Category Archives: Reading

Life in the shape (μορφή) of Christ

Our home church in Howick began preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians through lockdown. Reading it through, I’ve been struck afresh at how often Paul talks about form, likeness and imitation as part and parcel of the Christian life.

In particular, there’s a beautiful thread that emerges when you follow where the lexeme (word root) morphē (Gk: μορφή) pops up throughout the letter. Have a look.

“…In Christ Jesus, who existing in the form (Gk: μορφῇ) of God,
did not count equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
by taking on the form (Gk: μορφὴν) of a servant…”

Philippians 2:5-7

The good news of Jesus is that He is fully like his Father, yet he chooses to give up his exalted place to take on the form of a servant, and to suffer death on a cross (Phil 2:8). We’re made right with God (justified) because Christ took the shape of a servant for us.


“My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to share the same form (Gk: συμμορφιζόμενος) in His death.”

Philippians 3:10

Now that we’ve gained a righteousness that’s not our own (Phil 3:9), our aim is to be like him — or more literally, to share the same form as him in his death. You and I mature into Christ’s likeness (sanctified) by becoming moulded into His cross shaped death. Jesus laid down his life, so should I in this life.


“For our citizenship (or commonwealth) exists in heaven, and from there we also await a saviour – the Lord Jesus Christ – who will transform our humble body [to the] likeness (Gk: σύμμορφον) of His glorious body, according to the power by which he is able to subject to himself all things.”

Philippians 3:21

What a day that will be — when our Saviour Jesus returns and transforms our broken bodies into the very shape of His!

So by dropping in echoes of morphē throughout, Paul’s actually given us a neat summary of the Christian life — it is shaped by Christ from start to finish!

  1. We’re justified because Christ took the shape/likeness of a servant.
  2. We’re sanctified as our lives are moulded into the shape/likeness of Christ’s death.
  3. We’ll be glorified when Christ returns and transforms us into His shape/likeness.

How hard yet wonderful it is to be shaped by Christ, into Christ, for Christ. That’s worth rejoicing in friends!

“He does not waste his children”

Much of 2020 for us so far has been waiting for God to show us what’s next. Some days have been hard. On one of those days, a good friend sent a timely and encouraging article, where John Piper describes his transition experience:

“I was 28 years old.
I was jobless. I was eager for ministry and had no place calling me.
I was in Germany at the time, so it was hard to make contact with people back in America, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
I had a wife and a child to support, and there were no doors opening. What am I going to do?”

And [a friend] wrote to me and he said, “Read 2 Corinthians 4:1 in the Greek, and what you’ll notice is this: ‘Therefore, having this ministry [and then he translated it this way], just as we received mercy.’” “Having this ministry, just as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

(Yep – it reads literally: Διὰ τοῦτο ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν. The NET translates it this way, though they change the divine passive in “we have received mercy”)

And he said in the letter, “‘Just as we received mercy’ means that just as God was merciful, John, to save you and keep you, so he will mercifully give you a ministry.” And I was so helped by that in my faith. Yes, amen! If your heart is all-in to fill your days with good works as God has given you gifts and health, God will not leave you without a significant work to do. He does not waste his children.

Amen! I was so helped by this article too.

The whole article is great — not just for retiring pastors, but for friends who’ve just been made redundant in ministry, and fellow graduates whose plans are likewise all on hold or reshuffled post-COVID.

Another reception history article on Job

In the second COVID-19 volume from the Stimulus journal, there’s another interesting article on Job and reception history. Nicholas List (postgrad student at Otago and intern at Grace Bible Church in Dunedin) dives into early church writers’ extracanonical interpretations of the book of Job for some insights on how to grapple with suffering in our present moment. I appreciated Nick’s point that reception history is an intimately pastoral endeavour. The “Job the wrestler” that early Christians pondered on is fascinating too. The more I think about all the back-and-forth between Job and his friends, the more it sounds like a couple of wrestlers duking it out in the ring! Some snippets below.

On Job the wrestler:

“Viewed in a different light, there is a sense in which Job’s athletic endurance can be seen as the struggle against the temptation to curse God in the face of tragedy.”

Should we approach our suffering in martial terms? According to early church writers,

“To see Job’s rent garments as both an expression of grief and preparation for combat is one way to faithfully negotiate the tensions of blessing the good Creator while living within a fallen creation.”

Reflecting on early writers’ embellishments on Job hoping for a resurrection:

COVID-19 has no regard for the gods of our society. Like Elihu in the Testament of Job, we may be tempted to mourn for the faded glory of these earthly thrones. Yet the early church reminds us that Job’s hope did not rest in the re-establishment of earthly thrones, but the inauguration of a heavenly one. Job’s hope in the resurrection reminds us that the true God has called us in Christ out of destruction to re-creation.

And an encouragement to look back to look forward:

“By reflecting on the pastoral applications and innovations of Job in the early church, we are better placed to reread scripture ourselves, continuing the deeply biblical practice of meeting the pressing issues of the present with insight from the past.”

I do wonder why these early church writers felt the need to play down the raw honesty of Job’s protests and to reimagine him as God’s defender against Satan (he’s plainly lamenting and protesting to God in the Hebrew text). Nick suggests it’s because these writers wanted to “mitigate the role of divine agency in probation” (i.e. let God off the hook for causing caused Job’s suffering). Job is not easy reading, and our tendency is to want to water it down or skip over it.

Anyways, it’s an interesting read. Go check it out! You can also read my own attempt at Job’s reception history here. I think there’s definitely more gold to be gleaned from this kind of study.

Job 19: Is there no justice?

It’s probably not accurate to call this Lockdown Job anymore. But I’m still trying to lock down what Job has to say to us (from the Hebrew text). Bildad has just spun another hellish speech at Job. But while Job’s description of his trials has similarities, his conclusion is wildly different.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

Translation:

19:1 Then Job answered, saying:

2 “How long will you (pl.) torment my soul;
And will you crush me with speeches?
3 These ten times you (pl.) reproach me;
Without shame you attack me.
4 And [if] indeed I have erred;
[It is] with me it remains, my error!
5 If indeed you would act loftily over me;
And plead against me my reproach.
6 Know then that God has wronged me, and has encircled me with his net.”

  • Job begins again by rebuking his friends’ too-neat theology. By now it’s clear that their speeches are actually compounding Job’s grief. He’s already bankrupt and childless and in pain. But he is most “tormented” and “crushed” (v2) that his friends “reproach” (v3) him. Their incessant, repeated (as if “ten times”, v3) diatribes are not helpful.
  • Job doesn’t claim sinless perfection (v4), but he maintains that his sufferings are not his fault (v6). This is important to remember as he continues to describe the depths of his suffering and how closely it matches the fate that does fall upon sinners elsewhere.


7 “Look – I cry out, “Violence”, but I am not answered;
I cry out for help, but there is no justice.
8 My way He has walled up so I cannot pass;
And upon my paths, darkness he has set.
9 My glory he has stripped from me;
And he has taken the crown of my head.
10 He demolishes me all around then I go;
And uprooted like a tree is my hope.
11 And it burns against me, his anger;
And He considers me as his adversary.
12 Together they advance, His troops;
They throw up their siege ramp (lit: way) against me
,
and they encamp around my tent.”

  • The word for “violence” in Hebrew is hamas (an unfortunate name choice for the Palestinian group) – the same word used in Genesis 6:11 to describe how the earth was filled with “violence”.
  • Verse 7 raises a crucial question: is Job declaring definitively that there is no justice (Heb: we-ein mishpat) from God, as many “death of God” theologians and liberals believe? Does suffering happen because we live in a world governed by a blind watchmaker? Yet here and throughout the book, Job is still appealing to God, for justice for his innocent suffering. It doesn’t seem like he’s abandoned belief that God can make things right. More to come.
  • Like the ruler of a besieged city, Job feels trapped (v8), stripped of honour (v9), demolished and warred against (v11). Imagine if you were in a coronavirus lockdown, except there was no food coming in, and the virus was slowly wreaking havoc outside, just waiting to break through into your little bubble. That’s what Job’s suffering feels like, and he wails that God is behind it.
  • Bildad in chapter 18 can wax lyrical all he likes about what hell feels like. But for Job, hell is what he is living through right now.

13 “My brothers he has made far from me;
My acquaintances are estranged from me.
14 My near [family] have refrained [from me];
And my close friends have forgotten me.
15 The guests of my house and my maidservants consider me a stranger;
Foreign I have become in their eyes.
16 To my servant I call but he does not answer;
With my mouth I plead for compassion with him.
17 My breath is loathsome to my wife;
I am a stench to the children of my own mother.
18 Even youngsters despise me,
When I arise they speak at me.
19 They abhor me, all my closest friends;
And those I love have turned against me.
20 To my skin and flesh my bones cling;
And I am left with the skin of my teeth.”

  • Verse 13-18 describe every kind of person and how they have abandoned him. Job is completely alone. He has gone from honoured to “forgotten”; considered “strange”, “foreign”.
  • I think the ESV is a bit too tame in verse 17 – Job’s wife finds even his breath “loathsome”.
  • Verse 20 is where the common idiom “escape by the skin of my teeth” comes from (from its traditional translation “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth”, e.g. KJV). But in context, Job hasn’t really escaped from a close shave, so it’s probably better to translate אֶתְמַלְּטָ֗ה as “I have been left (alive)”. The phrase “skin of my teeth” probably means Job’s gums. It’s a stark picture of Job’s physical state – a toothless frail man who nobody dares to go near.

21 “Show mercy to me, show mercy to me, you my friends;
For the hand of God has struck me.
22 And why do you pursue me like God does?
And with my flesh are you not satisfied?
23 O that they be written, my words;
O that in a scroll they also be inscribed,
24 with a pen of iron and with lead,
Forever on a rock they be engraved.”

  • Job switches now and implores his friends: show mercy to me! (v21) He says it twice for emphasis, and it is addressed literally to “you, my friends”. The worst part of Job’s suffering is the lack of sympathy from his friends.
  • Though when he reasons that “the hand of God” has struck me, we know from chapters 1 and 2 that this isn’t quite what is going on: rather, it is the Satan who God has permitted to strike Job. For Job and his friends, there is a glaring omission of the Satan’s role in causing chaos under God’s sovereign control.
  • Job has been abandoned by all his human companions, yet he still wants to be proved right (v23, 24). From what we’ve seen so far, if Job dies, his friends would just spread the lie that he was an unrepentant sinner who got his just desserts. So he still yearns to clear his name, to have his words inscribed and recorded.

25 But I myself know that my ‘goel’ lives;
The last one, upon the earth he will stand.
26 And after this skin has been destroyed;
Yet from my flesh I will see God.
27 Whom I, I will see myself,
My eyes will see, and not a stranger.
It grows faint, my insides within me.

  • More than a yearning for a written record (v23 begins in the optative, expressing a wish), here in v25 Job moves to a confident declaration: “But I myself know.” Know what?
  • The Hebrew literally says “that my Goel lives”. It’s the same word used to describe Boaz, Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer — someone tied to you by covenant promise, who stood in your place and protected you. It could be translated Redeemer, or Vindicator, or Champion.
  • Note v26 – Job doesn’t necessarily expect vindication in his earthly life, but “after this skin has been destroyed”.
  • It’s tantalising to conclude immediately that Job is longing for Jesus. The text doesn’t say that explicitly. It certainly says that Job is longing to see God himself (v26). When all humans have abandoned him, when Job himself is wasting away, when even his words begin to fail him, this “Goel” will be the last one who stands upon the earth. The redeemer Job is longing for must be God Himself.
  • This vision of God vindicating him and showing up is so powerful for Job, that his heart (literally bowels, or kidneys, where his emotions sit in Hebrew thought) faints within him!
  • Scholars struggle with how on earth a God can “wrong” Job (v6), pursue him, yet vindicate him. But Christians know that God is not just Judge, but also Redeemer; he does not just punish us but also carries us in his arms. And so every person in Christ knows by faith that one day God will stand upon the earth, the last one, and we will see our Champion face to face.

28 “But when you say: “How will we pursue him,
and the root of the matter is found in him.”
29 Fear (imp.) the sword yourself, from the face of the sword,
For [His] wrath [is] the punishment of the sword,
That there is judgement.”

  • And so Job issues a final warning to friends, or those who laugh at the sorry state of the righteous. He warns his friends not to keep pursuing him like God does.
  • So Job is not a disbeliever in justice. Rather, he senses the absence of it in his present moment (19:7), yet still agrees “that there is judgement” (19:29) for those who falsely accuse him.
  • The more I think about this chapter, the more it reminds me that the life of faith is a paradox – we see so much that is unjust, but that ironically reminds us that there must be a God who is for me or against me, who we can appeal to for justice. And even if the pain and injustice we experience isn’t resolved in this life, we can take heart that one day, God Himself will be our Vindicator and stand on our side. In Christ, He will never be socially distant from us. That’s worth raving about.

Learning from the reception history of Job in Archibald MacLeish’s “J.B.”

Is suffering a theodicy to be solved? Is there justice from God? Is human love the only island of meaning during COVID and crisis?

Here’s one of my final year essays, peer-reviewed and polished up as part of the latest COVID-19 themed issue of Laidlaw College’s Stimulus Journal. Come on an adventure through Broadway and the Bible, and see how the book of Job offers better responses to suffering worth reintroducing into the public conversation. I’m indebted to Kirk Patston for the original impetus and encouragement into the world of Hebrew exegesis and Old Testament reception history, and to Geoff Harper for reading an earlier draft of this paper.

Here’s the abstract:

How can Christians respond faithfully to the disease and suffering our world is currently experiencing? Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, the creative arts offer a fruitful outlet for us to voice our sorrows, and grapple with different schemas to respond faithfully to God amidst pain and pandemic. In 1956, American poet Archibald MacLeish explored the vexing dilemma of theodicy in J.B., a play written in order to address “questions too large for you which, nevertheless, will not leave you alone.” Following a survey of the plot and background of J.B., I briefly explore how MacLeish’s portrayal – particularly the “death of God” ending – coheres and contrasts with the book of Job itself, then suggest some reflections and responses in light of our uncertain and painful times.

You can also read the full article on Academia.