outdoor latrines and rehydrated food (why do I go on these trips again?).

If you know anything about the Book of Job, you know that it is one of suffering, mourning and lamentations, but if you are able to slog through thirty-seven chapters of wallowing you will find that the Book of Job provides one of the most beautiful descriptions of a Creator God – one I would argue that rivals the actual creation narratives in the Book of Genesis. God has heard enough of Job’s complaints and the complaints of his friends, and answers Job with an awe-inspiring recounting of the intimate knowledge God has with the created world. Here are some of my favorite parts:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” Job 38:4-6

"Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young?” Job 39:1-3

Inspiring awe is one of the by-products I always hope will result from our trips into the wilderness with my son – that surrounded by such extraordinary specimens of the created world, he will learn not only an appreciation of the creation but also a reverence for God the Creator.I am never quite sure whether or not it is working.

On this particular trip we saw at least three bald eagles, one of which perched on a small island next to our campsite for the majority of our stay there. One afternoon I sat staring at him through binoculars for at least half an hour, taking in his majesty. I brought my son over to look for himself, and his only response was, “sure is a fat guy.” I was not exactly sure what that meant, but I hope it was his way of saying that even though we could only see him from a distance he was a formidable-looking bird. I can hope that taking him out to see these beautiful things each year will teach him to value the beauty of creation – or it may teach him that eagles are as common as the many sea gulls we also see on these trips.
We also saw more turtles than ever this year, which pleased my son to no end. He spent one whole afternoon talking to and trying to make friends with one which had wandered into our campsite with the intention, we discovered in the morning, of laying her eggs on shore. As much as my son fawned over that turtle, he was totally unfazed when he accidentally stepped on one of her eggs the next morning.

So how do we teach our children awe and reverence for the created world and a Creator God?

·         Despite the turtle egg incident, I continue to believe that exposing them to as much of the beauty of nature as possible is a first step.

·         I also believe that sharing with them our appreciation for the created world is helpful to teach them what we value as a family.

·         Finally, I believe that the book of Job is a rich tool for parents and children to develop a healthy respect for the majesty and grandeur of the natural world. The beauty and evocative descriptions of nature, the sharpness of God’s response, and the faithful response of God all provide fodder for discussion and a language of praise for the natural world and the God who created it.

Then Job answered the LORD:  "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.'  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Job 42:1-5

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