Monday, May 6, 2013

The Prophets Vs Job

I have finished my most recent study of Job using Robert Alter's translation of the Wisdom Books w/commentary. It is very good. In the end, Job is really about one very simple message: you cannot justify suffering. Suffering stands beyond explanation and justification. The universe does NOT look like a place ruled by a moral God. Yet the beauty and grandeur of the universe, for Job, somehow 'drowns out' the frustration that suffering brings. This is Job in it's essence: "The universe is not arranged toward some moral end. This causes within us tension and frustration. Open yourself up fully to the aesthetic end which the universe does speak to, and your frustration will be quieted."

Job's criticism of the prophets, who held that the universe exhibited a clear moral structure and that all suffering was a result of that structure, is a righteous one. Yet the prophets' experience of God as absolute goodness, as a goodness so great that next to Him all human actions are 'but filthy rags', seems to hold some truth as well. The prophetic experience of God seems genuine, to me.

The Apocalyptic writers made sense of all of this by positing a universe where there were forces that worked over and against God. Satan is their answer to the problem of evil. The combat motif in the Bible seems also to hold some truth. There is definitely some sense in which all of life is a battlefield. But the Apocalyptic writers, unlike Job, worked firmly within the prophetic world-view. Thus God remains in all ways all-powerful and so it is hard to see how God isn't at least indirectly responsible for satan's actions.

Any answer to the problem of evil must speak to the following issues: that suffering is real and stands beyond justification or rationalization, that God is absolutely good, and that the struggles in life lead to experiences of evil as palpable as our experiences of the good.

My answer has been, as many of you know, to give up the idea of an in-all-ways omnipotent God. God remains the ultimate power, and love is guaranteed to ultimately overcome, but God can at times experience frustration of His plans. God can vouchsafe the overall universe without vouchsafing every moment that makes up the universe. I further think a re-visioning of God's power as being in and through the Cross, rather than as coercion is important. These are high theological prices to pay, but no more than the ones paid by the prophets or Job himself.

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