"I really got off the subject last time, didn't I Job? Here we were honing in on the issue of your restoration and I took this long detour on religious conservatives. You know, it strikes me that you were a religious conservative too, Job, before your disaster struck. I mean, you were the guy sitting at the gate, dispensing justice, making the heart of the widow sing for joy, as you say in one of your felicitous phrases (29:13). But you not only seemed to be able to deliver good things to the little people, but you even sort of terrified your peers. That is how I read all those ambiguous verbs and words in 29:8-10. People withdrew from before you; even the nobles refrained from talking and "laid their hands on their mouths" (29:9). Why? Because they were so scared of you, Job. You were the big guy, the guy who could make things happen.
Certainly you had bought into every one of the assumptions of the system of justice and the dominant theology of the time, don't you think, Job? Isn't that a fair assessment of things? Thus, you would have led the chorus when they "sang" a verse like Prov.3:9-10. "Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine."
You were a living example, living proof of the truth of that couplet, weren't you Job? And, when things fell apart for you, when the house collapsed on your children and when you lost all your goods, your first inclination was to intone the comforts of this tradition: "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:21). That is, you were the strong one, the one whose inclinations toward affirming the tradition were so strong that even this huge disaster apparently couldn't shake you from your resolve. Then, when your wife came in a little later and questioned you, you dismissed her harshly as if she was a foolish woman. You said, "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad" (2:10)? You were seemingly so strong and so resolute Job, so unshakable. The Stoics, who came about three centuries after you and lived in Greece, had a word for it: "imperturbability." Their Greek work is "apatheia"--from which we get the English word apathetic, but the Stoics were not really "apathetic" in our sense of the word. Rather they had mastered the passions, had overcome the blustery waves of the emotions, and lived lives of equanimity.
Now isn't that a crock? Those who try to get beyond the emotions spend their whole lives trying to control them--which shows that they are emotional beings. Well, that point is neither here nor there, is it Job? Let's just say that you were seemingly a picture of faith at first, of resolute fidelity, and that you had lived your entire life in the strength of this conviction. You were a religious conservative.
But then something happened to you, Job. In 2:10 you were excoriating your wife for being a foolish woman and reaffirming your quiet trust in God. But four verses later you had fallen apart. You descend from Everest (or at least sea level) to the Marianas Trench, so to speak, in a mere four verses. How did that happen to you? What does that mean? You know, Job, the only things that happened in the intervening verses were the passage of time (we don't know how long, but I am thinking it was weeks, or even months), the visit of the friends and the SILENCE for seven days while the friends were around you. You know, Job, I think it was the silence that got to you. You as the greatest guy in the East certainly could have commanded people to talk to you at all times. Indeed, it is usually characteristic of big judges and businessmen that they don't have much silence in their lives. They are men of action, sort of "TRs" of activity, making things happen, cutting deals, stirring up the troops, being productive.
But you had to face some silence, Job. And that, I bet, is what started to have an effect on you. That is, you started to lose your religious conservativism not because anyone said anything to you but simply because you started to listen to life and saw the wretched condition into which you had fallen. You didn't study with those liberal professors that try to undermine faith, Job, did you? You simply finally listened to your life. But the first thing you did was not to abandon your conservatism. By no means. Indeed, the thing that made you so utterly brilliant, so uncompromisingly insightful in your book is because you refused to abandon those inherited beliefs which you knew must be true. Your inner torture developed because you could abandon neither the tradition nor your experience, and now they conflicted with each other. And so the result is that most devastating passage in 3:1-10, your first poetic speech, your first speech after the comforting presence of your friends. So much had washed over you in such a short time that it overloaded your mental and emotional circuits, didn't it Job? The tsunami finally reached your emotional house, and it overturned every prized possession.
You didn't abandon your religious conservatism, Job, but you started to add to it. You began to add statements of the heart, statements of feeling, statements of your experience that just didn't comport with the way life was "sposed" to be. At first you couldn't sort out the tangled web of emotions that overcame you, and so you just exploded with the most enlightening exposition of darkness I have ever read.
You know, Job, I think the first words your first big speech, 3:1-10, are sort of a challenge to all readers. If we can get through those first 10 verses, we have a chance at really hearing you. But I bet that most people can't even get through those verses. They don't know what to make of them. So, they quietly put the Book of Job down, and, if they are religious conservatives, they know that "things worked out" eventually, and so they go on their way. But those who have the courage to read on, Job, are taken on a journey that they never could have imagined.
Out of time. It always happens. But I am so grateful for your ears, Job, and for your insight. Even your silence brings me to knowledge, as the friends' silence did so for you.