Who Am I?

Original Sin 8 – Job

Posted: March 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 8 – Job

In this post I want to turn to Job. It’s probably the oldest text in our Holy Scriptures and it has always been fascinating to me. I don’t think modern Christians spend enough time with this ancient poem or song (which is the form in which much oral tradition was preserved). For that is its literary form and it has always felt to me a lot like other ancient texts in this genre. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. It’s one of the relatively few texts with which I immediately felt at home, as it were. (John’s gospel, by contrast, was at once almost comfortable on the one hand and deeply disturbing on the other.)

Sometimes people try to trot out Job in discussions of theodicy (the problem of evil). But that’s not really what Job is about. And that’s good, actually, because Job never actually gets the answer for why evil happens to righteous people and evil people often flourish. He does get the chance to ask God directly at the end, but he never does so. And God never answers that question. No, there are a lot of themes going on in Job, but that’s not one of them.

Obviously, I can’t explore all the themes in Job in a single post. And most of them don’t have much to do with the topic of this series. Still, I urge you to go back, read Job, and look for prefigurations of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus. They are very much present in this earliest of works. In fact, this is fundamentally a narrative of resurrection. I know we tend to leap to the Psalms and to Isaiah for such things. But take some time to suss them out in Job as well. It’s worth the time and effort.

In Job, we stand as the external observer. We know from the outset that the accuser has been allowed to test Job specifically because of his righteousness. And that’s a fact nobody in the narrative knows. Obviously, our knowledge of that fact is meant to condition the way we hear the story. One of the things I noticed right away is that Job’s friends raise many of the more sophisticated ancient explanations for suffering over the course of the story. Job sometimes replies that they do not apply to him and other times he rebuts them completely. It’s interesting, for example, that Job notes at length that evildoers often prosper.

Bildad approaches something like the concept of inherited guilt when he asks, “Or how may he who is born of a woman purify himself?” Of course, he is speaking more in ritual and ontological terms than in the strict legal sense of inherited guilt, but it is close enough that we should not overlook it. Job, in response, defends his righteousness — a defense which seems justified since God himself calls Job righteous.

God, of course, ends by expounding how far beyond the ken of man he is. And notably, God tells Job’s friends they were wrong. God never explains why Job suffered in particular or human suffering in general, but he does reject the ancient explanations. Like those ancient explanations, the notion of the inherited guilt of all mankind shares their same ‘pat’ nature. It’s simply too neat and too simple an answer, and therefore too small to be the truth.

God and reality are more complicated than that. Job, I think, teaches us to never lose sight of that truth. When we think we have the answer all wrapped up in a neat little package, we need to be especially wary. It’s a lesson most of us don’t want to learn — and I definitely include myself among those who tend to disregard it. God is larger than our minds can compass. We need to constantly remind ourselves that anything we think we know about God is at best incomplete. This is one of the reasons the center of Christian faith has always revolved around communion with God over knowledge of God.

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