Friday, March 2, 2012

Peterson on Job: Part 2

There is more to the book of Job than Job.  There are Job's friends.  The moment we find ourselves in trouble of any kind - sick in the hospital, bereaved by a friend's death, dismissed from a job or relationship, depressed, or bewildered - people start showing up telling us exactly what is wrong with us and what we must do to get better.  Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures.  At first we are impressed that they bother with us and amazed at their facility with answers.  They know so much!  How did they get to be such experts in living?

More often that not, these people use the Word of God frequently and loosely.  They are full of spiritual diagnosis and prescription.  It all sounds so hopeful.  But then we begin to wonder.  "Why is it that for all their apparent compassion we feel worse instead of better after they've said their piece?"

The book of Job is not only a witness to the dignity of suffering and God's presence in our suffering but is also our primary biblical protest against religion that has been reduced to explanations or "answers."  Many of the answers that Job's so-called friends give him are technically true.  But is it the "technical" part that ruins them.  They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy.  The answers are slapped onto Job's ravaged life like labels on a specimen bottle.  Job rages against this secularized wisdom that has lost touch with the living realities of God.

In every generation there are men and women who pretend to be able to instruct us in a way of life that guarantees that we will be "healthy, wealthy, and wise."  According to the propaganda of these people, anyone who lives intelligently and morally is exempt from suffering.  From their point of view, it is lucky for us that they are now at hand to provide the intelligent and moral answers we need.  

On behalf of all of us who have been misled by the platitudes of the nice people who show up to tell us everything is going to be just all right if we simply think such-and-such and do such-and-such, Job issues an anguished rejoinder.  He rejects the kind of advice and teaching that has God all figured out, that provides glib explanations for every circumstance.  Job's honest defiance continues to be the best defense against the cliches of positive thinkers and the prattle of religious small talk.  

The honest, innocent Job is placed in a setting of immense suffering and then surrounded by the conventional religious wisdom of the day in the form of speeches by Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.  The contrast is unforgettable.  The counselors methodically and pedantically recite their bookish precepts to Job.  At first Job rages in pain and roars out his protests, but then he becomes silent in awestruck faith before God, who speaks from out of a storm - a "whirlwind" of Deity.  Real faith cannot be reduced to spiritual bromides and merchandised in success stories.  It is refined in the fires and the storms of pain.

The book of Job does not reject answers as such.  There is content to biblical religion.  It is the secularization of answers that is rejected - answers severed from their Source, the living God, the Word that both batters us and heals us.  We cannot have truth about God divorced from the mind and heart of God. be con't

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