Talking With Job
Bill Long 2/11/05
An Experimental Conversation
I entered Brown University in Providence, RI as a freshman in September 1970. Though I grew up in CT, I moved to CA in 1967. Therefore my trip back East meant that I left family and friends 3,000 miles away while I studied in RI. But, not to worry. I brought God with me. And that, I felt, was enough to compensate me for the all the benefits of CA living I was leaving behind.
One of the ways I "brought God" with me to college was in the form of a study guide, put out by InterVarsity Press, called This Morning with God. It was a paperback book no more than 150 pages in length, but it gave me a framework for daily study of the Scriptures. Each day I would read the assigned chunk of text as I moved through various books of the Bible, and then I would ponder the questions that the editors posed. I bought a tape recorder, and I recall even taping my answers to the questions. I tried to give detailed, coherent and full-sentence answers to each of the questions. By doing this I felt I was not only deepening my knowledge of God and the Scriptures but I was developing my facility with words and with answering questions succinctly and skillfully. God and I did this for at least two years, and we had our daily "conversation" in the process. I wish I had known back in 1970 that conversations with God would be best-sellers 30+ years later. Maybe I would have saved mine. But, alas, it is just another sign to me that I am at least a decade, and maybe more, ahead of the culture on many issues.
Thirty-five years later I am beginning another sort of conversation, though not directly with God. Everyone talks to God now, but very few talk with Job. But, as you think about it, Job is probably in the "top three" of the fascinating characters in the Bible or, probably, in Western history generally. He has authority and insight for me because he suffered and wasn't about to take cliches as answers for the pain in his body and brain. I have increasingly returned to Job over the years, writing books on the Book of Job in 1995 and 2004, and then composing my Net articles on Job in 2004 and my study guide in 2005.
Even as I was doing those tasks, however, I felt that something was missing. I was having a lot of fun explaining or trying to explain Job, but I felt that I wasn't really drawing wisdom from him that he had to offer me and the world. I was keeping "third person distance" from a person who pled with his interlocutors and God not to keep their distance from him. I began to see that Job's suffering and dogged refusal to give in to syrupy answers or pablum-like explanations gave him an integrity that I respected immensely. I suppose others could look at Job's doggedness as an expression of stupidity or stubbornness, but even God was impressed with Job's integrity (at least before the great distress). And then, when Job actually speaks, he does so with such intensity and passion, with such rich imagery and such evident transparentness that I found myself drawn into his mental world and thought process. I began to hear myself saying, audibly, "Oh Job, you are right. Oh, Job, how can you be so relentless? Oh, Job, you really are suffering." And then, when I was drawn into his thought process, I began to see that if I really listened closely to him, my intellectual and emotional categories in life might be altered or overturned.
In short, as I have studied the Book of Job more and more, I began to see that I wanted to probe Job's mind and see how his mind might affect me. This means that I not only have to know the text well, but that I must pore over the Hebrew, look up all the difficult words that I don't know, and try to hear the tone of the whole as well as the obvious meaning that might be on the surface.
The Nature of the Conversation
So the following essays begin my conversation with Job. As with most conversations, they start in medias res. If Homer could begin the Iliad in the seventh year of the Trojan War, I don't feel I have to "begin at the beginning." Rather, I will begin just anywhere, and Job and I will gradually cover all the topics that I think are important. Actually, the way the conversation "works" is that I do most of the talking, and draw Job's answers from what he says or what is implied in what he says in his various speeches. I also pay attention to the words and conduct of the friends as well as God's words and the prose sections of the book. I assume that the conversational time is sometime after Job has been restored (42:10).
Job, if he was anything, was "heretical" by the standards of the time, even though a good argument can be made that the concept of "heresy" is a Christian invention of the 2d century A.D. Yet he voices thoughts that really upset people and that, if we think more than a few minutes about them today, ought to upset us. And, the most amazing thing about the Book of Job, in my estimation, is that the author says that God ultimately declared Job to be right (42:7,8). Job knew he was right all along, even if being right wasn't quite so important to him after the terrifying and devastating vision of God he had in 42:1-6.
Join me, then, in this thought experiment, as we try to probe the mind of Job. I will be as irreverent with him at times as he is with his friends and God. I will also be taken by Job. In short, I see him as a person who makes me feel free in my own thinking. And, to my mind, there is nothing more valuable than someone who can help you become free.
[Including this Introduction, I present 66 essays. As with the Job Study Guide, each page essay represents at least three of text. Thus, each is, in my mind, a 200-page "book" on the subject.]
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long