Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

William Blake portrays God speaking to Job in a whirlwind

The Book of Job is bizarre. It shows God making a bet with the devil, testing the faith of Job, and finally an epic scene where God basically yells at Job: how dare you question me mortal! Oddly, then God gives all Job’s stuff back and sort of implicitly justifies him.

Some people think the lesson is simple: do not question the ways of God. When bad things happen to good people, trust God and never question His ways. He controls the universe, and you are a speck of dust.

True. But instead of God teaching us a lesson, Karl Jung (psychologist) believed that Job also taught God a lesson, a lesson that God could not teach Himself. The lesson was about moral perfection: that to be truly good, one must do the right thing in the face of horrible, unjust suffering. But God cannot suffer. One must have free will, something God might not have. For God to evolve, to become better, to become more loving, God confronts a morally perfect human (Job) and realizes that the limitations inherent in man are actually the most beautiful thing about us. What does God take away? Love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Jesus, of course, will become for Christians the ultimate confirmation of the Book of Job: God becomes man in order to perfect love. The Trinity is complete.

Personally, this all makes some sense to me, even though this interpretation is controversial at best. (Quick interpretation tip inspired by Augustine: if an interpretation increases your love and understanding, it’s probably right). Imagine God before the universe, before anything existed. God, all by himself, has limitations. God needs creation and creation needs God. Otherwise why would God create to begin with? Everything is a reflection of God and a part of God. Human beings are not all-knowing or all-powerful – we are not even close. But, because of free will, we have the potential to be perfectly good. Job and Jesus are good examples of that.

True Love is Freely Given
Here’s another way to think about it. God could have designed the world in a purely rational way, where good people are blessed and bad people are punished. In a way that makes sense. But is that love? True love, unconditional love, is freely given. It looks beyond circumstances and just is. Perhaps the Book of Job is a justification for why God must allow good people to suffer: it’s the only way to love freely, both the good and the bad.

Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

How I payed off my Student Loans

I’m so happy to say that as of today, May 1st 2014 – over a decade after college began – my student loans are no more. That includes undergraduate and graduate loans, about 25k each (at least..I’m afraid to look). So long! The horrible weight has been lifted.

Here’s how I did it.

1. I lived in Poverty

When you are $50,000+ in debt, you are poor. Simple as that. You might not think you’re poor, but you are. Therefore, you should live that way. Don’t live like other people. Bad news: the chance you will get job in your field is about 50%. Good news: your education will probably pay off financially in the long run. But for now, you still need to aggressively pay off those loans. With 7% interest rate, time is not on your side. Interest will sap your soul.

As for me, I’m naturally a simple man for the most part. That helped. I don’t buy much crap. Stoicism: “knowing that you have enough is abiding contentment indeed.” As Jesus said, don’t be worldly. I remember living in a really shitty, cold, small studio apartment one year, sleeping on an air mattress, working well over 40 hours in food service jobs. The floor was so cold that I would wake up because the air mattress was completely deflated. Yet I loved living there. A guitar and a laptop were my biggest expenses (the laptop I needed for an online degree). And a fridge full of Natty Light. I never had cable, just Internet. No smart phone. I didn’t buy a TV until recently (it was for hulu, not cable). We walk to work. I rarely buy clothes, we eat out once a week, never go to the movies, rarely buy gifts for other people (my wife and I rarely buy gifts for each other). We use freecycle, garage sales, and hand-me-downs. I cut my own hair, brew my own beer, and roast my own coffee. As for hobbies and entertainment, a library card works 90% of the time.

The point of living in poverty, of course, is to free up all extra income, pumping a large percentage into your debt. But – this is really important – you still have to invest some of that money into your retirement (401k, IRA). If you can. That’s also a numbers game. I once read a Dummies book on investing, which opened my eyes. Time is not on your side if you wait to invest.

2. I got a decent job

It’s hard to pump all your money into student loans when you are working well over 40 hours in food service jobs. You get by. Then something amazing happened. Liberals like me call it a “living wage.” Luckily, I was able to get a one at the library, getting my Master’s Degree in Library Science at the same time (another huge debt). I was able to pay off some of my undergraduate student loans while I was getting the degree.

Every month counts, every payment counts. A few promotions later, I was making extremely aggressive payments: $1,000 dollar payments every other month, sometimes even more. When you are 50 grand in debt, that’s a drop in the bucket. Importantly, I was still putting money into my 403(b) for retirement.

Unbelievably, I was able to actually start a family and have a kid. It’s sad to say that many people my age are not able to do this because of their massive student loan debt. This is a political issue, but blaming it on politics will not make your loans go away. I’ll save that for another post.

3. Help from my wife

Perhaps most importantly – and you probably think this is cheating, that’s okay – my wife agreed to help me out by giving me a 0% interest loan, which took care of some of my student debt (about 1/3 or so). I had already payed several thousand dollars in interest alone at this point. I’m extremely lucky, but this saves our family thousands of dollars in future interest that I would be paying to Citibank, or SallieMay, or Educationloans.org, or the various other banks that have “serviced” my loan (yeah, it’s fucking ridiculous that private companies make huge profits off so called “federal” student loans, but I won’t go there). Anyway, without her help, I would be paying for years to come (maybe 2 years). Now, I can pay her off much faster.

Not only that, but my wife must have lived during the Great Depression. She is the epitome of frugality, an amazing saver, and a great example to me. She was raised that way. She could save money on minimum wage – she’s that good.

4. Pay aggressively

There is only one smart way to pay off your loans–aggressive, often, and as much as possible. To make the “minimal” payment is absurd. And forget about stupid payment plans – that will make them rich and you poor; you will never be able to start a life that way; the debt will hover over your entire life like a black cloud. Live poorly, get a living wage, and pay aggressively – and some day, just some day, you might be able to buy a house, have a kid, or do other things you want to do. Good luck!

How I payed off my Student Loans

My Religion

God exists. That is my religion.
Jesus preached the truth about God. That is my Christianity. That is all for me, thank you.

Oh, and in case you forgot what Jesus preached: Love your enemies. That is enough.

I have read so much about religion and theology that, instead of expanding my religion into a full blown systematic theology, I go back to the basics. Simplicity! says Thoreau. The simple religion of God and love is all I need for my life. I prefer it. My mind is full yet empty. Everything else, all the doctrine and creeds; that’s all extra. Sure, I believe the soul lives on. Sure, I believe reincarnation is better than hell. I am not against beliefs or people having them. But these are all fancy additions to a firm foundation. God exists. God is good. God is love. Act accordingly. This alone lights up my world, always has. When you focus on what really matters, you begin to take it more seriously. For example, I believe in loving my enemies. Really? Really. And when Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and not to resist evil, I believe it. Literally, he really meant that? Yes, of course he did! Having enough love and understanding to actually love your enemies–that’s the pinnacle of religion, the mountaintop, the goal.

Modern Western people tend to think of religion as a set of beliefs that you agree to, like filling out an application for church. No. Religion is life. Your religion is your life. As Karen Armstrong says in her books, the point of belief is action. Faith without action is dead. And, God forbid, you find yourself doing something stupid because of a belief, perhaps you should rethink it?

  • Other Religions: I left for college a Christian and came back a “religious pluralist,” or enlightened Christian (sounding arrogant). Religious pluralism allows space for other religions. It means all religions are valid paths to the same transcendent Reality. If God is beyond our comprehension, it makes sense. We look at the night sky and say “did you see that?”…”See what?” Religion begins. We experience the spiritual world differently. It’s okay. Sure, some doctrines differ drastically among and within religions, but at the end of the day all religions share the same basic moral code (love and compassion). See John Hick.
  • Prayer: sadly, I don’t pray anymore. But I do believe in prayer as meditation on God, on yourself, on other people, and on your life. I believe it can have many psychological benefits, as some studies show. It makes you slow down and think, which is really important. I am against petitionary prayer; that is, asking for stuff. It’s not that God doesn’t care about you, He just thinks your silly little requests are silly. God works through the beautiful laws of nature that he created–deal with it. The best way to pray for healing is to become healthy. I know this is hard when it comes to accidents, cancer, and when bad things happen to good people. For that, we rely on faith alone, not prayers for God to “fix it.” Again, religion is life. Live out your religion instead of relegating it to a sleepy Sunday night prayer session.
  • Jesus: he was a mystic, a great man, a true spokesman for God, and my hero. In fact, the greatest hero in my life. He has opened my heart to love enemies more than anyone else, living or dead. That’s an incredible thing. I do not think he was God (judging by what he says in the Gospels), but I am open to the fact that his death might mean something greater. If you ask me “did Jesus die for my sins?” I must admit I don’t really understand the question. What really matters to me about Jesus is his teachings; diamonds in the ruff, life changing and world healing teachings.
  • The Bible: experience is primary (you and God), scripture is secondary. Scripture, however, is special because it describes the original experiences that brought about the religion in the first place: Jesus preaching the gospel, Buddha sitting under the tree. It is crucial. Is the Bible the Word of God? Well, sure, the good parts are. But not the bad parts (and there are many).  Even Jesus criticized or reinterpreted many of the bad parts of the Bible. St. Augustine and many great Christian thinkers have taught us to interpret the Bible through the lens of love. They also taught us not to interpret the Bible against scientific fact. The truth, like God, is much too big for one book. As for reading the Bible, I stick to the Gospels, Proverbs, and Psalms–all beautiful books that have a direct impact on my life.

As I look back on my religious life, I must be honest with myself. My passion has lessened. As a high school kid who would wake up at six in the morning to read the Bible, when Christianity was fresh and new and God was opening my mind, I was much more zealous, excited, passionate. I was much more willing to go out of my way to help a perfect stranger (that’s the sad part). I have tempered. In the Case for Faith, I remember reading that this is normal. We all become moderate with age I suppose. But my faith in the God of love has never been more rock solid. And the religious life never ends. I expect to have different views in 20 years.

My Religion

The Economics of Home Brewing (i.e. $4.86)

One of the main reasons I started making my own beer was for financial reasons. Skeptically and cautiously, I asked: Is it possible to afford drinking beer that tastes like Two Hearted Ale (check out my video on how to make it)? Well, after making my 25th batch of beer, I was very happy to find out that my price per six pack has come down to exactly $4.86 per six pack. So yes, it’s affordable. That’s cheaper than Bud Light. And yes, I’ve taken very good notes on what I’ve spent–I have all my receipts. I’ve done this financial breakdown at several times ($8.52, $6.96, $6.30, etc). I must say I didn’t expect it to get this low this fast. Think about it. A six pack of Two Hearted Ale costs at least $9.99. I just cracked open a Two Hearted Clone that tasted just as good for $4. And yes almost all of my beers are 7% ABV or above and hoppy, which happen to be expensive beers to make relatively speaking. Also I rarely buy beer at the store anymore. I must note that, although almost all of my batches tasted good, one was so bad that I didn’t finish drinking it. I tried to mix it with Miller High Life and limes and still couldn’t drink it!

Why would the cost come down? Well, I’m calculating every single cent I have every spent on equipment, ingredients, my KLOB membership (costs $15/year but gets me 10% off ingredients), the Scotch that I put in one of my beers–everything, not just ingredients. Basically what’s happening is that the initial and occasional investment on equipment has gradually proven its value and now I’m mostly paying for just the ingredients to make the beer. How much are those? A 5 gallon of, say, Two Hearted will cost around 30 dollars to make, getting you around 45-50 beers. That’s about 4 dollars per six pack. Most recipes will be cheaper than that. I made a nice brown ale for $17 and got 43 beers, which is only $2.40/six pack. So my cost should go down a little more but probably not below $4. All grain brewing, which I purposely don’t do (I do “partial mash”), could potentially save more money, but comes with a huge initial investment on equipment–so the savings wouldn’t show up for a while, at least a year I would say.
There’s a shit load of things that I did to save money. I only bought what I needed. I reused yeast (that’s a big one). I used sugar. I took good notes. I borrowed stuff from friends. People gave me stuff.
Yeah, but don’t you drink more? Ummm….I don’t think so, although this is a very good worry to have and I’ve noticed that home brewers never talk about it. My wife says I don’t, so I trust her more than I trust myself to answer that. I agree with her. I blame it on becoming an adult. I certainly drink more frequently, but only one or two beers at a time, probably averaging about 22 oz. of beer per day. I believe that’s called moderation. Of course sometimes I do have to test out the alcohol content of my beer (too cheap to buy a hydrometer which measures that), and so I will go ahead and get drunk just as a test. Just as a test , not because I want to get drunk off the delicious beer I’ve made. Course not.
The Economics of Home Brewing (i.e. $4.86)

Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was a group of intelligent, socially conscious men and women walking around Massachusetts around the mid 1800’s. Think Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau (although several women were major parts of the movement). Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance,” the most uplifting words that have flooded my eyes, changed my life forever and continue to do so. I re-read Emerson yearly. Also Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” I will warn readers that the language and writing style of these transcendentalists can be rough-going and non-sensical at times, but for me it always penetrates my soul, leaving me with wisdom that is non-propositional, felt, based in conduct.

They took their name partly from Kant‘s “transcendental idealism”. They accepted that a world exists beyond our perception of reality. There is a “transcendent” reality. Secondly, the world as we perceive it is, in part, a mental construct interpreted by our brains, “in our minds” so to speak, mental rather than physical. At bottom, Emerson says, Mind is primal, not matter; mind comes first. Thus they were “idealists”. They were not anti-science.

They were anti-establishment, anti-authority. In other words, they agreed with Kant’s definition of Enlightenment: think for yourself. They lived it. They were against slavery well before the Civil War. When Thoreau disagreed with paying taxes to pay for a senseless war, he didn’t pay them. He went to jail instead. This inspired Gandhi. When Thoreau disagreed with the materialistic consumption of America, he lived in the woods and wrote one of the most influential essays in the world. They disagreed with each other and themselves. “Do I contradict myself?” said Whitman. “Very well. Then I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.”

They believed in the indomitable spirit of man, the amazing power of the self. We are God. “I am part and parcel of God,” said Whitman. Therefore, we can do anything. Yet, amazingly, they were humble men. Emerson, an incredible man, was also tortured by his potential and his struggle to do great things; it haunted him.

They were unabashed optimists. Emerson, whose life was a series of family tragedies and suffering, was the most optimistic among them: “Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.”

They shared the religious and moral impulse, yet a fierce individualism found most of them in the ranks of Unitarianism, a pluralistic form of Christianity at the time. They hated dogma and loved the Divine so much they could not keep a religion. Emerson was a Unitarian preacher for a time; Thoreau’s religion was nature; Whitman’s God was in daily events: “I know nothing else but miracles.”

Transcendentalism

Religious Pluralism

All religions are valid paths to a transcendent Truth or divinity (capital “T” Truth means it’s an ideal–unattainable and yet real at the same time). Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Baha’i faith are all after the same thing. But across time, language, geography and history they find it in different ways. These different ways, beliefs and practices are philosophically compatible.

Wait a minute. Bull shit. Jesus is God. Muhammad is His only prophet. How are those compatible?

This is where Kant comes in (and John Hick’s An Interpretation of Relgion). All of these “beliefs” are no more than beliefs; they are grasping at a transcendent world that we cannot reach, unverifiable speculations about the nuemenal realm; doctrine or dogma is not knowledge. Beliefs, by definition, can be wrong. Only knowledge can be truly incompatible with non-knowledge (error). Nobody can disagree with e=mc2. But “Jesus is God” is on the exact same epistemological level as “Muhammad is His only prophet.” We simply don’t know; thus we believe. Therefore, they are both equally valid ways of thinking about God. Because we will never know, they can both exist together just fine.

And that’s okay.

Two people stand in front of a Van Gogh. It means this, one says. No, says the other, it means this! They both give reasons. Perhaps we should ask the artist? Well, he’s dead–and would that even help? Thus we have two different meanings of a piece of art that are compatible and can exist together just fine.

When it comes to practice (ritual), religions are quite different. When it comes to metaphysical beliefs, quite different. That’s to be expected. But when it comes to morals, very similar. The moral codes of the major world religions are all based on love, compassion, forgiveness. They are compatible. They ground virtue and suppress vice in amazing different ways. Sweep away the hypocracy and you are left with love as the bedrock of religion.

Pluralism is an expression of love for other people, yet this will not satisfy a lot of people. Religious Pluralism is not for people who get angry when other people talk about other beliefs. It’s not for people who are offended by the existence of Islam, or who use religion to define what they are not (rather than what they are). It is not for dogmatic, intolerance, judgemental types. It’s for people who love religion and take it seriously, who realize that they are Christian perhaps because they grew up in a Christian household or nation (and that’s okay). It is for people who are humble, who have a lot to learn, who realize the transcendent nature of their beliefs and place their hope in them.

Religious Pluralism