~ More On Fasting From The Self ~
Click here for Part One: Fasting From The Self
The Book of Job is very likely the oldest in the Bible. Other ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature, such as "A Dialog About Human Misery," about a counselor who blames an afflicted person of unrighteousness while he agonizes over the nature of his gods, are quite similar to the theme of Job. That these types of stories are so ancient underscores how old and basic to humanity the questions about the suffering of the innocent are. While knowledge abounds, we humans seem quite learning disabled when it comes to wisdom.
The drama of Job's suffering captures our attention to the unfortunate point that few people understand the book's most important teaching, which is not about enduring adversity. James writes about Job's perseverance (James 5:11), which is sometimes incorrectly translated as "patience." There is a difference and Job was not patient, despite the popular reference to "the patience of Job."
In the Book of Job, "Satan" is not yet used as a personal or proper name. "Satan" means "adversary," "devil" (diabolos) means "accuser" and "Apollyon," in Revelation 9:11, means "destroyer." Using Job as the personal target, a man who practiced righteousness and love of God, the chief accuser and adversary of all time and creation, Satan, makes one of the greatest and challenging proclamations of all time: People who love and worship God only do it because of personal gain. Take away their possessions, loved ones, health and hope without any explanation, and they will curse God instead of worshiping Him.
The accusation could go even further: The only reason you worship God is to save yourself (your self) from hell, even though Jesus said if you do that, you will lose your self. Or, if it wasn't for the fear of hell, you would not be a Christian. But we worship God not out of a fear of punishment or a desire for a reward, which is self-centered. We worship Him because we love and adore our heavenly Father. That's not a difficult thing to understand, since we love our parents and our children for love's sake, as we are part of each other, not because we will be punished or rewarded.
Do you worship God because He blesses you with health, family, home, freedom, comfort, meaningful work? Would you feel the same if you lost all that without any sense, logic or explanation? How would you know? The great accusation of Satan, that God's children are just self-centered self-preservationists who won't really keep their faith and love "for better or worse, in good times and bad," cannot be refuted by argument. So Job is memorialized as the "test case." But Job isn't alone. In this world whose fabric is weaved by both good and evil, we are still experiencing "testing" and challenges of adversity and suffering today.
However, as suggested earlier, the book isn't essentially about suffering. It's about Job's self. Suffering is just the means by which the self is stripped and exposed for what it really is. By the third out of forty two chapters, Job has lost his patience. Cursing even his birth, he engages in a long monologue of self-pity that continues to color all his statements almost to the end of the book. Interspersed throughout the book is Job's angry rants of challenges to God. Job wants his day in court and he wants God at the defendant's table, setting himself up as God's prosecutor. Job's major flaw, that of pride, rapidly surfaces. "I have kept to His way… I have not departed from the commands… I have treasured the words of His mouth…" (23:11-12) Job indignantly boasts, building up his case against God. "As surely as God lives, [note: this was known as a very solemn oath] who has denied me justice…" (27:2) Job says as he continues to assert his righteousness. Many have and do echo Job's words.
Job's three friends, who were trying to get Job to see their explanation of his suffering, stopped talking "because he was righteous in his own eyes" (32:1). A fourth man who was quietly listening, Elihu, "became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God" (32:2). Elihu's silence was out of respect for the older man, but now his monologue runs six chapters that begin to point to what God has to say, and, interestingly, it is not about suffering, but Job's self-pride. That was the source of Lucifer's downfall.
Job did persevere and never cursed God, being a godly person. So much more was at stake in the drama of Job than the question of suffering unjustly, which God does not answer in this ancient book. If evil could demonstrate that godliness and holiness are fundamentally self-serving, that the authentic worship of God is motivated by self-gain, then godliness and worship would be considered sin, including the redemptive righteousness given by Christ. Job remains godly, his dangerous flaw of pride has been exposed and destroyed with the required suffering to do that, his blessings are restored, Satan's accusations are silenced, and the ways of God remain unthwarted. Contrary to popular perception, this profound book is not a story about a bet between God and Satan.
Padre Pio (1887-1968) of Italy was well acquainted with the sanctifying power of suffering in himself and through his work. Echoing the theology of St. Paul, he would often say, in word and deed, "The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain."
Jesus taught much about the necessity of carrying one's cross (which cannot be done with pride) and putting one's self on a strict fast of just bread and blood, His own Self. After hearing His "hard teachings," many disciples chose themselves over His Self and left Him (see John 6).
A Native American tale
with many versions mirrors St. Paul's teachings on the struggles between
the carnal and spiritual dimensions of a person. The story portrays these
dimensions as a fierce, vindictive, fighting wolf and a loving, gentle,
wise and peace-making wolf. A young warrior struggling with how to manage
these two natures in himself asks his teacher, "Which wolf will ultimately
claim my spirit?" The reply?
"The one you feed."
Jesus had different answers for different people who wanted to follow Him. To one He told to first sell all his possessions and to another He explained that He had no home, unlike even a fox who had at least a hole for shelter. Selling your possessions or accepting a life of homelessness are not requirements of being Christian. Jesus was prescribing specific kinds of fasts for different selves. If your body and taste is neutral for chocolate, and you can take it or leave it, it isn't a health issue requiring the need of a fast. But for someone who is addicted to chocolate or has an adverse reaction to it, a fast from chocolate is needed.
Job was a very wealthy, powerful and well-known man in the country of Uz. After losing all and listening to God's teaching, Job fasted from his self, including speech. His pride was never in his wealth, and with his pride in his self now destroyed, like St. Paul, Job would have been content to remain a suffering but godly servant. Since health and wealth and all of God's blessings would not feed the self-righteous "wolf" in him, God could then restore all and more to Job without causing him spiritual harm and impediments.
Yes, not feeding the self is in direct opposition to the prevailing psychological and educational philosophy of this world, and this world won't understand it. However, those who live in the Kingdom of God can understand and delightfully use the words of John the Baptizer as their own: "He [Christ] must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30, NIV).
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © October 27, 2001
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