The Silences of Job
Evolution of Satan
First Lesson --Intro
Fifth--To the End
Putting it Together
Putting it Together II
SONG of SOLOMON
The Lovers--ch. 5
Lovers VI--ch. 8
Putting it All Together II
Bill Long 10/2/06
My Answers to These Questions
Well, here is how I responded to her questions. Any thoughts on my response?
"After long hours spent on other projects in the past few weeks, I am able to get a little time to respond to your thoughtful emails of a few weeks ago. This may not be as thorough an answer as your perceptive questions require, but it will be what I have time to offer today.
You pose some basic questions about Job, his suffering, his "offense," the tactics of the friends, Job's ultimate earthly goal in all of this. Rather than dealing with your questions one at a time, I would like to answer by trying to understand Job as the narrative and poetry develops in the book. I hope by so doing that I will deal with most of your questions.
When the massive distress comes upon Job, I think the first reaction that follows is his complete incomprehension, which leads to his immobility, both figuratively and literally. His sitting on the heap in Job 2 is symbolic of the way that sudden and deep pain has immobilized him physically as well as mentally. It is like the feeling I had after watching the planes strike the Twin Towers five years ago. They struck, flames poured out the sides of the buildings and it was, to me, as if everything stopped. No one could douse the flames. No one could keep the buildings from falling. Smoke kept spewing and disaster unfolded.
When Job experienced the joint losses of Chs. 1 and 2, it was as if his world had stopped. Life was over. Indeed, this was the only way Job could explain what had happened to himself. The dissonance was so great that the only way to make sense of things was to declare the end of everything. Ch. 3 then is his passionate and hopeless soliloquy wishing for all things to end. The very thing I feared, he said, has come upon me (3:25) and now, in 3:26, I have no hope. The clipped words of 3:26 are, I think, key to the fact that Job is utterly spent at this point. I think the Hebrew of 3:26 is worth memorizing (I have an essay on that verse alone, I think) to capture his lostness. Even breath only comes in two-word phrases.
So, the only way Job can make sense of his new reality is by begging for it to end. There simply is no meaning left, no way to "redeem" anything, no way to "understand" anything. The absurd has triumphed. He lived a good life, did everything right, and this is what happened. He cannot even imagine continuing to live. That is why he says in his next speech (6:8-9) that it would "please God to crush me." Life is over.
I think it is this attitude Job has assumed, this sense of utter finality, that stings his friends deeply. They are troubled by his loss--indeed they weep with him--but they have not yet had their theological framework shattered. They try to empathize (I see Eliphaz's speech in 4-5 as an initial, and pretty well-done, at least in ch. , attempt to empathize) in hopes that Job will see something of what they say. But Job is completely inconsolable. Job will not listen to anything they say. Indeed, instead of being helpful, Job sees them as "treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away" (6:15)--a huge indictment, especially in a desert culture. They become so mad at Job because he has rejected them; he has completely shown disrespect for them; he has tried to rip their hearts out when they at first tried to comfort him.
But one of the realities of grief, which Job faces, is the possibility of contagion. In other words, grief "catches." It is like a forest fire which the fighters try to "contain" by burning a row of trees so that the fire will stop upon reaching this "back" fire. So, the friends try to cordon off his grief by burning a back fire--hoping to contain the consuming conflagration of his loss. In other words, the friends urge Job to repent precisely because they are terrified that his grief might "catch on" and overwhelm them, too. They try to "contain" the fire by urging him to do things that the religious tradition says must be done--repent, admit your fault, try to become reconciled to God, etc..
Their attempt to help him is taken by Job to be an act of impertinence. They don't realize, Job thinks, that the only meaning that can be salvaged from all of this is if I die! They are trying to put meaning into the event, while I just need to die. Job is so angry, then, not only because the friends have tried to "limit" his "fire" by urging his repentance (and, as i said, they urge this because they are afraid that his grief may be contagious--and may sweep into their lives, too) but because he can't die. Death is the only thing that makes sense to him at that moment and God won't even let him die! It is the ultimate in the divine insult of the creatures. He (God) has destroyed the creature, treated him as a piece of garbage (I love the language of Job 10..."your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me" --10:8; I think I have some essays on the concept of "Turning," which is crucial for understanding Job).
So, Job KNOWS that death is the only thing that makes sense at this point. But the problem is that he can't die. Just like the person in 3:20-21 who is bitter in soul "who longs for death, but it does not come, who digs for it more than for hidden treasures"...so he is bitter in soul (10:1) and longs for death. The greatest indignity then is that he can't die. He doesn't contemplate suicide; indeed, that seems to be a concept foreign to the Hebrew mind at this time. But the biggest problem for Job is that he is forced to keep on living. This creates not only the problem of continued pain but, more important, the problem of interpretation. How do you interpret life when life MUST be over and it still continues? How do you continue to interpret something that ALREADY is absurd and it just continues? Job has no mental categories to try to understand the fact that he continues to live. His torment is increased because God has taken him beyond absurdity and still he breathes.
Thus, he really doesn't know what his earthly goal is, to answer one of your questions. At one point he can proclaim his innocence (6:24; 16:17), and on another occasion he asks for vindication as if he is in a courtroom (the imagery in chs. 13 and 23 are powerful in this regard), but these appeals to justice and to the legal system are, in my judgment, Job's rather weak ways of trying to live beyond absurdity. He wants to bring God into the courtroom and have God give an explanation of what has happened. If you think about this for more than a moment, you see how foreign this is to anything that Job or his friends believed. God isn't accountable to humans; He can do as he wishes.
Thus, Job protests because he is driven beyond immobility by the simple fact that he continues to breathe. The friends have to keep attacking him because of my "contagion" theory of grief--the absurdity of Job's situation may also wash over them. And, Job's earthly goal--well, I think he is wildly confused because of the reality of being beyond absurdity.
The Book of Job may speak powerfully to us today, I believe, because it shows us that most of life is lived AFTER ABSURDITY. Everything falls apart, and it is only the BEGINNING of life. The Book of Job is so meaningful to me because it shows how a human lives in face not simply of meaninglessness, but reversed meaninglessness, when lack of meaning now is resolved by even inconsistency in the meaninglessness. And, then, to think that life might have the chance of becoming integrated again, of making some semblance of "sense," of leading to a sort of fulfillment and hope and new birth, why that is about the most crazy thing to be imagined..indeed it is beyond imagination. But that is where the Book of Job will eventually take us (in chapters 38-42).
But that is all I have time for today, and all my mind can bear. I thank you for provoking these thoughts, and I wish you very well on your endeavors. Let me know how your thoughts develop..."
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long