Saturday, May 14, 2005

God Has Much To Answer For

Quite some time ago, I posted a blog entry entitled Why Does God Let Good People Suffer? My blog entry focused on the biblical Book of Job and was meant to serve as a pointer to two of the seminal theodicies that I had encountered which were informed by the biblical Book of Job. To wit, Harold Kushner's bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People and Rob Sheldon's extensive online exegesis The Book of Job: A Multiperspectival Approach to the Problem of Evil, the Suffering of the Righteous, and the Justice of God. A Theodicy. However, shortly after posting my blog entry, my attention was directed to a book entitled, Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job by Robert Sutherland. That is the nature of the blogosphere, an ongoing dialogue between kindred spirits as well as mortal enemies where a message in a bottle can be replicated a billion times and broadcast far and wide to be found by any and all interested parties.

Sutherland's book is available online in its entirety at < http://www.bookofjob.org/ >, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has first read Kushner's book and Sheldon's online treatise, in exactly that order: Kushner speaks the language of human suffering whereas Sheldon expands that message to a level of scholarly inquiry; (IMHO) Sutherland offers the final word on the Book of Job, notwithstanding my additional commentary here, which is meant to give the moral nod due Sutherland's work. Specifically, Sutherland provides important background on the Babylonian myths in which the Book of Job is steeped as well as providing insight into the nature of the obvious legal framework on which the Book of Job is built.

Central to Sutherland's treatise on the Book of Job is the Oath of Innocence, an obscure legal proceeding that comes to us from antiquity. After patiently suffering the tortures of the damned, Job finally uses the Oath of Innocence to compel God to answer for what Job has had to endure. In answer to Job's challenge, God does, in fact, appear, validating Job's complaint, at which point Job agrees to reserve his judgment of God until a later date.

To the average monotheist, Job's challenge to God must seem like blasphemy. Accordingly, God's validation of Job's complaint must seem like God is admitting his inadequacy. However, Sutherland points out the error of this sort of simplistic thinking. To wit, God has much to answer for, and God knows it. Those who think otherwise - i.e., Job's "friends" Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar - have condemned themselves by failing to "have spoken of . . . what is right" and called God to account as Job has.

While Sutherland's book has deepened my appreciation for the Book of Job, it has also forced me (once again) to accept the fact that neither the innocent nor the righteous can expect any help from God in their worldly affairs. Indeed, most people in distress die waiting for help to arrive. To be fair, God eventually does intervene in Job's situation and restores most (but not all) of what Satan took from Job. Even so, God is the actual author of the evil that He allows Satan to perpetrate, and God does not resurrect Job's dead children. Perhaps God is waiting until Judgment Day. Meanwhile, God gives Job more children of the same number and sex that Satan killed, apparently acknowledging to one and all that all life is precious and none can be replaced.