From a previous post Obedience,
From the book “All Things New” by Fiona and Terryl Givens: . . . The implications of Elihu’s rhetorical questions are astonishing, disconcerting, and, initially, beyond our ability to absorb. He is deconstructing any idea we (or Job and his companions) might have of God as a sovereign ruler. Our sins do not diminish God. They do not detract from God’s majesty or divinity. Neither does our obedience enhance God’s glory. Our actions, be they evil or righteous, have no necessary, intrinsic bearing on God. This knowledge is to turn the universe upside down. The whole language of God as sovereign, a deity who must be appeased, a jealous God whom we fear to offend—from ancient cultures through Hebraic conceptions to the present day—has infiltrated our sense of what it means to worship, to fear, to obey. Elihu’s rhetorical question calls all such conceptions into doubt. Continuing. . .
A subject who defies his king threatens the king’s sovereignty. A vassal who disrespects his ruler undermines the rulers authority and offends liege lord. Judgement and punishment must follow.This is the unmistakable, but perverse, way in which Christianity has long taught of God, sin and obedience. One preacher of this school proclaims, “It should be noted that in any repentance and returning to God there has to include a real sense of personal offence towards God.” Sin is slapping the face of God! When we commit sin, it is primarily a sin against God! The essence is in reality a deep awareness of how much we have hurt God! (Now continuing. . . .
Clearly, in some sense, God does care about our choices for good or ill. Clearly, in some sense, God does respond to those choices. What Elihu is calling into question is the why behind God’s response. Elihu is suggesting that God’s relationship to us is not predicated on obligation or sovereignty. God does not owe us blessings when we obey, and God’s station does not require punishment when we disobey. If this suggestion is true, then epithets like sovereign, ruler and king are not the most apt names for God’s role and relationship to us. Therefore, obedience—its meanings and motives—might have an entirely different quality, as might forgiveness.
If we think of God as a Parent and explore the simple ramifications of a more literal application of that title, all the connotations of obedience shift. Elihu had suggested that perhaps our relationship to the divine is not transactional. We do not obey in order to secure blessings. God does not enjoin obedience because it affirms Gods sovereignity. God does not bless us because we have earned the blessing. If these claims are true, then Heavenly Parents do not urge our repentnce to assuage Their injury. In the medieval church, the sinner had to give “sanctification” to be forgiven– “to compensate for the injury he had done to God.”3 Clearly, in this view, God’s only concern is for his own glory, not our welfare. Such a God would be a Supreme Narcissist.
It is unclear if Elihu believes that God is simply too remote, too transcendent, or too removed from human concerns to be bribed and offended by mortal actions of if he understands, as we should, that God’s concern is a chosen, a willed, a gifted concern. The reality is that in our most loving relationships, we are injured because our love makes us vulnerable to injury. That is the truth about God’s love. But only the parental nature of such love makes this clear: If my child disobeys my counsel, I am not (or not properly) angry. I do not react to protect my parental dignity; I am not jealous for my parental prerogatives; I am not concerned for my parental authority, or honor, or standing. I am saddened because in ignoring the counsel borne of my love and wisdom, my child opens herself to harm, to pain, to disappointment. I do not stand ready to reward the child for obedience or to punish for disobedience; her decision to follow the counsel redounds to her good, and disobedience to her harm. This, however, is the key fact: our relationship is not based in reciprocity. It cannot be, for the parent loves the child before the child is even cognizant of having a parent ( “He first loved us” [1 John. 4:19].). And the child’s affection for the parent becomes worthy of the name love only when it flows freely, independent of fear on the one hand and self interest on the other.
When Elihu queries, “What harm does your sin do to God, or what benefit does he derive from your obedience?” We must not take this to mean that our Heavenly Parents are indifferent to our sin or virtue; rather, Their concern is a consequence of their freely given love and expresses the vulnerability that all love brings in its own wake. God does not owe us blessings or gratitude, and does not insist on punishment or retribution. God experiences joy in our growth and prosperity, and They experience sorrow in our missteps and the pain that follows, because They choose to love us.
There is no one-to-one relationship between our actions and our blessedness or suffering. As another prophet will write, and Jesus will affirm, the sun shines and the rain falls on those perceived to be good and on those perceived to be wicked (Job 3;10; Matt. 5:45). Obedience drawn out of us from fear is but slavery. Motivated by blessings, it is but economic calculation. We and Job are being taught that the motive for obedience must be love; and good parents, be they eternal or earthly, ask obedience for our benefit, not for their own. And if that is true, then the point of obedience is not that it is a litmus test for our servitude. Submission or rebellion is not the primary concern of an earthly parent whose interest lies in the well-being of the child. The problem with ignoring God’s love-based counsel is that it short-circuits God’s purpose behind those counsels—the growth in blessedness of the disciple. The early Christian Pelagius gave inspired advice: that we should think of obedience as a response to loving counsel rather than to divine command. He said, “Consider then, I beg you, the great difference between counsel and command: the former invites you to do something, the latter threatens you if you fail to do it.”4
Instances of this understanding erupt occasionally, with unexpected tenderness, even in the Old Testament text: “That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life.
~Fiona and Terryl Givens, All Things New (Meridian, ID, 2020), 99-101