Friday, March 27, 2009

Job's ordeal

“God himself has caused the misery, pain, agony, and loss that Job experience…And to what end? For ‘no reason’–other than to prove to the Satan the Job wouldn’t curse God even if he had every right to do so. Did he have the right to do so? Remember, he didn’t do anything to deserve this treatment. He actually was innocent, as God himself acknowledges. God did this to him in order to win a bet with the Satan. This is obviously a God above, beyond, and not subject to human standards. Anyone else who destroyed all your property, physically mauled you, and murdered your children–simply on a whim or a bet–would be liable to the most severe punishment that justice could mete out. But God is evidently above justice and can do whatever he pleases if he wants to prove a point,” B. Ehrman, God’s Problem (HarperOne 2008), 168.

This analysis suffers from several fundamental problems.

1.Erhman states, in objection to the book, something that is, in fact, a presupposition of the book. Yes, Job is innocent. That’s a presupposition of his ordeal. To raise that issue in objection to the story when that very issue is a narrative presupposition of the story is simply obtuse. Job’s innocence is a central to the inner logic of the action.

2.Moreover, Job is innocent in very narrow or technical sense. He’s innocent in the sense that a man falsely accused of a crime is innocent. Although the accused is innocent in that particular respect, this doesn’t mean the accused is innocent in every respect. A man who’s guilty of tax evasion may be innocent of identity theft, or vice versa. He's innocent on all counts as far as the indictment is concerned.

Job is an innocent victim in the qualified sense that there’s no one-to-one correspondence between something he did wrong and the ordeal he is having to undergo. His specific ordeal is not the result of a specific sin.

Put another way, Job’s ordeal doesn’t reflect divine punishment. There’s nothing punitive about his ordeal.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Job is innocent in the broader sense. The Book of Job is clearly set in a fallen world. No one is sinless.

Because Job is a sinner, that creates a general liability to just suffering. God does Job no wrong by suddenly withdrawing the earthly blessings that Job had hitherto enjoyed, for Job was never entitled to all those blessings in the first place.

He didn’t deserve health and wealth and friends and family. That’s a consequence of God’s merciful forbearance.

It’s not as if these were ever Job’s possessions. No, these were always God’s possessions. God’s bounty.

3.Finally, the point of Job’s ordeal is not for God to win a bet with the devil. That’s a very superficial reading of the book.

Ehrman is making a mistake that many readers make, which is to overlook the role of the reader himself. Who are the parties to a book of Scripture? In the case of a historical book, like Job, we think of the narrator as well as the characters.

But there is also an unspoken party to the book. And that would be the reader. In the nature of the case, the reader stands outside the narrative. The narrator doesn’t refer to the reader.

Yet the reader is the target audience for the book. The Book of Job is not a private diary. It’s not for the author’s eyes only.

It’s a public document, for the benefit of posterity. The book is tacitly directed at the reader.

God isn’t proving a point to Satan. He isn’t even proving a point to Job. This isn’t a gentlemen’s wager between private parties. Rather, God is proving a point to the reader.

It’s easy for the reader to forget that he is a party to the book he reads. We’re on the outside, looking in. We don’t see ourselves because we’re looking at something else. Something on the inside.

But there’s a window behind the window. God is watching us as we watch Job. For Job’s story is a story within a story. The reader is also a character in God’s overarching story.

God put Job through this ordeal so that God would then inspire an author to write that down for posterity’s sake–so that God’s people can learn from Job’s ordeal. That’s the point.

Ehrman illustrates, once more, the common link between theological incompetence and eventual apostasy.

1 comment:

  1. "But God is evidently above justice and can do whatever he pleases if he wants to prove a point."

    Erhman clearly means this as a slur, but I would tend to agree with his statement and ask "So what?". God is above justice. He's not above morality, in that it stems from His own character; but morality applies differently to different persons. It is (in most circumstances) sinful for a child to disobey the commandment of its parents; it is not (in most circumstances) sinful for a parent to 'disobey' the commandment of its child (in fact, 'disobey' has to be put in scare quotes, as the concept of obedience to one's child is a little iffy). It would be sinful for a human to steal Job's flocks; but it is not sinful for God to do so, as they were His flocks in the first place and He had a perfect right to do what He wanted with them. So 'justice' for God's action is a somewhat nonsensical idea. His action did not require justice, because it wasn't sinful. Plus, of course, the concept of justice being above and separate from God Himself presents a problem.

    So, yeah; God is above justice, and He can - morally and with impunity - do whatever He wants to prove a point, excepting of course the fact that He is bound by His own character (ie, He couldn't make a stone so big He couldn't lift it Himself). So what's Erhman's point? I haven't read God's Problem - does he ever get from 'this is' to 'it is a problem because', or does he just leave it at that?