Belief, Bible Study, Job, Old Testament, Tanakh

“An Infinity of Silence”: The Book of Job

One of my favorite passages in the entire Bible is Job 42:3: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Job is apologizing to God, after God has spent several chapters How-Even-Dare-You?’ing Job, because Job had the audacity to ask God a question. And that question is Why?

Why is almost always troublesome.” — Barbara Brenner, Hemi: A Mule

Job is a righteous man. He’s so righteous that he gets name-checked by the prophet Ezekiel: “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it human beings and animals, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord God.” (Ez. 14:14)

(HERESY BREAK: Marcionism: Marcion of Sinope is often included in writings about the Gnostics, but he’s really more Gnostic-adjacent. Gnosticism in a pinch: God is a secret and only those who can work it out will discover the Kingdom. I’ll write more about gnosticism another time. The Marcion Heresy is this: the God (YHWH) of the Hebrew Bible/(Old Testament) is a completely different god than the God of the New Testament. So, it’s pretty anti-Semitic because Marcion is essentially arguing that Jews worship an unloving, vengeful god, and that YHWH would not be able to produce someone like Jesus. For Marcionites, God/Jesus have always existed, and have always been good; and YHWH was a false god who governed by fear and retribution. Again, it’s anti-Semitic. But also, the God of the Hebrew Bible is often cranky. Like in that passage above? Anyway, though Marcion was labeled a heretic, and his teachings dismissed as heretical, Marcion was also the first person to put together a proto-version of the New Testament. So, we hate him because he’s a heretic, but we owe a debt to him, because he who publishes first wins.)

Job is such a righteous man that God boasts about his righteousness to Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1-8) And Satan counters with, “What does Job have to be frightened of? His life is nothing but blessings.” Actually, why am I trying to re-write the dialogue: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

And God says, “Deal.” And then tells Satan that he has full rein on everything of Job’s except Job himself. (One thing to be VERY clear about here: This is not the Satan of Christianity. Satan is functioning as God’s opposing counsel.)

Job loses his seven sons and his seven daughters. He loses all his livestock. His servants are murdered. And Job’s response is to rend his robe, shave his head, fall to the ground, and worship God.

(There’s a story that originates with Elie Wiesel: Jews in a concentration camp put God on trial. There’s a prosecutor, and a defense, and the case is laid out over several days, and God is found guilty. He is pronounced guilty by this group of Jews who are in a Nazi concentration camp of crimes against creation and humankind. And then, after an “infinity of silence,” a rabbi looks at the sky and says, “It’s time for evening prayers.”)

The Book of Job is told as a parable or fable. It has that kind of cadence to it. In Job 1, we’re told, “One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’”

Job 2 starts almost exactly the same way, except this time when God says, “Have you considered my servant Job,” he adds, “He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” (Job 2:3)

What you do, as a reader of this story, with God sort of shifting blame and responsibility off of himself and onto Satan is your own precious journey and know I love you so much. I think it’s fucked.

This time Satan says, “But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And God, again, says, “Deal.” But he tells Satan that he cannot kill Job. He can only make his physical being unbearable. (“Though his bark cannot be lost/Yet it shall be tempest-tossed.” — Macbeth, 1.3)

And Satan throws everything at Job. He strikes him with boils. His wife, who I VERY MUCH identify with, says, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9) And Job, who I do not identify with much in this moment, says, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10)

(There’s a counter-echo here, even if it’s only faint, of Abraham’s bargaining with God about Sodom and Gomorrah: “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25) And it’s all an interesting confluence with the Ezekiel section from above. God will protect the righteous — but you have to be absoLUTELY righteous.)

We talked about evil yesterday, and the Book of Job is definitely part of that conversation. When Job dares to ask God, “But why did you do this all to me?” it’s a legit question, and one that God doesn’t answer. Instead, God berates and belittles Job, says, “Where were you when I was making the universe?” and never at any point explains why Job had to suffer (because of a bet), or what divine justice can even be like from such a mercurial deity.

All Job knows to do in the end is to apologize. “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” He’s left the way I often leave Zach when we argue: bewildered, confused, and still not sure what he did “wrong.” (Nothing, by the way. He usually has done absolutely nothing wrong and I just have one emotional setting and it’s ALL OF IT.)

And, after an infinity of silence, we say our evening prayer.

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