Nobody has ever had a wish granted to them like Job:
“If only my words were written down, If only they could be inscribed in a book!” (Job 19:23)
Folded into the world’s all-time best seller, they now are, where they stand as the supreme example of a ‘theodicy,’ an exploration of the the problem of evil—or, define it as the question, ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’
The university-educated promptly shoot themselves in the foot by dividing the Book of Job into two books. The first, in their opinion, is a Jewish fable comprising what is now the first two and the last chapters of Job. The second consists of all the rest, the unending dialogue of Job, his three tormentors, Elihu, and God. You almost suspect that their goal is to flatter the intellect, and it matters not to them that they throw away the key to understanding—as they do with the early Genesis chapters that frame the overall theodicy of which the Book of Job is a subset.
Is it that those first two chapters read too ‘fundamentalist’ for them, they who are educated in critical thinking? They should waste their time on a silly little story of God and the Devil making a wager? As though, once they finish and the outcome with Job has been determined, they say, ‘Whoa! That was loads of fun! Let’s do it again with someone else!’ The notion (which every Jehovah’s Witness understands, even the children) that Job represents a test case of whether humans can keep integrity under trial, is lost upon them.
The other ‘benefit’ of divorcing Job’s trials from the opening chapters which frame it is that you get to spin the poetic dialogue any way you wish without regard to ever settling anything. A windy debate of philosophy—‘Yeah! That’s what I’m talkin about!’ Never mind if it doesn’t lead anywhere. It becomes one of those, ‘they are having their reward in full’ scenarios of which Jesus spoke at Matthew chapter 6.
But if you don’t cleave the book into two, you come away with some understanding. You come away with the knowledge that humans can maintain integrity to God under the most trying circumstances. They may give vent to plenty of ‘wild talk’ along the way, not being privy to the big picture, but eventually the dust settles, all is forgiven, and the louts that leaned into the righteous with their own smug theories of superiority get rebuked.
Those three interrogators do lean into Job, and Job says, ‘Why aren’t you ashamed?’ “These ten times you have rebuked me; You are not ashamed to deal harshly with me.“ (Job 19:3) They should be ashamed—using their robust health to pound an unfortunate into the ground.
“Show me mercy, my companions, show me mercy, For God’s own hand has touched me,” Job pleads, but they show him none. Aggravated that their initial gentle accusations were rejected, they double down and turn vengeful. “It gets personal,” Kushner says. Gentle insinuations become harsh accusations. The three appoint themselves interrogators for God, though God has asked for no such interrogators, terrorists who will brook no ‘wild talk,’ who will regard it all as apostasy to be put down with machine gun fire.
What they should do is ‘weep with those who weep.’ What they should do is quote Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Do not be quick with your mouth, nor let your heart speak rashly before the true God, for the true God is in the heavens but you are on the earth. That is why your words should be few.” Job’s three visitors do not use few words; they use many, although they can’t possibly know what they are talking about, since “the true God is in the heavens but you are on the earth.”
Horrific suffering happens today. Some months ago a young woman in a nearby circuit suffered vicious physical assault. Even Job was not physically assaulted. Nor did he suffer the complete betrayal of the human justice system when the perpetrator was brought to court. Her life irrevocably changed with scars that are not visible, she decided to go public, as a first step towards healing. She’s very brave. She also hopes, no doubt, to forestall any speculation from those who see her altered behavior but have not the facts to put it in context. It’s good congregations are in the Book of Job lately, from which we may draw the conclusion that we don’t need them.
****** The bookstore