"So you see, Job, from the last essay, how I have finally given up my quest for normativity. I don't look for it in law; I don't look for it in your life. But it took me 60 conversations to get to this point. Why does it take me so long to get to such a point as this? I am sure that if you stopped 100 people on the street, all 100 would say, 'Use Job's life as normative? Are you kidding?' [This presupposes, of course, that they know what 'normative' means]. That is, things that people instinctively know I only learn after great effort, after writing a book, so to speak. So, it has taken me nearly two months of intensive thinking, reading of the Hebrew text, internalizing every phrase and turn of phrase in this most difficult book, to come to a place where the typical American BEGINS life. What is going on, Job? I work all the time; studying hard, trying to learn everything I can. I have a mind like a vacuum, a vice, whatever you want to call it; I can remember things, precisely recite things, and do so with a such a range of subjects beyond anyone I have ever met...and, I only get to the STARTING line after writing hundreds of essays?? What is that, Job? I sometimes feel like such a complete fool, like I have been spending time on things that others look at me and say, "Of course it is like that." As if I have been trying to decipher a sentence in a newspaper article for years and then someone comes along and says, "Well, Bill, if you just turned the paper upside down, it becomes clear immediately." So, I have this feeling, Job, that my "great discovery"--that your life is not "normative" for us--is instinctively understood by the simplest, IPOD-wearing, cell-phone-toting, teenager in America. Boy, do I feel like a fool sometimes or, if not a fool, like a stubborn little boy who simply will not let go of the little bag of Cheerios in his hand until he is good and ready to let go of them.
So, after demolishing myself on this first point, what is the second? It is that I shouldn't try to accept your life as normative for me, especially because the last 8 verses of your book are ambiguous at best or silent at worst about how you lived your life after restoration. Thus, if I wanted to use you as a "model," I would be doing so without having a clear view of what the "pattern" was.
You know, Job, if truth be told, this is the basic reason that I left the study of early Christianity as an academic discipline. Oh, I studied hard to become an expert in the field, even garnering a letter or two from senior scholars that I placed in my my file claiming that I was the most "accomplished" 25 year-old in the field that they had ever come across. But something ultimately soured me on early Christianity. It was because I had this "normative" view of things, as I have been talking about, but I began to realize that there just wasn't enough normative stuff there to shape life. Here is what I mean. When I was interested in the "early Christian experience," it was because I wanted it to "shape" our (at the time) twentieth-century faith reality. When I studied the "early Christian understanding of X," I did so because I wanted to get guidance on how we should view the phenomenon today. But, there simply isn't enough information to help us in the task. For example, there is absolutely no way you can understand what "the first century church" looked like.
Just to "prove" my point--what was it like to be a Christian in Corinth on April 23, 54 A.D? We don't know. We know that there was a "Gallio inscription" from A.D. 51 about Corinth. We know that the ancient historians and geographers mention some things about Corinth. We know that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians (2 of them, or more, in fact) sometime around this time. But, do we know how the church was organized, who was in charge, who was married to whom, how many people were involved, what was taught, what were the heart-rending realities for people day by day, how the people conceptualized life, how Paul was received, how great the opposition was to Paul, who opposed him, how these opponents were connected to whom in the ancient world, etc? Do we know ANY of these things? Not on your life. And, to make matters worse, Corinth is one of the cities we know MOST about. So, the bottom line began to develop for me, in the study of early Christianity, that I had to give it up because it not only didn't answer but COULDN'T answer almost any of my questions. All we had was 13 or 16 chapters of a letter of Paul. What fun is it to read it over and over again, when it doesn't have the eloquence of Shakespeare or the insight of your book, Job?
I guess this is the way I am beginning to feel about the last several verses of your book, Job. They simply don't tell me enough about your restoration to answer all the questions that teem in my mind. Rather than trying to "extract" meaning from ambiguous words or silence, then, why don't I just focus on what the text DOES say and then leave it at that? Why try to draw out of the text more than is there? Since you couldn't draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook, why should I try to draw out of your words more than is there?
Thus, there are a few things more to say, Job, and a few important things, but I am finally becoming comfortable with a way of "reading" you. But what throes I have to endure to get to this basic point. My goodness, maybe I should have been a Buddhist from the beginning. Maybe I should have just learned to "accept" things without fighting against every little thing that comes down the pike. But then I would never have really looked at you, would I, Job? We would never have become acquainted. I know you could have lived comfortably without that, but not me...