I heard an excellent paper yesterday on Job. Unfortunately I missed the beginning due to meetings and so I did not have the full context, but there were a number of perceptive observations along the way. One that I took note of was a distinction he was making between “Death and death.” He talked briefly about how Job (and elsewhere in the Bible) Sheol is often invoked as a kind of residence of the living. He cited a portion of Job’s speech in Job 17:13-16.
“If I look for Sheol as my house,
if I spread my couch in darkness,
if I say to the Pit, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?
Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
Shall we descend together into the dust?”
I will quickly admit that I need to look more deeply into the original context of this passage in Job. It is a book that I have studied a good bit, but I do not claim intimate knowledge of all passages. Here Job is responding in part to Eliphaz’ challenge: “You are doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation before God.”Job 15:4. Chapter 16 begins, “Then Job answered: ‘I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.'” (I love the directness and dark humor.) Upon hearing this passage yesterday, however, it brought to mind my own reflections the other day that we are largely in control of what “it is.” That is to say, I cannot change the fact that our son has died or that there is tremendous corruption or injustice, for example, but I can help to shape what it will be in my life and in the lives of others.
I now understand Job differently. I hear him saying that “I could die now, even as I am still alive, but what good is it? Will it provide me with hope? Won’t my own embrace of death take you down with me?”
His friends are pushing Job to admit his guilt, to confess his sin. They want him to mourn and behave as they feel appropriate, as their theology dictates. But Job knows he is innocent and has done nothing to deserve this punishment and so pushes against God. He also knows that if he allows himself to die now, even as he continues to live, and make Sheol his home, then there is no longer any hope. Yet while we live we may choose, with the grace of God, to continue to live here and now even as we hold onto the hope and faith of the resurrection.
3 thoughts on “Where shall we make our house, in Sheol?”
In reading this passage, I find myself thinking of David (who, unlike Job, had plenty to confess) when he sang of God as the One who knew his heart and his thoughts and who could lead him in “the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139)
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you
Take THAT, miserable comforters!
I have been thinking through this the last couple years. James Mays in his fine Interpretation commentary on Psalms often discusses how the one who is biologically alive often speaks as if he is dead. I have come to the conclusion that death is not just a state of being (binary, is this thing biologically alive or dead?) but a *direction*. Which means life also is not just a state of being but a *direction*. Moreover life and death are directions with relation to God who is the source of truth and life. So theoretically a person can be dying (biological death) and yet more alive (in terms of direction, relation to God) than someone who is biologically alive and quite healthy. This relates to my ruminations that *all* sin is somehow a movement in the direction of non-existence. Even those who consciously say “I like life, I want to live, I fear death” are, when they sin, basically choosing non-existence (whether or not they are quite aware of this). I try to work this out in http://www.mangydog.net/sermon-pray-to-live-to-praise-psalm-30/ – Armetta thought it was one of my most important sermons.
There is a problem with this approach, which I think is basically valid, which is that God clearly regards Death (biological death, death as a state of being not just a direction) as something with which he had to deal decisively. Christ died in order to defeat Death.
I don’t think these two interpretations are mutually exclusive: “Christ did not only defeat the state or condition of death. But defeated those forces and powers that want to make us prisoners and take us in the direction of death – which by the way is the direction of sin. This helps us understand better that resurrection is not just a state – someone was dead and is now physically alive! Resurrection and new life in Christ are also a direction. A movement toward life. What we can call true existence – life according to the true reality of all things. The reality of who God is / who we are / and all of creation. God is the source of all life and the center of true existence. Resurrection and new life are also a movement toward God and relationship with God and others and all of creation.”
Excellent Rick. Excellent.