Christ is the Yes of the Universe

Christ is the Yes of the Universe

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

I’d like to begin with the following excerpt from another blog, Satan, the Pupil:

According to orthodox theology, Job’s torment is instigated by Satan and permitted by God. I see something different. Let’s take a look at the text…

Job 1:7-8

The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Who brought up the name of Job? It wasn’t Satan, it was God. And God, having all knowledge of every being knows how Satan will respond. Of all the beings gathered together, why not choose to have a discussion about Job with one of the good guys? Instead, God chooses to have a conversation with the one called the “adversary.”

God could have kept His thoughts about Job to Himself, but He chose instead to share them with the one who is inclined to bring torment into Job’s life. Why?

The answer to this question can be found within the statement God makes – the word here translated “consider.” It is a word that has to do with learning.

So basically, God is teaching Satan. And apparently, what God is teaching Satan is so important that God will permit his faithful servant, Job, to suffer terribly.

What is God teaching Satan?

And more importantly, why is God bothering with teaching Satan anything at all?

Suppose Satan learns whatever it is that God is teaching him. Then what?

In 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 those who approach the book as theodicy will find it “problematic and ultimately disappointing.”  Long writes*, “a principal function of Job is to deconstruct all of the ‘sober efforts of philosophers to construct theories’ that defend the character of God.”

Admittedly, until I read Long’s book, I had never considered the book of Job, or other wisdom literature for that matter, from this perspective.

Now, let me take you, reader, on a little detour, and then we’ll return to the subject at hand.

In the recent blog from the Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell series, Could You Love a God Like This?, I write:

Chan examines the laundry list of God; dirty laundry, that is.  The heading of this portion of the chapter is entitled, “I Wouldn’t Have Done That.”  Basically, Chan’s goal is to shock readers into agreeing that “sending people to hell isn’t the only thing God does that is impossible to figure out.”  The litany of bizarre and horrific “divine acts” includes:

    • A world-wide flood with only eight survivors
    • The command to slaughter of 3,000 people
    • The command to slaughter the inhabitants of Canaan, including men, women, and children
    • The command to stone people to death
    • The command for Ezekiel “to lie on his right side for 390 days, to lie on his left side for 40 days, to cook for over human dung, to hold himself back from mourning over his wife’s death when God takes her, and to preach sermons laced with sexually explicit rhetoric…”
    • Sending His Son to be tortured and killed

And later in the same blog, I ask, “Could you love a God like this?” and “Should you love a God like this?

Lanny Eichert, a regular blog reader, comments,

Aren’t you forgetting INCLUDED in the list is the bullet point: •Sending His Son to be tortured and killed. That bullet point is to stand in contrast to Who He REALLY is and what He REALLY does.

So, I guess you mean all those bullets reflect the OPPOSITE of your god’s character and work.

God sending His Son to be tortured and killed – it’s a false, human-invented God
Please explain, Alice.

And I respond,

You make a good point, Lanny. I didn’t really think of it that way – my intent was to address the biased tone Chan uses, as if there were no way possible way to look at this than that God does evil things, but since God does them, we must accept those evil things as somehow being good. What the Jews and Romans did to Jesus was evil. God did not prevent it. So you can look at it as God sending His Son for the ultimate purpose of dying a horrible death, or you can look at it as God sending His Son, Who, in agreement with His Father, subjected Himself to incredibly unfair treatment from His fellow human beings in order to accomplish the higher purpose of seeking and saving the lost. Chan only addresses the former, as if Jesus died and that’s it – end of story. There’s much more to it than that. God didn’t torture and kill His Son, people did.

The reason for this aside is that I see similarities between Christ and Job. In the story of Job and the account of Christ, God permits undeserved suffering.

But WHY?  That is THE question.  A question that Long very eloquently dodges, in my opinion (at least in chapter five of his book).  Long writes:

We are witnessing the claim that the alternative to our moral scheme of order and disorder is not chaos.  It is not even a new and divine scheme of order and disorder.  It is, rather, a vision that staggers the imagination, a vision of only order, of everything – even that which must be called evil – gathered into the hand of a just God.  It is a vision that comes to us from outside the place of human time, and yet one which serves to give radical hope in the present. […]

The New Testament does not claim that suffering is an illusion or that death is a friend.  Jesus’ own life was marked by suffering with “loud cries and tears,” and death is named as a very real and powerful “last enemy.” At the same time, the New Testament can affirm that “in Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

Long refers to suffering, evil, death, and the like, as a cosmic negative, what he simply calls, “no.”  Long writes:

The New Testament does not deny the presence of the painful “no” at work in human life.  Nor does it attempt to balance this “no” with a countervailing “yes,” saying, in effect, that, all things considered, human suffering is not all that terrible.  Instead, like Job, it underscores the inescapable reality of that “no,” and then offers the death and resurrection of Jesus as the promise that the ambiguous interplay between “no” and “yes” in human experience has ultimately been absorbed into the “Yes” of Christ, who is all in all.

Long’s assessment of the situation resonates with me.  Jesus is the “Yes” of the universe.  Long uses the operative word, “absorbed” to describe where that dark “no” goes.  This reminds me very much of the concept Paul describes his letter to the Corinthians, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  Paul writes:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Although Long’s assessment of the situation resonates with me, I disagree with the idea that the book of Job never answers Job’s question, “Why me, Lord?”  Perhaps that question is not answered for Job, but the readers of the book of Job have more information than the main character.  Remember how the book of Job begins?

And the day is, that sons of God come in to station themselves by Jehovah, and there doth come also the Adversary in their midst.

And Jehovah saith unto the Adversary, “Whence comest thou?”

And the Adversary answereth Jehovah and saith, “From going to and fro in the land, and from walking up and down on it.”

And Jehovah saith unto the Adversary, “Hast thou set thy heart against My servant Job because there is none like him in the land, a man perfect and upright, fearing God, and turning aside from evil?”

Job doesn’t see this.  Job doesn’t know this.

Long writes about the conclusion of the book of Job:

We expected the Adversary to be shamed for his foolish wager, but the Adversary is never mentioned.  He has completely disappeared.  He is a character suitable only to the old world, which has passed away.  The friends of Job are scolded by God for lying, and, according to the old-world theology they so vigorously defended, they should have been punished without mercy.  But God’s grace, and Job’s prayer on their behalf, however, they are in fact forgiven.

Why do you think the Adversary is not mentioned again in the story?

*according to David B. Burrell, author of Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering

Next blog in this series: Theodicy of Protest

  • Stephen Helbig March 31, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Alice asks ~ “Why do you think the Adversary is not mentioned again in the story?”

    I believe it is well said That ~ “He is a character suitable only to the old world, which has passed away.”

    For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be SWALLOWED UP BY LIFE.. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. (2 Cor. 5: 1-5)

    The old things passed away; behold, new things have come

  • Mary Vanderplas April 1, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    I have a hard time seeing here God instructing Satan. Yes, God was the one who brought up the subject of Job; and yes, as Long observes, God made a statement that must be taken as God throwing down a gauntlet. Still, I don’t think that it can be said that God’s larger purpose in doing this was to instruct Satan at Job’s expense. It seems more plausible that the whole scene is intended to show that our situations have a cosmic background, that there is a very real struggle against evil going on when people go through suffering. Still, though, the actions of God that are pictured here are unsettling, showing, as they do, God enabling this satanic attack on his servant.

    I agree with Long that the scene raises troubling questions about the character of God and that it is this “surplus of tragic meaning” that drove the writer of the canonical book to “leave the confines of the old story in quest of a deeper resolution.” For Long, the issue is not why bad things happen to good people in a world controlled by a just God – it is not, in other words, theodicy – but rather how we are to relate to the God who operates by a different set of rules, a different system of moral order, than the system we live by. Long doesn’t address the question of why God permits undeserved suffering because, in his view, this is not the question addressed by the book. It isn’t, in my view, that he sidesteps it; it’s that he doesn’t see it as having any relevance in terms of what the author is saying.

    I like what you say by way of summarizing Long’s description of the alternative to our system of order presented in the book of Job, and agree that the 1 Corinthians text you cite fits nicely with the vision of all things being gathered up/absorbed/swallowed up into Christ. And I like Long’s point about the New Testament not attempting to balance suffering and evil with good, thereby communicating the false (and shallowly comforting) message that suffering really isn’t so bad after all.

    I agree with Long that the book doesn’t answer Job’s anguished question of “why me?” That we are made privy to the cosmic background of Job’s situation is, in my view, irrelevant. When God finally speaks, he doesn’t give Job reasons and justifications. What he gives him are questions, questions that are intended to show him the impossibility of comprehending God and the complexity of the universe that makes trying to determine the justice of human suffering by a simple reward-punishment scheme a futile enterprise.

    I agree that there are similarities between Job and Christ in terms of innocent suffering. And I love Long’s comment about “being willing to move toward being the kind of human being who, even in the midst of inexplicable pain, trusts the One who is God” – something that Job learned and that Jesus enacted.

  • Mary Vanderplas April 1, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    I think that Long has it right about the Adversary not being mentioned again because he was a part of the old world that was no longer.

    • Lanny A. Eichert April 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Mary, your logic stinks: the old world that was no longer. Satan destroyed all that Job possessed, so how ever are you putting him, Satan, in an old world that no longer existed in Job’s day?

  • Theodicy of Protest « April 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    […] The links to each of the blogs in this series are 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, Howl: Job and the Whirlwind, Christ is the Yes of the Universe. […]

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