Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Book of Job, Revisited

In the dark of the early morning, I awoke from unsettling dreams, thinking about the Book of Job.

I have to admit I’ve always found its inclusion in the sacred cannon as rather suspect. Shuffled among the books of poetry, history, epistles, and eschatology, its sudden appearance seems incongruous.

You know the set-up: Job is blameless and upright, pious and quite prosperous. But the Devil bets God that if Job were to lose it all he would curse the Lord. God covers that action, and immediately sets Satan loose on Job to do with him what he will.

The first thing I find disturbing about this infamous prologue is that God and Lucifer are on speaking terms. “Frenemies” perhaps, but still quite familiar. And when celestial entities start wagering over mankind, you can expect a high body count to ensue.

Sure enough, Satan quickly kills off all of Job’s livestock (including 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen, and as many donkeys), then as a hedge, kills all of Job’s children too.

All of them.

Finally Old Nick afflicts Job with painful boils all over his body. And while his own wife nags him to “curse God and die,” Job would have none of it.  "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away” he maintains. “Blessed be the name of Lord.”

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, four friends then drop in for a visit and argue amongst themselves regarding the nature of God and human suffering. This goes on for pages and pages.

Prompted perhaps by this interminable speculation, Job eventually does curse: he curses the day he was born.

Over the years, I’ve read and heard a lot of different interpretations of this particular book of the Bible, but none seem to satisfy. If there is a take-away, maybe it’s this:

1. Your friends don’t know a damn thing about theology—or more precisely, theodicy. Certainly no more than you.

2. Seems like a bad idea to curse God, even if the Big Man is taking side action on your fate.

3. You won’t ever know the reason why all of this is happening to you. Whatever answers might be out there, you’ll never be privy to them as long as you’re hanging around here.

Maybe it’s the long run of misfortune that has fallen upon my own house that has me thinking about all this. Maybe it’s the fast approaching anniversary of my brother’s passing. Or perhaps the chaos and crisis facing some of my friends.

But in the closing chapters, God finally appears, if only to rebuke Job’s windbag buddies for being clueless about His nature, and to put Job in his place. Who are you to question my ways? God demands.

Job will never get to know the reason for all his suffering, the unbearable loss, the endless sorrow.

As an afterthought, God restores Job’s health and all of his wealth—minus the beloved children, of course. But it comes off as a feel-good ending, Hollywood style. Any of us walking around on this blue marble know that here in the real world, health and prosperity rarely return. There is no satisfying resolution, no tidy closure before the final credits roll…

And the screen goes black…

1 comment:

Mr. Daddy said...

Ah my Friend, I too have read and reread that book ;O) and I certainly don't have the polish and flair to express it like you, but a quote by Niels Bohr comes to mind.

"No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical."

then goes on to say:

"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress."

and finishes with:

"Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth."

I am quite certain that I will never puzzle out the whys and whynots the ups and downs, and ins and outs of much that went on in Jobs life, theologically speaking.

But the definition of the word Paradox that I am speaking of is:

"a tenet contrary to received opinion"

My point is I guess that the profound Truth, that is God, just leads to more profound truths.

His ways are not our ways, but his grace is sufficient for us. and his Love will never fail.

This from your own words your brother knew well :o) and I am daily learning.

So take courage my brother, be of good cheer. even though there is no satisfying resolution, nor tidy closure for now, health and prosperity can be highly overrated. When the final credits do roll we will have overcome...

Love you Bro.

P.S. so happy to see you writing again :) you do it well.