Thursday, May 13, 2010

Job and God


The Book of Job is a wonderfully rich theological treatise on human suffering. It seems to me that it is woefully underused, and sometimes misused, by Christians.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the cycle of Scripture readings used by many mainline churches, prescribes two passages from the Book of Job in the course of three years. There is an option in year B of the RCL for another four "semi-continuous" readings from Job. (I may need to take that option in 2012). Other than that, our Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal has a reading from Job in the Easter Vigil service and also suggests four and one-half verses from Job as a possible lection for use at a funeral.

Since the Book of Job is made up of long and carefully reasoned arguments, it is difficult, I think, to take excerpts from it for liturgical use.

Occasionally I will see someone suggest that Job 26:7 "proves" scientific knowledge on the part of its author:

[God] stretches out the north over empty space. He hangs the earth on nothing.

And again, Young Earth Creationists will sometimes use the Book of Job's description of Behemoth as "proof" that humans and dinosaurs co-existed on earth.

[The Lord said,] "Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you;
He eats grass like an ox.
See now, his strength is in his hips,
And his power is in his stomach muscles.
He moves his tail like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit.
His bones are like beams of bronze,
His ribs like bars of iron...." (Job 40:15-20)

I am not entirely sure what the Behemoth is supposed to be, but on the basis of sound scientific evidence, I am quite sure that human beings and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. It is sad to say, but those Flintstones cartoons I loved as a child had it wrong.

The Book of Job, for all its theological wealth, does not yield much for Christians who mine the Bible for proof-texts.

I think, though, that the main reason that Job is so little and so poorly used by Christians is this: Job's three friends represent a kind of orthodoxy. In their arguments they defend a traditional view of God's nature. At the end of the book, however, they are shown to be utterly wrong. The Book of Job contradicts and questions the orthodoxy of a large portion of the Hebrew Bible.

Maybe this is what makes Job such rich reading. Maybe this is Job's enduring value: it encourages us to question our own orthodoxies. Maybe this is the lesson we should take away from the Book of Job: no matter how orthodox our conception of God, God is something greater, something more. God cannot be contained in our doctrines.

It's in the Bible.

I found William Blake's illustration of the Behemoth and Leviathan here. Scripture quotes in this post were taken from the New King James Version.

1 comment:

  1. To say less eloquently...maybe we simply need to rationalize why crap happens to us--we need to blame someone--kind of like this damn oil spill--each company pointing fingers to the other (sounds a little bit like the Garden...); anyway, if we can't blame ourselves, if we can't blame God, if we can't justify or make sense out of suffering and pain...then we might just have to figure out how to live through/with/in our suffering and maybe even live through/with/in it with others. Forgive me for bringing up Jesus...but wasn't he Job to the nth degree? And by being Job-like, he jourenyed through that suffering so we might never have to be there alone again?