"Hi, Job. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me again. I know that I can be sort of a pain sometimes, but I really want to hear what you have to say. Something about you draws me to you. I think it is the fact that you are defiant until the end. That kind of appeals to me for some reason--that you trusted your own instincts more than you trusted the words of others, even though there were many of them and they represented a long and honored tradition.
But here is my question, Job. Did you really hold fast to your integrity until the end? Or did you give in at the last? How am I to understand your last use of the verb 'maas' (reject, despise, loathe) in 42:6? Ok, before I ask you the big question, I will state what I am thinking.
I said that when you said "I despise" in 7:16, you were not saying, "I despise my life," but were expressing a total emotional collapse--you despised God, the world, the friends, your life. Whatever could be imagined, that you despised. Your mental energy then dissipated, and then you could only think about death and darkness. In other words, "I despise" without an object is a sign of emotional collapse. When you use the word the next time, in 10:3, you use it with an object. You are bitterly and cynically attacking God: "Does it seem good to you (God) to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?"
Now I am ready for the big question, Job. When you use 'maas' in 42:6 it is without an object. "I despise" and "repent in (or from?--I will get to this, too, in a moment) dust and ashes." Why do you use that word in 42:6 and what is it meant to convey? I think that what you are saying is that the overwhelming power of the vision of God that came through to you in chs. 38-42, which you yourself called a vision (42:5) has completely undone you. It isn't as if you had a nice pleasant tea time with God where God made himself known to you between bites of a scone. God has kicked your ass in 38-42. Hope you are not offended by my terminology, Job, but isn't that what happened? You wanted God to speak, and when God actually decided to do so, he spoke and spoke and spoke. He didn't answer your questions directly, didn't even have the courtesy to respond to your lawsuit, didn't give you any comfort in your affliction. He just lit into you like you were such an impertinent, insignificant subordinate that it bothered him to have to waste the words to speak to you. Is that how you "heard" God in those chapters?
Or, possibly, did you hear these words as weaning words, words that were spoken with a searching tone, intended to show you your limited vision, intended therefore to lift you from your self-imposed intellectual limitations and bring you into the very chambers of the divine creative activity? I don't know exactly how you heard them, Job, but they sure shut you up, didn't it? All you could do in the midst of God's speech is to mumble a few noncommittal words (40:3-5). Then, in 42 your tone changes. It is as if you were like Moses when he descended from the mountain with face shining and he had to put a veil on the face lest the people be incinerated by the reflected divine glory.
So, Job, in 42 you are all humble pie. You confess. You say you spoke what you didn't understand. It appears that you are backpedaling really quickly from what you have spent your whole book trying to say. What was it? I think it was the vision. You saw something, didn't you? Maybe you heard God speaking and knew that what God said was true. In any case you say, in 42:6, "Therefore, I despise." The English-language translations screw it up again, Job. I am sorry for that, even though I wasn't on the translation committees. The NRSV translates it wimpily, "I despise myself." Well, maybe it isn't a wimpy translation, but it adds words, just like they did in 7:16. But you are not despising yourself here or, better said, you are despising much more than yourself. Wouldn't it be right to say that it is best to interpret 'maas' here in the context of the 'maas' without object in 7:16, Job? It would seem to make most sense. I know you are a pretty subtle guy. You don't say something without carefully considering your words. So, that is how I am going to interpret what you said.
But that then opens up a huge can of worms, Job. If you "despise" in general in 42:6, maybe you are experiencing the same kind of emotional collapse as in 7:16. Maybe the vision of God, rather than amazing and humbling you, devastates you, makes you as emotionally vacant and burned out as an abandoned manufacturing facility in Cleveland. Maybe when you use that term in 42:6, you are admitting your complete spiritual and psychological bankruptcy. Maybe, for a second time, you have gone to the emotional Marianas Trench and found a slit even deeper in the earth's core and burrowed there. Maybe your next to last words, Job, mean that you are beyond the point of redemption. Maybe even God can't bring you back from this one.
That is what haunts me today, Job, as I talk to you. I respect your wisdom and honor your words. The only ones who speak as compactly and as tragically as you in our literature are King Lear and Macbeth, I think. But I need to know something. I need to know if you ever believed in God again. And, that is the wrong question. I need to know if you got past the point of God's ability to redeem you? I need to talk to you more about this, Job, but not today. The question makes me a bit teary, I have to admit.