Friday, July 13, 2012

The Book of Job

Innocent people suffer. I don't think that I need to cite examples, but, if I did, there certainly would be plenty to choose from. Little children, for example, are abused and murdered every day. To me, the essential requirement of any religion is that it must explain why unmerited suffering exists.

The Book of Job is supposed to answer that question. Many people have found comfort and answers in Job's plight. It is probably the book of the bible that I have read most often, but I am no closer to a solution to this problem than when I started. I think that Job gives up too easily.

The Book of Job sets up the problem of unmerited suffering perfectly. Job is an upstanding guy. The beginning of the book lays out that he has done nothing to deserve any punishment. God, for the sake of a gentlemen's wager with Satan, lets Job suffer and lose everything. Job bemoans his situation, which is made worse by his "friends," who do not comfort him, but who accuse him of deserving his fate. Finally, after thirty-eight chapters of setting out the problem, God answers Job. God's speech is supposed to lay out the answer to Job's question, but I find myself objecting to almost everything in it.

First, God calls Job ignorant:
Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Have you comprehended the earth in its breadth?
Declare, if you know it all.
By what way is the light parted,
Or the east wind scattered upon the earth?
Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of heaven, who has gendered it? (Job 38.2, 38.18, 38.24, 38.28-29)
Job should have answered: You are right, God. I don't know any of those things. I'm pretty ignorant, aren't I? Those things don't really matter, though, do they? The one thing that I do know is that you let innocent people suffer unjustly. So what about that?

Next, God challenges Job to punish the proud and wicked on his own:
Pour forth the overflowings of your anger;
And look upon every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;
And tread down the wicked where they stand. (Job 40.11-12)
Why didn't Job say: Well, obviously, I can't, God. I don't have that power. You didn't give me that power. That's not the point, though. You do have that power; you just don't use it. You're God, not me; it's your job to be just. The fact that I can't do your job doesn't excuse you from not doing it. You're supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, so presumably you can and should bring the proud low and tread down the wicked. The fact that you don't -- and you cause innocent people to suffer -- is the very thing that causes me to suspect you are either not all-powerful, or maybe not all-good, or maybe even non-existent.

Finally, God mocks Job's weakness:
Can you draw out leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope into his nose?
Or pierce his jaw through with a hook?
None is so fierce that he dare stir him up;
Who then is he that can stand before me? (Job 41.1-2, 41.10)
Job could easily have answered: You are right again, God. I am weak; I can do none of those things. You are powerful, much more powerful than I am. However, that is more irrelevant misdirection, isn't it? Being powerful does not make you just. Proving to me how powerful you are does not prove to me that you are just. Being more powerful than me does not make you right. Instead of telling me how powerful you are and how weak I am, why don't you tell me how just you are?

I wish that Job had stood up better under God's cross-examination. Nevertheless, the Book of Job perfectly sets up the question that all religions must answer. More than that, it sets up the question that every person must find an answer for. What is your answer?