Sunday, August 17, 2014

Job: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  All of the artwork in this report is by the British Romantic poet/artist William Blake.  

Once upon a time there lived a man named Job, who was a good man, and prosperous.  He had seven sons and three daughters and they lived happily. 

Meanwhile, on another, spiritual plane of reality, some sons of God and a being called Satan came before the Lord.  God said to Satan, “Check out my servant Job.  He’s a really good guy.”  Satan replied, “Of course he’s a good guy.  You have totally blessed him.  I wonder what would happen if you took away all his stuff.”  So God was like, “Alright, Satan.  Go ahead and take away his stuff.  Make him suffer, and we’ll see how he responds.”  It was like a fucked-up bet between God and Satan, with Job as their innocent victim.

"Then went Satan from the presence of the Lord."

So Satan went ahead and caused all of Job’s livestock (his whole fortune) to be stolen and/or killed.  Then Satan killed all of Job’s children.  How did Job respond?  He fell to the ground and, amazingly, worshipped God, saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

So far, so good.  God was winning the bet.  But Job’s suffering wasn’t over.

Satan and the sons of God again came before the Lord, and God was like, “See, Satan!  Told you.  Job is legit.”  Satan replied, “What if you made him, like, physically suffer?  Not just emotionally or economically, but in his flesh and bones?  Then I bet Job would deny you, God.”  So God was like, “Alright, Satan.  Go ahead and give him physical suffering, only don’t kill him.”  Satan said, “Will do.”

So Satan gave Job horrible boils all over his body, and he was in constant, chronic, severe pain.  Job’s wife, seeing his suffering, was like, “Fuck God.”  But Job, still, amazingly, kept his faith.

Some of Job’s friends came to visit him, to console him in his grief and pain.  When they saw his condition, they wept and sat with him in silence for a long time.  They could tell he was going through some heavy, heavy shit.

"Let the day perish on which I was born." 

Finally, Job spoke, expressing his grief and pain and depression.  He spoke in poetry.  He wished he’d never been born.  He wished he could die.  He was almost suicidal.

Then Job’s friend Eliphaz spoke, basically arguing that innocent people don’t suffer, implying that Job’s suffering was caused by his sinfulness.  Job vehemently rejected this simplistic explanation.

Job’s friend Bildad continued Eliphaz’s faulty reasoning, saying that Job was somehow at fault for his suffering.  Again, Job didn’t buy this explanation, pointing out that both the innocent and the guilty suffer, seemingly indiscriminately.  Job also expressed his frustration that he couldn’t speak directly with God, and get a clear answer to his burning question: “Why is this happening to me?”

Job’s friend Zohar then got a bit angry with Job, calling him haughty and proud for not accepting the simple sin/punishment theory of human suffering.  To be fair to Job’s friends, the sin/punishment model was the predominant theory of the day.  Job’s refusal to accept this theory really fucked with his friends’ worldview.

"The just upright man is laughed to scorn."

Job was like, “Look at the world, guys!  Does the simple sin/punishment model fit the reality you experience and witness?  No, it doesn’t.  Innocent people, like me, suffer everywhere, all the time.  Life is a hot mess of incomprehensible pain.  Your theory is bullshit.”

At this point, Eliphaz became quite angry with Job.  He was like, “Damn you, Job, and your complex philosophy!  We’ve got a simple and clear-cut explanation for why people suffer.  People are basically evil, and should accept suffering as punishment for sin.”

Job replied, “You guys are the worst comforters ever!  Here I am, suffering like a sonofabitch, for no reason, and you guys are trying to pile guilt upon my pain.  You guys suck.”

Then Bildad got defensive.  “Are you calling us stupid, Job?” he asked, “Because that’s what it sounds like.  We are not stupid.  You’re stupid if you don’t accept our simple, out-dated, and insensitive theory.”

Job was like, “Dude, that’s fucked.  You guys are only adding to my grief and pain, and also making me feel lonely.  I need compassion, not condemnation.”

"With dreams upon my bed thou scarest me and afrightest me with visions."

Despite his suffering and his friends’ bone-headed “comfort,” Job amazingly maintained his faith in God, and expressed (in poetry) his hope that someday he would meet God and things would make sense. 

But his block-headed friends were relentless.  They weren’t willing to give up, or even modify, their sin/punishment theory.  Zohar kept going on and on about how the wicked suffer, the world is just, things make sense, etc.  Total bullshit.

Job was like, “Really?!  Really?!  Cus I’ve seen plenty of wicked people totally prospering and and doing very well for themselves.  Maybe, at some future time, justice will come, but this world is full of baffling, incomprehensible injustice.  The wicked prosper, and the innocent suffer.  Ever seen children in poverty and hunger?  How does that fit into your theory?”

Then a young man named Elihu, who thus far had listened in silence, spoke up.  He said he was afraid to speak his mind in front of these, his elders.  But when he realized that Job’s friend’s were wrong in their assessment, he decided to say his piece.  Elihu suggested that, while Job’s suffering may be undeserved, he may learn and grow from it.  Suffering may be a path to new understanding.  Elihu stressed the point that God is transcendent and, in many ways, incomprehensible to humans.  He suggested that Job look to nature as evidence of God’s power and glory, and find solace in all that crazy beauty. 

"I am young and ye are very old wherefore I was afraid to speak."

And then suddenly, out of like nowhere, God showed up in the form of a whirlwind, and spoke to Job!  God gave a long monologue, in which he basically said that He is of a higher plane of existence than Job, and so it’s natural that Job won’t be able to understand some things.  God spent a lot of time talking about how complex and amazing and wonderful the universe is—things like stars, mountains, weather, plants, and animals.  For example, God described, in great detail, how cool whales are.  God also said that Job’s friends, with the exception of young Elihu, were full of shit.

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind."

This satisfied Job, who concluded that, while he may never understand the deep and troubling mystery of human suffering, he can take solace (even amidst bewilderment and pain) in the deep complexity and beauty of the world.

Then God restored Job’s fortunes, and blessed him with lots of children, and a very full life, after his traumatic ordeal. Satan doesn’t show up at the end of the story, but it’s implied that God won the bet.

"So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning."

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