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The Book of Job
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The Book of Job

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It would be swinish to refuse to acknowledge the richness that is here--possibly the very oldest book of the Bible (although the consensus places it around the sixth century BCE), poetically marvellous, devoted to the perennial theme of "why do bad things happen to good people?" and opening with a cosmic tableau that's almost Homeric: there's happy Job living his blameless life, and above him Yahweh and "the Satan" (in his first non-serpent appearance) make a little wager about how much shit one man can take before he can't take any more. Conceptually unbeatable.

The action, such as it is, is a bit of a letdown from the lofty expectations the beginning engenders. My expectations, at least: when I was a kid I used to confuse Job and Jonah and the Wandering Jew (and Hey Jude! Hey Job, don't make it bad!), and so I always have a sense of this book as more action packed--Job suffers torment after torment! And just when you think there's no torments left, a shocking twist torment inside a whale!!! But no, after the setup, this is all talking heads, as the local elders come around to enforce a little orthodoxy: bad things happen to bad people, Job, so quit stirring up nonconformism and admit that you are reeking of sin. And Job does not give an inch. He is covered in sores and his children were cut down as they partied (I like that detail), but he rejects the conventional wisdom that being made abject makes him contemptible, that the removal of his stature in the community makes his suffering okay.

And then Elihu, the radical conservative, gets up and says yeah, we suffer, but for our own good, Job: to make us stronger, to give us the chance to be magnificent in adversity. He's Nietzsche if God wasn't dead. And Job is like, yeah, fine, but I still don't deserve this, I don't have to like it, you can chew glass if you want Elihu but I reject that any enhancement to my heroic stature that may come as a result of my suffering makes it okay.

And what makes it so sublime is that he still acknowledges God as god. "You are unjust, but I'm not gonna act out here. I can take what you throw at me and instead of wasting myself in futile rebellion, instead of recapitulating Satan's prideful, sterile rebellion as the Accuser wants, I can reject your justice while still acknowledging your power." Like, this is the same subtle, humiliating, sustaining operation we cary out every day vis-a-vis the secular authority (e.g., in Stephen Harper's Canada!). Most religious people turn to God as infinite consolation from that tension. Not Job; Job sees with clear eyes.

Which is what makes it so disheartening when God comes down at the end and is like "CONGRATULATIONS, JOB, YOU JACKASS! YOUR STIFF NECK WOULDN'T BEND! YOU MUST THINK YOU'RE REALLY SOMETHING! BUT HAVE YOU SEEN THE DARKNESS THAT GAPES BEYOND CREATION? HAVE YOU KINDLED THE FIRES OF THE DAWN? DID YOU INVENT AND PATENT THE BEHEMOTH AND THE LEVIATHAN? WHAT'S THAT? WHAT'S THAT? I DIDN'T THINK SO!" He's a bully and a clown! He's the worst dude in the Bible, as per usual.

And Job acquiesces, which at best makes him a man of deeply, deeply held irony--yeah God, you're some pretty big shit all right, can't deny it--like finding a way to still show filial respect for your drunken fuckhead dad while having no illusions at all about what he is. That is a bittersweet, five star lesson for the ages in my book. But I am all too aware how possible the alternative reading is, that not only is the patience of Job is borne out when fuckhead dad appears to confirm that his torments were just all about divine ego and Job is blameless--fine, fine--but that the stubborn, magnificent Bartlebyesque refusal of Job to praise fuckhead dad dissolves when he hears about Behemoth and Leviathan (in some readings, the hippo and the crocodile, which is appropriately simultaneously-majestic-and-prosaic) and he just goes yeah, God is great. That's an ugly tale.

So really the question is just whether God is great merely in the same way Stephen Harper is great, a way obviously not incompatible with also being kind of the worst, or whether we must truly love him and eschew self-regard simply because he is big and we are small. The question of the justness of the universe and thus the justness of rebellion. The stakes could hardly be higher, but I'm still not clear if the game is rigged and so imma hold back half a star as insurance. ( )
7 vote MeditationesMartini | May 3, 2014 |
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