Continuing in the blog series on theodicy, based on Thomas G. Long’s book, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith…
Chapter Five: Howl: Job and the Whirlwind
Long quotes David Robertson, author of The Book of Job: A Literary Study, Terrance W. Tilley, author of The Evils of Theodicy, and David B. Burrell, author of Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering, to suggest the possibility that the book of Job is not supposed to be a theodicy, and those who approach the book as a theodicy will find it “problematic and ultimately disappointing.” Long writes that according to Burrell, “a principal function of Job is to deconstruct all of the ‘sober efforts of philosophers to construct theories’ that defend the character of God.”
Long looks at the book of Job as a stage play or tall tale, “employing the classic comedic technique of exaggeration,” a heavily edited “jumble of genres” including epic poetry and dialogue. Long writes,
Job’s “perfect world” was built upon the assumption that God plays by a set of moral rules that are widely publicized and known to humanity. As long as a person, like Job, obeys those rules, or engages in acts of purification when one of those rules may have inadvertently been broken, then God can be trusted to “play fair” and to preserve and protect. The problem, however, was that God broke the rules. The destruction and suffering experienced by Job came as the direct result of divine behavior, which as far as the agreed-upon rules go, was definitely in foul territory… God’s behavior broke the Humpty Dumpty world apart, and it makes no sense whatsoever to end the story by pretending that it could be put back together again. The plot of the story itself has destroyed the foundation upon which that world was built.
Philosopher Richard Rorty defines deconstruction as “the way in which the ‘accidental’ features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly ‘essential’ message.” If I understand Long’s position correctly, then the essential message of Job, as a theodicy, fails because the text basically unravels itself.
Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, each give Job opinions and advice about Job’s awful situation. Long writes, “As we witness this drama, it gradually dawns on us is that what separates Job from his friends is that Job loves God. His friends love the religious system, but Job loves God. Unlike them, Job is willing, if he must, to give up his theology, but he will not give up on his God.”
A fourth friend of Job’s, Elihu, delivers what Long calls “the false denouement,” basically repeating the ideas that have already been presented by the other three, according to Long. I am surprised at Long’s take on Elihu, and how he says Elihu “is all wind-up and no pitch.”
Elihu is a young man among elders, yet he is bold enough to say, “But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments.” Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of Elihu’s ideas, I can totally identify with Elihu’s position, because this blog exists for the same reasons as Elihu’s monologue, that is “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply. I will show no partiality, nor will I flatter anyone…”
Elihu offers this nugget of wisdom: “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.”
And as soon as Elihu is finished, God shows up.
I’ll continue my review of chapter five next time…
Other blogs in this series: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Guest Blogger Mary Vanderplas), The Shaking of the Foundations, The Impossible Chess Match, The Climax of All Misnomers, Road Hazards, The Soul’s Complaint, Awakening, by Asia Samson, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, David Will Live Again, and Fellow Pilgrims.
Next blog in this series: Christ is the Yes of the Universe