Thursday, July 2, 2009

Waiting for Renewal

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.

                        Job 14.14

Jackson and Job

The moment I heard about Michael Jackson, I called a moratorium on all TV and online news since few things bum me out more than media scavenger hunts. The predictable flood of hollow tributes and empty “analysis” was too dreary to contemplate. So I sealed my mind against it until one piece—Jackson’s press announcement of an upcoming tour—trickled in. “This is it, my final curtain call,” he said, either oblivious his farewell also would be his comeback or slyly staging a triumphant exit to divert attention from scandals that led to his exile. Despite efforts to escape the non-stop frenzy, this one bit of information resurfaced with every mention of his name or sight of him. Having been abused and exploited as a child and alleged to abuse and exploit children as an adult, dying within reach of a thrilling return and triumphant farewell somehow felt in keeping with a life defined by cruel contradictions and tragic reversals.

Although Jackson’s destructive nature precludes fully comparing him to Job—a blameless, upright man who feared God and shunned evil—aspects of his life were certainly Job-ish. God had obviously endowed him with rare gifts that brought him great acclaim, wealth, and admiration. Yet all Hell appeared to conspire against him, seizing him with compulsions that plunged him into infamy, debt, and sickness. Like Job, Jackson seemed to struggle with why and how this happened. Also like Job, opportunistic friends glommed on to his suffering as their means of self-aggrandizement. From there, Jackson and Job part company. Jackson’s “curtain call” smacks of a contrived attempt to engineer his renewal by reviving his pre-exile image. In contrast, Job’s integrity and faith instructs him to trust the good he’s done will eventually be rewarded. His present situation looks hopeless; losing everything left him nothing to build on. Still, he responds, “All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.” Which strategy works? Job’s story ends with his losses fully restored. Jackson’s ends without the renewal he and his fans hoped for.


We find the key to Job’s confidence in the question preceding his decision to wait. “If a man dies, will he live again?” he wonders. He comes to this by observing renewal in nature. “At least there is hope for a tree,” he says in verse 7. “If it is cut down, it will sprout again and its new shoots will not fail.” Given his recent calamities, however, his first impulse is to compare human existence to a fragile flower that springs up and withers away, or water that evaporates without a trace. (Flaws in both examples actually contradict his point. Dried flowers resume life by going to seed and vaporized water reconstitutes itself in rain clouds that replenish dried riverbeds.) But something else in this gloomy hypothesis doesn’t sit right with Job. He can’t reconcile nature’s resurgence with his morbid pessimism. It makes no sense that God enables trees to rise and fall and rise again without providing humanity the same capability of renewal. “Could it be,” Job asks, “that we can resurge to life after everything we’ve lived for inexplicably vanishes?”

The question brings clarity. Renewal happens over time. From trees we learn it begins instantly after we’re cut down. It continues as long as it takes for us to die to destructive impulses and vulnerabilities. And just when it feels like we’re left to rot, we sprout fresh life. Rising out of dirt and decay is not easy, but we need dirt to anchor new roots and decay to accelerate new growth. Being grounded and nurtured by past experiences prevents new shoots of resurgence from failing.

Counting Steps

Job’s outlook changes once he discovers the renewal process is lengthy and arduous. He starts by focusing on mortality’s time constraints: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v5) Then, after his epiphany, he measures life differently. “You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin.” (v15-16) He goes on to say hoping for renewal when we should wait for its completion, knowing it’s already underway, only wears us down. Destroyed hope changes our countenance, Job says. We lose our resemblance to our Maker. No longer recognizable to Him, He sends us away.

So where does this leave us? Waiting for renewal isn’t waiting at all, because it’s continuously occurring. Cruelties and injustices, failures and sins that tear us down are constantly regenerated to build us up. God calls us to rise from our dirt and decay while using them to stabilize and contribute to our growth. He longs for our return to the creatures He made—people who trust Him entirely and patiently, looking beyond what we see and know today to believe and expect complete renewal will come. We track our progress by counting steps, not days. Philippians 1.6 assures us “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Hoping for renewal—worse yet, trying to speed it along—wears us down until we’re no longer the people God wants us to be. He began a good work in us. Our job is to stay confident He’s finishing what He started. Meanwhile, we press on, each step stronger and surer than the last.

Renewal begins immediately after we’ve been cut down and takes time to finish its process.

(Tomorrow: More to Come)

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