September 12, 2014

book of job part II

     Read any western religious text or ask any lay pastor about suffering and inevitably, the answer will be found in Job.  The traditional way Job is read is that in the first two chapters, Satan claims Job praises God only because of his vast riches.  God refutes him and says, do what you will, but you cannot kill him.  So Satan has his way with him and Job loses pretty much everything and anything.  In the last book, Job is rewarded for standing up to the test and is given back his riches.  He's also given a new family (the old one must've worn thin).  So the moral of the story, God still rewards those who are suffering.  It also answers the why.  It's Satan.

     There is a historical problem with this, never mind experiential one.  A chaplain (let's call him Dr. H for simplicity) from whom I have been obtaining informal counseling, pointed out the flaw.  The ENTIRE book of Job is poetry.  Except the first two chapters and the last chapter.  Those are prose.  Now I don't pretend to be the best writer in the world but I do understand writing style.  Hemmingway does not go from short, terse prose to long, complex sentences.  It just wouldn't do.  More likely is that the poetry of Job existed for quite sometime before someone decided, "hmmm, this story isn't very nice.  We need to tidy up the loose strings."  Enter the three prose chapters.  In doing so, it completely ruins the point of the poetic Job.  It smacks of "smile, Jesus loves me" theology.

     Dr. H. reinterpreted the Book of Job in a way that opened my eyes to the true hideous beauty of the book.  Job is the human experiential answer to Deuteronomy.  I don't want to delve into too much religious history, but Deuteronomy can be summed up in one word - LAW.  Do this, and thus shall happen.  The take home message is one of karma.  Follow God, get rewarded with riches.  Disobey, and your riches get taken away.  But law and history do not rhyme.  The law is the way we WISH things would work.  Job is the experiential answer to the existential question - why is there such suffering on this world?

     Job is debating his three friends, who happen to be self righteous assholes, about why he is suffering.  The friends look for tidy, short answers (smile, Yahweh rewards the righteous with gold).  Job answers with poetic pain worthy of The Bard himself.

Does not man have hard service on earth?
   Are not his days like those of a hired man?
Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
   or a hired main waiting eagerly for his wages,
so I have been allotted months of futility
   and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down I think, 'how long before I get up?'
   The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.
My body is clothed with worms and scabs,
   my skin is broken and festering.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,
   and they come to an end without hope.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
   my eyes will never see happiness again.
the eye that now sees me will see no longer;
   you will look for me, but I will be no more.
As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
   so he who goes down to the grave does not return.
He will never come to his house again;
   his place will know him no more.

     And how does God answer Job?  By extolling the wildness, complexity and beauty of the universe.  He gives Not.  One.  Single.  Word.  About.  SUFFERING.  In fact, God evades the question entirely.  Either there is no answer as to why Job suffers, or it is so far beyond his comprehension, that it is not even worth bringing up.  Both lead to the same conclusion for me.  There is no why.  Why?  Because life and history teaches us that suffering simply is.  It was true for Job roughly 3,000 years ago and it is no different today.

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