Howl: Job and the Whirlwind

Howl: Job and the Whirlwind

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 FoundationsThe Impossible Chess MatchThe Climax of All MisnomersRoad HazardsThe Soul’s ComplaintAwakening, by Asia SamsonRunning a Thousand Miles for FreedomDavid Will Live Again, and Fellow Pilgrims.


Next blog in this series: Christ is the Yes of the Universe

  • Stephen Helbig March 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (stephen’s note ~ dont stop hear)…
    …For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: SO SHALL MY WORD BE that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

    … And he said, Unto you it is given to know the MYSTERIES of the kingdom of God:

    It is the bread which Jehovah hath GIVEN YOU TO EAT….

    … that I may KNOW him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, …

    …He REVEALS deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. …

    …He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. … “He
    reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light. …

    p.s. ~ The Almighty is NOT beyond our reach; Elihu

  • Mary Vanderplas March 12, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    I like what Long says by way of questioning an understanding of Job as theodicy, and agree that to interpret it as such yields a picture of God that is deeply dissatisfying. I found interesting Tilley’s observation (summarized by Long) that philosophical theodicists typically avoid the book of Job altogether because it reveals the inadequacy of their attempts to explain the puzzle of innocent suffering.

    I like what Long says about there being a “surplus of tragic meaning” in the story of Job that makes it impossible to settle for a simple resolution in which Job’s “Humpty Dumpty world” is “put back together again.” And I agree with your observation that, according to Long, the text “unravels itself”: the plot of the story destroys the basis of Job’s theological universe, the assumption that God can be counted on to play by the rules, preserving and protecting the innocent (Long).

    I like what Long says about Job loving God more than he loved his theology, and agree that Job’s outrage in the face of God’s seeming injustice was an expression not of hatred but of a sense of having been betrayed by this One who meant everything to him and whom he couldn’t bear to lose.

    I don’t disagree that Elihu has a few good things to say, including that when God is silent, we shouldn’t speak evil of him, as though he doesn’t care or is evil (34:29). However, I tend to agree with Long’s overall negative assessment on the grounds that he says pretty much what the others before him said, accusing Job of injustice and blaming him for his own trouble, and that he exhibits an obnoxious pretentiousness (e.g., 33:33).

    • admin March 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm

      I can see why people avoid the book of Job. It is disturbing in many ways. What I find terribly interesting about the book is the larger context, between God and the Adversary. I haven’t seen near as much exploration in that aspect of the book as I have other aspects.

  • […] the previous blog in this series on theodicy, Howl: Job and the Whirlwind, Long suggests the possibility that the book of Job is not supposed to be about theodicy, and […]

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