Monday, March 09, 2009

Job and the Intersession of the Dead - OR - Till We Have Faces

Early on, Job wants to die. It was the advice of his wife to "curse God and die," and while Job seems a little reluctant to go to this extreme, when he takes up his complaint to his three companions, he comes close to taking his wife's advice.

Job says he wants to die. Death would be better than life. But as we following the dialogues, we find that his death wish is not pure despair. Job is not suicidal in the traditional sense at all. Job's death wish is bound up with his desire to speak with God, to question him, to contend with him. As it has been pointed out in previous posts on Job, the trajectory of the narrative goes from the Accuser - the Satan speaking with Yahweh, to Job eventually speaking with Yahweh, and the Accuser is no where to be found. And instead of there being an Accuser in the presence of Yahweh, there is now an Advocate, Job, who intercedes for his friends.

But this intercession, this standing with Yahweh, the ability to speak in the council of Yahweh is part of Job's desire to die. But nowhere does he assume that having died, he will have an out-of-body experience in which he will come face to face with God. In fact that would be somewhat nonsensical. After Job dies, he will not have a face to "face" God with. The only way Job will have a face to face encounter with Yahweh is through the resurrection. And that is Job's hope:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth: And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another... there is a judgment." (19:25-27, 29)

Job has concluded that there is no earthly possibility of arranging a meeting with God in the present. But he hopes that one day God will summons him out of the ground, and Job will answer the call (14:7-15). And then Job will see Yahweh face to face in his flesh and speak to God as a man speaks to his neighbor (16:21). Of course by the grace of God, Job is granted this before actually dying. He is invited into the whirlwind and given permission to speak on behalf of his friends who have sinned. Job is granted the authority and ability to intercede for his friends, but he prays for his friends firmly situated in a body.

This is yet another way of asking where the biblical support for the intersession of the dead in Christ is. That the dead in Christ are kept with Christ and are in his kindly care is one thing, but all the weight of the biblical evidence points to the resurrection. Job did not hope to speak with God in a meaningful way until the resurrection. Of course we have been given the down payment of the resurrection now in the gift of the Holy Spirit. But our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

And in the meantime it is our great High Priest who has been raised from the dead and who has ascended into the heavens who now intercedes for us. He is ever before the face of God, and He speaks to God as a friend, as a prophet for us.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

I really liked the stuff about the resurrection of the body, Job's trust in God, and about the Christian becoming, by the power of the Advocate, an advocate.

But I'm a little confused about the argument against prayers to the saints. The traditional Protestant response is that the saints in heaven interceed for us, but it is wrong for us to pray to them. Thus Augsburg says that there is just one Mediator, so we shouldn't seek another.

But you seem to have turned this around. The Mediator has made us mediators, the Advocate has made us advocates. But the saints in heaven can't mediate or interceed so well as those on earth.

And this confuses me. I agree that the Church in heaven isn't exactly the Church Triumphant, and in an important sense is still the Pilgrim Church. But surely the saints in heaven are more perfect in their priesthood than the saints on earth? Or if they are not more perfect, surely they are priests? Maybe we should emphasize "prayer to the living" more than "prayer to the dead" but I'm having trouble getting to "don't treat the dead as advocates and mediators" from "treat the living as advocates and mediators." Surely a fortiori, tread the dead as advocates and mediators? Or if not that, treat as priests at least a little. Priesthood of all believers.

Toby said...

Hi Matt,

The point I was pressing is just all the weight that Job puts on the resurrection. I would agree that in so far as God's people remain his people even after death they do remain his holy people, priests and prophets and kings to God. Yet, how that works and what that means between death and the resurrection is far from clear. Job and the rest of Scripture as far as I can tell, points us to the resurrection as the sure thing, where our hope can be placed without a doubt. And that hope is in having a body and a face and a mouth with which we may speak to God and see him, face to face. The common RC/EO insistence is that the faithful departed are more qualified, more able to intercede, and that's the assumption that I'm questioning. Surely they have entered rest and are freed from the ongoing attacks of sin, but in another sense they are on the sidelines, no longer in the game. Those of us still in our bodies are less perfect in some ways and yet for all that, Scripture seems to suggest we are more qualified to fight/intercede/etc.

I hope that helps some.

Toby said...

One other thought, Matt:

The importance of the resurrection for mediation and intercession is underlined in Hebrews. Jesus' High Priesthood, his advocacy and intercession is tied to the fact that he was raised up from the dead, and with that resurrection body "ever lives" to make intercession for us in heaven.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I'll look over Hebrews this afternoon.

I think what I'd say though is "perhaps the Bible doesn't logically imply that we can pray to the saints, there is good reason to say 'maybe we should' but not sufficient reason to start. If the whole church did not, we wouldn't have reason to say 'we should'. But at the same time, I don't think we have sufficient reason to say 'we should not', at least not in the face of a tradition that says we should. (There's a prayer to Mary from 250 AD, and for about one thousand years, everyone did.) And the Protestant arguments from the time of the Reformation were perhaps good refutations of the Catholic practices at the time, but if taken as refutations of prayers to the saints in general, they are denials of the Church as the body of Christ, and of the priesthood of all believers."

Matt said...

Hi Toby,

I've actually had a few thoughts about this from some of your previous posts on similar subjects, but lacked the time to post them.

A few thoughts. First, it seems odd in the progression you posit, which I like, of man going from priest to king to prophet, that especially as it pertains to those who have in this life reached the prophet stage should become "sidelined", as you put it, until the eschaton.

These saints who have achieved such intimate friendship with God as to be His very counselors become, after their physical death, non-entities in the things God is doing in the world?

Why would their communion with the Almighty be reduced because of their lack of a body?

This leads to a second point, why should communion with God, who is in two of His three persons bodiless, be diminished at all by lack of a body?

Moreover, especially keeping in mind the testimony of the book of Revelations, why would we assume this lack of a flow of information between this world and Heaven?

We know at least for sure that the souls of the Martyrs are aware of the need for their blood to be avenged. We know further that the throne room of God is a place where the concerns of this world are being continually represented. Why should we think that our deceased brethren have no knowledge or stake in our plight here on earth? Are they the only ones in the room kept from the knowledge of the struggles of the Church Militant?

Finally, and I know this doesn't satisfy your requirement for a biblical mandate for a practice like praying for the intercession of the saints, I second Matt's question about the sustained practice of the Church.

Though Matt cites a prayer to the Theotokos from 250, we can go back even further to prayers written on the walls of the catacombs for the intercession of deceased saints. Are we wiser than all the great an holy people of so very many centuries, to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of Christians who have ever breathed?

As a side note, I'd love your interaction if you've time to spare (I know, who has that?) at a new website I'm involved with along with a few other converts from the reformed faith to Catholicism:

God bless,