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Posts Tagged ‘Job’

I will never forget the first time I heard the satanic voice that sounds again in the book of Job.

The year after I graduated from high school I took a summer job in a factory owned by a company called AMP in Middletown, Pennsylvania, a town more famous for hosting the Three Mile Island nuclear plant that taught us the word ‘melt-down’ just a few years later.

It was a mind-numbing introduction to the real world. My friend Scott Dunzik and I spent eight hours a day fitting one little piece of metal into another little piece of plastic. I have no idea what the gizmo we assembled in this way was for. All we knew was that it was to a little component inside a larger component inside a car.

What kind of larger component? We didn’t know

Ford? Chevy? Cadillac? Nobody was saying.

What would it do for the car? It was none of our business.

We were joined in that little bubble of madness by two grizzled old men—they probably looked a lot like me—who were our gurus. They were cynical, bored, and small-minded. Their task in life seemed to be to make sure that Scott and I ended up just like them. (more…)

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When the biblical book of Job storms to its table-turning conclusion, it has no remaining curiosity for the battered psyche of its central figure. All that we know is that things are now better than they were even in the almost paradisical state in which we met Job.

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.

Even if the book does not wonder, we may. How did Job look back upon his ordeal? What regrets dogged him, what fears of a reprise? How stable did his restored world appear to him to be? Whom to trust, this beleaguered man who had been both abandoned and pursued by those who ought to have sat with him and wept? What longings for his first wife might have stalked his sleepless nights? What aching after an argument with this or that daughter might have wandered in the direction of the lost daughters and sons or of a favorite among them? (more…)

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In a manner of speaking, Job gets his wish in the end. In another way, he does not.

As the book’s pain-wracked central figure has plead, YHWH breaks silence and speaks. Yet he does not provide Job with the simple justification he has so volubly desired:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

In just such an unpromising mode does the books’ famous ‘YHWH speech’ begin. Job seems doomed to face down divine omniscience as his most daunting adversary. It seems YHWH will answer Job’s complaint with words, only to crush him with the weight of them. (more…)

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For Elihu and his bombast, things are really very simple. Job is suffering. God brings suffering only upon those who deserve it. Therefore, Job must have sinned to deserve his wretched boils, his insufferable loss, his rude and public indignity.

When Elihu has freed himself of his alleged restraint, the words flow like a river in flood. A just God never had so enthusiastic an ally as this pubescent orator. (more…)

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The book of Job arrays against its suffering central figure young Elihu, its fourth righteousness-clogged speechmaker. His self-description is laborious. Elihu has restrained himself just long enough for his three elders to give up their speechifying in an indignant harrumph over Job’s alleged insistence upon ‘justifying himself’.

But no more. Elihu is young and he cannot wait. (more…)

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It is probably not wise to interpret the book of Job until one has clawed his way to sympathy for Job’s companions. Contrary to much glib exposition, they are not straw men.

If, in the end, they turn out to be fools, it is not because they did not have their claws into worthy wisdom but rather because they had lost the personalistic context in which such wisdom longs to sink its roots. To paraphrase Martin Buber, they exercised formidable mastery over the content of a conversation but were tone deaf to the I-Thou relationship that should have linked the participants. (more…)

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The symmetrical certainties of Job’s companions sound merely insipid in the light of the man’s unexplainable pain. Job recognizes the tattered, commonplace worthlessness of their regurgitated wisdom:

Who does not know such things as these?

It seems that Job does not so much question the validity of received wisdom as he does its absolute utility. Such convention explains many things, Job, might allow. But it does not interpret these boils. (more…)

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