Fox Byte 5776 #4: I’m Still Here
If Treasure Island is any indication, a young person’s transition to adulthood has always been awkward and painful. At least it was so in the 1880s when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his story for boys. Stevenson’s adolescent hero, Jim Hawkins, has resonated with youth ever since. What boy does not dream of adventure, travelling to exotic places, deciphering mysteries, and overcoming danger? Such dreams have motivated boys for millennia in the hope that they can find their courage and discover their place in life. If the opportunities are not forthcoming then boys will invent them, if for no other reason than to establish a place for themselves in their own minds and, hopefully, in the minds of their peers.
So it is with Jim Hawkins. As the son of an innkeeper he has little hope of adventure until a strange turn of events sets him on a hazardous sea voyage in search of hidden pirate gold. Jim proves to be the hero, thwarting the mutinous plot of rebellious sailors led by Long John Silver, saving the lives of the captain and loyal crew members, and discovering the treasure. Not bad for an 18th century version of an underprivileged wayward teen.
Stevenson could not have envisioned the retelling of his story as a space travel adventure in which his hero is not merely underprivileged, but rebellious, sullen, introverted, and destined for a life at odds with society. That is the Jim Hawkins of Treasure Planet, the 2002 animated feature by Walt Disney Pictures. This space age Jim reflects the jaded, self-absorbed youth of the post-modern world. We follow Jim’s transformation from wide-eyed, joyful toddler to embittered youth. It is not a transformation he undertakes willingly. It is not his fault that his parents quarrel, but he suffers incalculably on the morning his father walks out. In an instant Jim is abandoned by the one person who could set him on the right course, leaving him to cast about for someone or something to give him purpose. In time Long John Silver the pirate fills that role as the two of them develop a relationship that proves redemptive for them both. There is a happy ending after all, but not without anguish along the way.
Jim’s angst is the subject of I’m Still Here, a song written for the film by John Rzeznik. It is an anthem for an alienated generation which does not know its identity. Cast adrift to find their own answers, these young people feel (with some justification) that their elders would rather they remain silent and invisible until they are able to join the adult world. Yet how are they to do so if no one makes the effort to guide them? Thus the youth have only two alternatives: either despair and end their miserable lives, or hang on in defiance against all expectations. Rzeznik’s lyrics tell us the option Jim Hawkins selects:
And you see the thing they never see,
All you wanted, I could be,
Now you know me, and I’m not afraid,
And I wanna tell you who I am,
Can you help me be a man? ,
They can’t break me,
As long as I know who I am.
The song ends with Jim’s defiant, yet hopeful, refrain, “I’m still here!” His defiance is not unlike Job’s defiance in the face of what he perceives to be unjust accusations by his friends:
Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred. How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind? (Job 6:24-26 NASB)
Granted, the defiance of a disaffected post-modern teenager is of a different order than that of a grieving righteous man from the Ancient Near East. The space age Jim Hawkins’ defiance says, “I remain alive and present no matter what you think of me or what you may do to me. I will live if for no other reason than to prove you wrong about me.” Job has not yet reached that point. His cry of defiance comes later, after his friends push him beyond limits he thought he had already exceeded. For now he is still wondering what happened. He is beginning to realize that there are no simple answers to his questions – if there are any answers at all – yet he has clung to hope that someone can sympathize with him and offer some measure of comfort. That hope begins to fade as he endures the lecture by his friend Eliphaz. What Eliphaz asserts is that Job must have done something wrong in secret to incur the anger of YHVH. Even though Eliphaz says that hope lies in returning humbly to God, his expectation apparently is that Job has traveled so far down the path of error that he has no hope at all.
This is the trigger for Job’s cry of anguish. He had overcome many perils and capitalized on a number of opportunities to arrive at his station in life, only to see everything in his world come apart through no apparent fault of his own. No wonder he sought to die. What other alternative was left to him since he had no means of recovering from the loss of family, wealth, and health? Yet one bright spot remained in his dark world, and in this he could still have a spark of hope even in his longing for death:
Oh that my request might come to pass,
And that God would grant my longing!
Would that God were willing to crush me,
That He would loose His hand and cut me off!
But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain,
That I have not denied the words of the Holy One. (Job 6:8-10 NASB)
Is it a sin to want to die? Is it wrong to pray for death? Ask that question of someone with a terminal disease, or of an elderly person who has outlived her husband, friends, and children. Ask it of someone like Job who has lost everyone and everything of value to him. Ask the spouse, child, or companion of one who grows more frail and forgetful by the day due to a progressive dementia. But do not ask it if you are unprepared for whatever answer comes, and do not judge that answer, whatever it is.
It is appointed to a man once to die (Hebrews 9:27-28), but it is not appointed to a man, or woman, to hasten the time of that appointment. The sad truth is that humanity chose death early in our existence, thanks to the option of our first ancestors to eat of the tree YHVH had set apart as His and His alone. The Lord promised at that instant that He would provide a way to regain the life they had lost, but it would require another choice on their part, and on the part of every one of their ancestors. The parameters of that choice were in formation even as Job uttered his despairing words. We see them in the words of Moses as he explains the terms of YHVH’s covenant with His people:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NASB, emphasis added)
It would be unfair to judge Job for choosing something other than life when he most likely had no opportunity to learn of Moses’ words. Nevertheless, he did understand that the only Source of life is YHVH the Creator, and he understood that it was the height of folly to curse or deny that Source. It would be no different than a man poisoning the water of his own well because he did not like the taste of it. Thus, when given the dire choice of cursing the Creator or laying down his life in the dust, Job chose the lesser of two evils.
And yet, Job is not above naming the Lord as the Source of his grief:
Then Job answered,
“Oh that my grief were actually weighed
And laid in the balances together with my calamity!
For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas;
Therefore my words have been rash.
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me,
Their poison my spirit drinks;
The terrors of God are arrayed against me.” (Job 6:1-4 NASB)
Notice that Job’s words correctly identify YHVH as the Source of the evil that has befallen him. Notice also what he does not do: Job does not cast blame on YHVH, thereby uttering a curse against the Almighty. He remains faithful to the Lord God, perhaps not unlike how a dog remains faithful after enduring an inexplicable beating from her master. What he requires is an explanation, or something that will help him understand the reasons YHVH permitted these things to come to pass. When he finds neither explanation nor clues to its revelation within himself, then he begins to think that perhaps it would be better that his sojourn on earth come to an end. And in that season of despair, a new hope arrives in the form of three old friends. Yet the hope vanishes with the first syllables uttered by Eliphaz, leaving Job to chastise him in no uncertain terms:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.
My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi,
Like the torrents of wadis which vanish,
Which are turbid because of ice
And into which the snow melts.
When they become waterless, they are silent,
When it is hot, they vanish from their place.” (Job 6:14-17 NASB)
Anyone who has lived in an arid environment understands the imagery here. A wadi is a stream bed which carries water only at certain times. When the intermittent rains come, or when the snow melts, the dry stream bed becomes a raging torrent of angry water. There is the stuff of life in them, but there is also peril. One who would negotiate a wadi at flood season must take care lest the torrent appear at an unexpected moment and carry him away. Later, as the floods pass, the stream becomes a life-sustaining brook, but only for a brief time. As the season moves on into summer, and as the storms which gave birth to the flood recede in time, the flowing brook becomes a series of standing pools, and then a muddy bog, and finally nothing more than dry clay. Weary travelers who arrive at that season hoping to find some moisture to relieve their thirst find nothing more than amplified anguish.
Such are Job’s friends. Not only have they offered him no comfort, they have acted like parasites and vultures seeking to profit from the misfortune of an innocent victim. He has asked nothing of them, yet they have pounced upon him for no cause. If there were something redeemable in it for him, then Job would endure it, as he explains:
“Teach me, and I will be silent;
And show me how I have erred.
How painful are honest words!
But what does your argument prove?
Do you intend to reprove my words,
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?
You would even cast lots for the orphans
And barter over your friend.
Now please look at me,
And see if I lie to your face.
Desist now, let there be no injustice;
Even desist, my righteousness is yet in it.
Is there injustice on my tongue?
Cannot my palate discern calamities?” (Job 6:24-30 NASB)
These are not the last words Job speaks regarding the unjust accusations of his friends, but for now he leaves them in their places. He has someone else to address: YHVH Elohim. If the Almighty is indeed the Source of Job’s misery, then it is only right that he should take up his case with his Creator. He begins by reminding the Lord that he is only a mortal man whose “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”, and whose “life is but breath” (Job 7:6-7). Because he is destined for the grave, never to return, he is not afraid to address the Almighty with words born of an anguished spirit:
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the sea, or the sea monster,
That You set a guard over me?
If I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
My couch will ease my complaint,’
Then You frighten me with dreams
And terrify me by visions;
So that my soul would choose suffocation,
Death rather than my pains.
I waste away; I will not live forever.
Leave me alone, for my days are but a breath.
What is man that You magnify him,
And that You are concerned about him,
That You examine him every morning
And try him every moment?
Will You never turn Your gaze away from me,
Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Have I sinned? What have I done to You,
O watcher of men?
Why have You set me as Your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
Why then do You not pardon my transgression
And take away my iniquity?
For now I will lie down in the dust;
And You will seek me, but I will not be.” (Job 7:11-21 NASB)
See once again that Job does not curse God. He is angry and he lists his grievances, but he does not curse. In the midst of his rant Job voices a question about why God chooses to bother with mankind at all. If the Lord’s attention results in such suffering, then it would be better if He left His creation alone. But the Holy One does not relent. It is His creation after all, and He can do with it as He pleases. Yet what is the problem with asking why the bad things happen? Did Job do anything wrong? That is a fair question. He has been asking it since the day he received news of his children’s untimely deaths, and so far the only answer is silence. And in that silence perhaps there is cause for Job to ask, no, to demand a pardon for any wrongdoing. No doubt he is prepared to meet any conditions laid down for that pardon so that his sin may be forgiven. But no answer comes, and his despair deepens.
It is useful to investigate the terms Job uses in his pointed questions when he asks what he has done wrong. At first he wonders whether he has sinned. Then he asks why YHVH does not pardon his transgression, and finally he wants to know why YHVH does not take away his iniquity. All of these terms – sin, transgression, iniquity – convey a sense of having done something contrary to the Creator’s wishes. They are not synonyms, however. They convey progressively more serious degrees of wrongdoing.
Sin is the English equivalent of the Hebrew word khata (חָטָא, Strongs H2398). It is an archery term which means missing the mark. If YHVH has established the standards of conduct for humanity, then sin occurs when we fail to reach those standards or, using the archery analogy, miss the target. It is the same analogy the Apostle Paul uses when he writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). One who misses the target or wanders off the path can be corrected, and such is the hope we share with Job regarding the correction offered by a loving God.
Beyond sin comes rebellion, a meaning imparted by pesha (פֶּשַׁע, Strongs H6588), which is translated as transgression. Sin occurs by mistake, or perhaps because one’s nature is inclined toward error. It just happens. Rebellion does not just happen. There is something premeditated about it. A child may spill milk because he is clumsy and not accustomed to handling a cup with care. That can be corrected. However, if the same child spills the milk because he is angry with his mother, then he has rebelled against her authority. That, too, can be corrected. Discipline is required. The child must be made to understand that milk belongs in the proper containers, and that spilling it on the floor not only incurs Mother’s wrath, but makes life hazardous for the child.
But suppose the child continues to rebel? What if, after repeated correction, the child spills cup after cup of milk on the floor? What if the child ceases to wait for the milk to be brought to him, but goes into the refrigerator, pulls out the container of milk, and throws it across the kitchen? That is not merely rebellion; that is willful defiance. The Hebrew term is avon (עִָוֹן, Strongs H5771). When Job refers to iniquity, he uses avon. This is beyond a rebellion against the rules, standards, or laws of duly constituted authority. Iniquity acknowledges no authority at all, and thus may be regarded as lawlessness. The Greek term is anomia (ἀνομία, Strongs G458), which means lawlessness. It may also be rendered as Torahlessness, for the Torah written by Moses contains the eternal laws, instructions, and commandments of Holy God. It is this very term, anomia, which is used to translate Yeshua’s very disturbing words at the end of His Sermon on the Mount:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NASB)
Iniquity – lawlessness – cannot be pardoned. It can only be removed, either by cutting it out of the heart of the offender, or cutting off the offender entirely. This is the purpose of the New Covenant made possible through the atoning death of Messiah Yeshua. The way it works, according to Ezekiel, is nothing less than a heart transplant:
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 11:19-21 NASB; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-11)
Job longs for the removal of any lawless ways within him, but he knows he cannot do it himself. Only YHVH can do it, and it requires major surgery that Job can only see far off in the distant future. Yet even in his day, before Moses gave the Torah, before YHVH promised that Messiah would be a descendant of King David, and long before Messiah Yeshua removed the penalty of sin and death, Job understood the ways a human can depart from the good graces of the Almighty, and the only way to return.
If this is the condition of a man who has followed God all his life, how much worse is it for one who has never known the Lord? Perhaps, instead of our judgment, they should receive our admiration simply for remaining alive in a condition of hope against hope itself. Perhaps also we should be more ready to lend a listening ear rather than a pious platitude bereft of meaning.