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Monday, September 25, 2006

Genesis 1 verses 26-27; Ecclesiastes 1 verses 12-18; Job 38 verse 4 - 40 verse 2

God is God, and humans are humans. See here.

Genesis notes that man was made in God's image, not the other way around, although many people like to make a "god" in their image, a reasonable "god."

Of course, our concept of reason is a human concept. The writer of Ecclesiastes pursued human knowledge, and finally realized that it was "meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

And, of course, reason goes completely out the window by the time we get to Job. We all want a nice, reasonable response to Job's question, but God merely provides the response, "Who are you?"

Wes Morriston has said the following about this speech:

The first of the speeches consists mostly in a series of gruff, ironic questions: What does Job know? What can he do? The content of each question is a vivid word picture, usually of some non-human aspect of nature. Taken together, God's questions display the vast panoply of creation in all its power and beauty: The earth, the sea, the stars. The dawn. Light and darkness. Lightning and clouds and rain. Various members of the animal kingdom are described: hungry lion cubs waiting to be fed, the raven searching for prey, the goat crouching to give birth, the wild ox refusing to be harnessed or to work for humans, the ostrich leaving her eggs in the sand, the war horse exulting at the sound of battle, the hawk spreading its wings and soaring away, the eagle making its nest on a rocky crag.

Job is rendered almost speechless....

I suggest that the Theophany makes three distinct points.

(1) First, it declares that God is supremely powerful and fully in control of everything....

(2) In the second place, the Theophany repeatedly contrasts God's wisdom and knowledge with Job's ignorance. 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?' God asks, and forcibly reminds Job of how little he knows about the way the world is put together. 'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.' [38:2,4] The point is that Job doesn't know, doesn't have understanding.

(3) In the third place, the Theophany is a celebration of the Wisdom that created the world, and of the order it imposes on nature. It offers a breathtaking vision of the majesty and beauty of the Creator's design.

Based upon the words of Stephen Mitchell, Morriston continues:

When he stops projecting his own values onto the world, and accepts reality as it is, he is able to see and to participate in the deep joy that lies at the heart of all things. He too experiences 'the Sabbath vision.' He looks at a reality that is not 'tamed or edited by the moral sense,' and sees that it is 'very good.' Bitterness and resentment and rebellion are gone - replaced, not by cringing in the dust, or even by godly sorrow, but by a serene acceptance of God's will and God's world and of his own finitude. As Mitchell puts it, "He has let go of everything, and surrendered into the light."...

I think Mitchell would...read the Theophany as saying that God is just - but only in a larger sense that cannot be captured by any merely human conception....

I think Mitchell is saying that it is only when we fail to distinguish between divine justice and human justice that we are forced to conclude that God is not just. When we stop projecting our moral sense onto the universe, we see that God's rule is, in some deep sense, just. It is difficult to interpret this, and Mitchell gives us little help, but perhaps the idea is that God is the impartial source and preserver of a certain order and balance among all the competing forces of nature, of which human life is only one.

In all fairness, I should note that Morriston does not agree with Mitchell:

For just a moment, let us set aside the question whether this is what the book of Job says, in order to ask whether it is an adequate solution to the problem of Job. For me, the answer has to be No.

For one thing, I am not sure what is left of the concept of justice when we step outside the moral point of view. Mitchell seems to have preserved the word 'justice' while retaining little of its original meaning. But as Mill showed in his famous reply to Mansel, it is misleading or worse to use our moral vocabulary to describe a God who completely transcends our moral categories.

In the second place, and at a more emotional level, I'm not at all sure that I don't want a larger version of the righteous judge to deal with the likes of Hitler. When I contemplate the sufferings of innocents at Auschwitz, I know that it won't do simply to say, 'virtue is its own reward.' My heart cries out for palpable, humanly understandable justice, and not something else with the same name.

As I see it, Mitchell's way of looking at things simply doesn't take evil seriously enough. It is true that if we become sufficiently detached, if we step far enough outside the moral point of view, human life can seem small and insignificant, and the suffering of a Job may no longer destroy our peace of mind. We may even be able to appreciate the beauty of a world that includes Hitler and Auschwitz, starving children and nuclear menace. But I see no reason to think that moral detachment offers a better or truer judgment of the world than moral involvement. The horror and outrage we experience in the face of unfair and pointless suffering cannot - or at least should not - be so easily set aside. If this is what the book of Job is doing, then, I say, so much the worse for the book of Job.

But is this what the book of Job is saying? Two considerations may give us pause. In the first place, an interpretation like Mitchell's would put the book of Job outside the mainstream of the religious tradition that placed it in the canon. The God of the great Hebrew prophets is not an amoral force - however awe-inspiring. He is a God who demands, and practices, equity and justice....

In the second place, the idea of a God beyond good and evil may seem to make little sense in the context of the kind of theism we find in the book of Job itself. Although God's message is very hard to understand, the fact remains that he speaks to Job. Job is dealing with a personal agent - and not merely with an impersonal Ground of Being. But a personal God, a God who acts in history and enters into dialogue with human beings, lays himself open to the possibility of criticism. If he does not act in accordance with the highest moral standards, if he is less than what he requires us to be, then he is not above, but beneath, morality - an inhuman tyrant whom it is impossible to love or to worship.

Morriston concludes, in part, with the following:

The Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Bunam, said that 'A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, "I am but dust and ashes." On the other, "For my sake was the world created." And he should use each stone as he needs it.'


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