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March 28, 2012

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, If I Contend With Thee

by Brendan

Si Justus Quidam Est Sermon

In the 7th century B.C. (yes, the earth was still cooling, dinosaurs roamed the land), the prophet Jeremiah seemingly argued with the Lord. In Chapter 12, Verse 1, he wrote,

Righteous are Thou, O Lord, when I complain to thee; yet I would plead my case before thee.

Why do the ways of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Job also quarreled with God, on seemingly the same issue though in reverse – why am I afflicted, he asks, even though I’m a good and faithful servant? (God’s answer, near the end of the book, boils down to this: when you, Job, can create the stars, the earth, and the leviathan, THEN you’ve earned the right to question what I, God, do.) A side note: God doesn’t speak out loud a lot in the Hebrew Bible, so it’s always instructive to pay close attention when He does.

In Victorian England, poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem with Jeremiah’s question as its subject. He begins,

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend

with thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? And why must

Disappointment all I endeavor end?

This is almost identical to Jeremiah, except for the turn to the personal – as in Job, Hopkins asks why sinners and the wicked do well, but adds the Jobian question, why do I not do well?

After developing the topic in 9 more lines, he ends with the prayer, “Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.”

So, what does it mean to contend with God? I’ve read somewhere that arguing with God, being angry with God, are good things – because these things mean that we have a relationship with God, a relationship in which contention and emotions are appropriate.

On the other hand, and back to Job, God’s ways, and plans, and acts are beyond knowable to us – as the current expression has it, above our pay grades.

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