07 June 2010

Job and theodicy

Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (Exodus 23:25-26)
This is part of the great covenant sealed with Moses and the Israelites by God, according to Exodus. Break these rules, Yahweh says in the story, and you will suffer. Follow my rules, and you will prosper. It seems fairly simple, right?

The problem thereafter for the Abrahamic religions is one of theodicy - justifying the ways of God to man. Everyone knows well enough that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. There are perhaps some children who are fooled by the "there is a plan" shtick, but no one who has lived a span can fairly say that the good are always rewarded and the wicked are always punished.

Many try to justify the problem by pointing to the afterlife. "The wicked shall be punished in the fires of Hell," goes the line. But that's not the same thing as what God promised, is it? He pretty clearly says that there will be reward in this life for righteousness. In a specific sense, he demonstrates and states this, when he delivers Israel from Egypt for their goodness and - then curses them to wander in the desert for forty years for their wickedness. And Yahweh explicitly says that it applies to every Israelite who can keep the rules and covenant.

So we come to Job. It's a less rollicking story than Genesis or Exodus, but it's also considerably more beautiful in parts and much deeper. Luckily for me, it also reiterates a lot, so it's summarized without too much trouble.

Job is a good man.
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
God uses Job as an example, and brags about him to Satan. Satan points out that Job is only good because God has blessed him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, ...[P]ut forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
So God says, "I'll prove it. Wreck his stuff."
And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.
Satan wrecks Job's life. Everyone is killed, everything is destroyed.
The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
And, behold, there came a great wind ... and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
But Job didn't curse God. He was still a good man.
In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Satan says that Job would sin if his health went.
But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
But still Job didn't sin.
But [Job] said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
Now already we have some serious problems. Yahweh is being a bigger jackass than anyone, first of all. He made a deal with people, but here he is breaking it. This sinless and great guy has had his life destroyed. And all of his children are murdered by Satan with God's permission. And why? To prove a point. I don't remember that in the covenant? Did Yahweh say, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and thy children shall be as the stars in the sky unless I need to kill a dozen of them to really mess with Satan."

So then there follows a majority of the book. In a series of marvelous speeches, Job's three friends join him in a discussion of his sorrows. With little variation, they tell him that Yahweh punishes the wicked and rewards the good. Ergo, he must have sinned.

Eventually, in one of the most passionate and moving passages of the whole Bible, Job thunders out to them a defense of his own righteousness. He roars that he wishes he could seek God and demand an accounting. Job tells of Yahweh's immense power with ever-more-poetic turns of phrase. In his final reply, he accounts of his virtue and refuses to falsely impeach his own character.
God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
You're damn right, Job. You did nothing wrong. You were still punished for it by a capricious and cruel deity. You got shafted, dude. Not even Job's three friends can find any more words to condemn him.

Now Elihu appears, a mysterious young man who is clearly God's advocate. Aha, we must think. Now we will find out the meaning behind this.  But no, it's the same stuff. "God is really powerful, and he punishes evil and rewards good." Essentially just another, "It's your fault" to Job.
[Yahweh] preserveth not the life of the wicked: but giveth right to the poor.
He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted.
Who are these assholes? Who seriously has the gall to tell a man mourning the death of his children and the destruction of his house - that it was his fault?!

Well, apparently God is that kind of asshole. For now he speaks to Job - personally - in order to scold him.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
In other words, "I'm bigger, so you don't get to question me."

God now proceeds to discuss exactly how powerful and wise he is for a few chapters. God built everything and knows everything, so shut the hell up Job. Why are you whining? So I crushed all of your children - big deal! Wuss.

Job quails before a lecturing by the almighty deity. He stammers a moment, and apparently has lost the will to get up in God's face. I guess he's being a little cowardly, but it's pretty hard to condemn someone for lacking the courage to talk back to omnipotence - especially when that omnipotence appears to be a petty jerk.

We wait for God to actually tell the secret of his actions. Yes, God, we know you're really powerful. No one's questioning whether or not you created lions or can move the ocean. Job just wants to know why you killed his kids. But no. It all comes down to, "I'm bigger. Shut up."
Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?
Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?
And. That's. It.

Job repents, of course, because who's really going to sass the guy who's just spent an hour discussing what it was like to create the universe? God says it's okay, and rewards Job's repentance. Job gets even more stuff than he had in the beginning.
So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
That's the end of the story, pretty much. Job gets more children and some more farm animals. Job's murdered kids get a big wet nothing. And no one gets any answers. The sum of theodicy here? There is none. God is way more powerful than us, so he doesn't have to justify himself. He can do what he wants And we should shut up, if we know what's good for us.

Needless to say, this isn't just. It may explain things, but it's a grossly disgusting and monstrous explanation. I suppose if you believe that "the good" is "whatever God wants," then God is "good" here. But by the standards we would use for anyone else, God is a monster and a bully. Why is anyone worshiping him, again? It is just his thuggery: his threats of Hell? This poor planet. My poor people.

1 comment:

  1. Your perceptual interpretation is amusing and not surprising, but you did manage to generate a smile against my will.