The Apocrypha in Lent – 16 March

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

16 March. Ecclesiasticus chapters 27-30

I have picked two short passages from among these chapters, which belong together in the approach to life that they commend: the passages which in the Jerusalem Bible are headed “resentment” (27:30-28:9) and “happiness” (30:21-25).

The first of these classes resentment, along with anger, as a sin, and exhorts the reader to “forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven” (28:2).  That reads so much like the Lord’s Prayer, that I expect Jesus knew this passage and perhaps was quoting it when he replied to the disciples who asked him how they should pray.  The next verse explains how this works – “if a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord?”  For an attitude of unforgiveness, even if we think “justice” deserves that some hurt done to us be avenged, cuts us off not only from our own soul but from God.  If you are still in any doubt, verse 6 brings us up short – “remember the last things, and stop hating”.  In other words, we all die, and if we end this life in an attitude of hatred towards other people, how can we expect God to show love towards us in the life to come?

The second passage warns of the dangers of “sorrow and brooding” (30:21).   Why? “Jealousy and anger shorten your days, and worry brings premature old age”.  This ancient wisdom is only now being rediscovered by those who in our own time warn of the dangers of stress, which does indeed increase the risk not only of a heart attack or stroke, but of other diseases that shorten life expectancy.  The contrast is with “gladness of heart and joy” which “give length of days”.  There is also a reference to the effect of stress that reduces appetite: “a genial heart makes a good trencherman, one who benefits from his food” (30:25).

So taken together we have several good reasons to stop being resentful, angry or sorrowful about the things that other people do to us, and do our best to remain cheerful and to forgive them when we can.  It’s not easy, but then living well never is. It takes an effort.   But putting your efforts into reconciliation, forgiveness and relaxation is better than putting the same amount of effort into trying to get even with someone.


The Bible in a Year – 7 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

7 August. Job chapters 6-9

In chapters 6 and 7, Job replies first to Eliphaz, criticising him for not understanding the depths of Job’s depression. It is not for those whose life is going well to criticize those who are suffering, unless they can truly empathise from their own experience.  But few people have suffered like Job.  Then Job turns his anger to God himself, still stopping short of the sin of “cursing” God, but nevertheless very angry with him. “If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?” (7:20)

In chapter 8 the second friend, Bildad, tries to persuade Job that if things have gone wrong for him then he cannot be a “pure and upright” person. Job’s reply starts with “Indeed I know that this is so; but how can a mortal be just before God?” (9:2). In other words, no-one can be pure and upright, before a God who (as Job goes on to explain) is all-powerful and can therefore not be argued with, even by one who is (as Job is still sure) “blameless and innocent”(9:20).

It is important to note that being angry with God is not counted here as a sin.  It is a natural reaction to suffering.  If Job could have seen the goings-on in heaven he would have known that it was Satan, not God, who was testing him.  Throughout history people of all faiths have asked “where is God in suffering?” and those without faith have taken the existence of suffering to be either proof that there is no God, or that any god that might exist is not worth knowing. But the story of Job shows us that it is possible to live a good life, believe in God, and yet still suffer; and to react to that suffering with anger, yet still not sin.





The Bible in a Year – 19 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

19 May. Jeremiah chapters 18-22

There are two references to the potter in this reading (a common enough occupation in ancient times). First in chapter 18 Jeremiah sees how the potter re-works a faulty or broken pot into a new one.  The parable is not interpreted but it seems obvious – God will take what is broken (the nation of Judah) and re-form it a generation later.  The acted parable of the smashed pot in chapter 19 has a similar meaning – in the sight of the rulers Jeremiah smashes the pot after prophesying disaster. Only this time there is no re-working, for the rulers are the most guilty of all and they will not be among those who return.


Increasingly through the course of the book we read of opposition against Jeremiah, for his outspoken words against all the people but especially the king and priests.  When he is insulted, put in the stocks and even threatened with death, he turns to God in complaint, at one point (18:19-23) even praying for the downfall of his enemies and their families.   Like the ‘imprecatory psalms’ it seems that even the holiest of people can reach a point where they can no longer love their enemies but have to give vent to natural emotions of anger and hate.  There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we do not let those emotions take us over, but as soon as we can turn back to praising God (chapter 20).