The Meaning of Job

This past Sunday in the lectionary, we heard God's response to Job, asking him out of a whirlwind, a series of questions designed to point out the extreme finitude of human power and knowledge (Job 38-39).

All of which put me in mind of the exegesis of this passage in Herman Wouk's War and Remembrance, in which the talmudic scholar Aaron Jastrow, imprisoned in the "paradise ghetto" of Theresinstadt, lectures on the Book of Job in contrast to the Iliad, and points out that, in his answer, God concedes Job's main point, that "the missing piece is with Him":
God claims only that His reason is beyond Job. That, Job is perfectly willing to admit. With the main point settled, Job humbles himself, is more than satisfied, falls on his
face. So the drama ends. God rebukes the comforters for speaking falsely of Him, and praises Job for holding to the truth. He restores Job's wealth. Job has seven more sons and three more daughters. He lives a hundred and forty more years, sees
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and dies old,prosperous, revered.

Satisfied? A happy ending, yes? Much more Jewish than the absurd and tragic Iliad. Are you so sure? My dear Jewish friends, what about the ten children who died? Where was God's justice to them? And what about the father, the mother? Can those scars on Job's heart heal, even in a hundred and forty years? That is not the worst of it. Think! What was the missing piece that was too much for Job to understand? We understand it, and are we so very clever? Satan simply sneered God into ordering the senseless ordeal. No wonder God roars out of a storm to silence Job! Isn't He ashamed of Himself before His own creature? Hasn't Job behaved better than God?
Wouk concludes by praising the loyalty of God's people to God, even when they do not know the reason for suffering--the "loyalty, dafka" as he might put it. In that loyalty, he finds meaning in human existence, despite persecution, privation and fear.

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