“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – G.K. Chesterton (Introduction to the Book of Job, 1907)
The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible wrestles with the question of ‘Why do righteous people suffer?’ Also, reading Job, we find ourselves wrestling with the mysterious ways and hidden purposes of God, and also, with how we might respond existentially to our own searing suffering or the suffering of others. G.K. Chesterton again: “The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, the Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” (The Defendant) I propose to make a bit of progress in unraveling the riddle of lived life before a majestic, mysterious God in a world that has just the odd features that it has. I will do this by rehearsing part of the story of Job, and then, comparing and contrasting Job and his God with my interpretation of the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz.
But first, let me say that there are a variety of arguments I could make in response to the problem of evil in a world created by a good and all-powerful God. For instance, I might wonder how a materialist would explain true evil in a world made up only of matter and energy. If then she shifted ground, and worried about how one could reconcile an all-powerful and good God with the amount of purposeless suffering in the world, I would ask how she can know that any instance of suffering is purposeless in a world created by God. We could talk about how consequences to actions (some of which will not be desired) are necessary for true choices/decisions, that is, free will. We could go into an explication of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible. I might recommend The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. Doubtless, I would talk about the problem of good. But that is not my focus in this post. Maybe another time…
Job lived in an unattested place called ‘Luz’. He “…was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1b & c, ESV) He had seven sons and three daughters (vs. 2). Job was very wealthy. He possessed: 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys and lots of servants (vs. 3). Job’s children were a central project for him. The children would often hold feasts together. When the feasts had run their course, Job would offer burnt offerings for each of them, thinking, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” (vs. 5c, ESV) Don’t you feel a ‘but’ coming?
The scene shifts to God’s throne. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD and [the] Satan (or the Accuser/the Adversary, see ESV margin. The def. article may be applied every time ‘Satan’ appears. Thus he would be like a prosecuting attorney.) also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:6-12, ESV) All of Job’s possessions and his ten children are taken from him. A second divine court scene begins in chapter 2, with the same form as the first, except that God notes that Job has maintained his integrity and Satan is allowed to take Job’s health but not his life. The theme in a recent post about seeking God’s face and not just his hand, what he does for us, is explicitly inquired about: Will Job/people fear/love/serve God for no reason, for nothing? Job passes the first test (losing family and possessions) but whether he passes the second test is ambiguous, depending on where in the book one reads.
Look at Job’s initial response to disaster. Truly at this point Job will fear/serve God for nothing, for no thing. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22, ESV) I used to perform a song by Honeytree. The lyrics are these words of Job.
Job’s loss of all that he has, except his life and his wife, is a disaster, or rather a series of disasters. But the way it happens is a comedy too, almost like one of those Carl Hiaasin novels in which the villains are, little by little, progressively destroyed by a Rube Goldberg chain of events. I imagine this all happening in super slo-mo. As each of Job’s flocks is destroyed or stolen, in ingenuous ways, the attached servants are all lost; all except, of course, one servant to tell Job the most recent bad news and increase his misery. This is not the time to ask, ‘What else could go wrong?’ And finally, OF COURSE, all of Job’s children are killed at one of their feasts when the roof falls on them and, of course, just one servant survives to come and tell Job the bad news. There is Job now, with “loathsome sores” (2:7) all over his body, having lost all, except his wife who he might have been willing to do without. She hectors Job: “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.'” (2:9)
Three friends of Job show up to comfort and sympathize with him (near the end, a fourth, Elihu arrives). They can’t recognize Job from a distance. They throw dust up in the air, rip their clothes and sit silently with Job for seven days and nights. Sometimes, in the presence of great suffering or grief, just quiet presence is best. Rushing in to impose explanations is often not welcome. Sometimes, like the three friends (we’ll see), we speak to impose answers to selfishly deal with our own discomfort, confusion and doubts.
“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man is conceived.”‘” (Job 3:1-3, ESV)
Cursing and cussin’ was an art form in the Ancient Near East. Job is, perhaps, saying that he would give up all the good he has experienced in his life if that would also mean that he need not experience the recent disasters. I have felt this way before and I have heard others express similar feelings. But it’s amazing what a little good health will do to change one’s mind!
What do you suppose will happen when Job or you talk this way? You’re right of course! Friends and family will say that one ‘can’t’ talk that way. And if one casts doubt on the justice or goodness of God, then people will labor to provide explanations for the suffering, partly to comfort their own souls. Most of the Book of Job (chapters 3 – 37) chronicles the arguments, back and forth, between Job and his friends.
There is a strong thread that runs through much of the Bible. If one keeps the covenant with God, does good and keeps the Law, one will be blessed in life on earth with possessions, health, protection, happiness, etc. On the other hand, if one breaks the covenant, does evil, breaks the law and sins against God and humankind, one will be cursed in life on earth with poverty, disease, war, misery, etc. This is a simplistic summary of this thread, but there is a tendency. This thread is sometimes called the Deuteronomist because of the association with the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy tells of how Moses led Israel to renew their covenant with Yahweh just before they entered the land which Yahweh promised them. They shouted the vivid blessings from one mountain and the blood-curdling curses from another mountain. But some Israelites, especially in Wisdom literature, noticed that life didn’t always work out as neatly as the Deuteronomist indicated. Even if the Majority Report, so to speak, proclaimed that 99.9% of the time the LORD blessed the righteous and punished the wicked, writings like Job, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms, noted that that is not always the case. Even Jesus taught that the Father sends rain and sun on the righteous and unrighteous, that a man was born blind not because of his sin or his parents’ sin, but that the glory of God might be seen in him (Jesus healed him), and that the men on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not particularly wicked.
The speeches that Job’s friends launched at him were mostly from a Deuteronomist viewpoint. Job has some secret sin. Job is sinful for saying he hasn’t sinned; he is self-righteous. Job questions the wisdom of the Almighty. God is good, just, etc. And so on, chapter after chapter. Some of their speeches about God sound so true and orthodox! Some of them are true, just incomplete or given in the wrong spirit or given at the wrong time in the hearer’s life.
As the conversation continued, Job’s hopes and articulation of them developed. He said things like this:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27, ESV)
A Christian who reads these words may be forgiven for a shiver or hairs standing up on one’s arms. One thinks immediately of the Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. God took on flesh and came to earth in Jesus of Nazareth. The Hebrew word translated ‘Redeemer’ is, if I remember, ‘ga-ol’, which includes the idea of a mediator who places his hands on two parties, bringing them together or sealing a covenant or agreement. One can see why, in his situation, Job would want a ‘ga-ol’ and also see why he would, in Job’s own body, want to see God “for myself.” Job continued in a similar vein:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find [God],
that I might come to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the
greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:3-6, ESV)
From what I know of life with God, I must say: watch out what you ask for! Those who know the story, know that God does show up. But we must look briefly at why I place The Wizard of Oz along side The Book of Job. Then we will tease out two views of God’s response to Job. I hope that after all this, we will be able to see a simple point that we will, nonetheless, have occasion to use in future posts.
Consider some surface connections between Oz and Job. Dorothy is taken to the land of Oz; Job lives in the land of Uz. Dorothy is conveyed to Oz by a tornado; God shows up to question Job in a tornado. The Wizard lives in The Emerald City; “..around the throne [of God in his heavenly throne room] was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” (Rev. 4:3b, ESV) When Dorothy and friends arrive in the Wizard’s throne room there is a frightening display; “From the throne [of God] came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…” (Rev. 4:5a & b, ESV) Maybe there is a parallel between ‘the yellow brick road’ and heaven’s streets that are ‘paved with gold’.
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and many sequels, was a skeptic toward God and had a quarrel with him. It seems to me that The Wizard of Oz is Baum’s commentary on Job. Taken that way, God does not have the power to rescue, and when he appears before Job he just frightens him silly and does not give an answer with content. In the Wizard, Dorothy, the cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow finally discover that the Wizard can not save them and that all good that they find is inside them or already around them. The Lion has courage when he believes he has courage; the Tin Man has a heart when he believes he has it; ditto for the Scarecrow and his brain; Dorothy can go home when she simply clicks the ruby shoes together and says “There’s no place like home.” BTW, I was going to dis Toto as foo-foo compared to the tough and clever Jack, the BSD. However on further reflection, I have to give Toto props for not focusing on the illusion, but seeing things as they are and exposing the fraudulent Wizard.
Would Job have been satisfied to learn of the heavenly cause (a dare by Satan) of his troubles? I doubt that I would. What Job really needs is to have his vision of a good but majestic, awesome and holy God restored to him. The questions of God to Job do exactly that. Would you rather have the answer to a quiz question or have the overwhelming presence of God? Please read as much of God’s questions in Job 38-41 as you can. How do you feel now? More alive? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7, ESV)
I am fascinated that God appeared to Job in the tornado/whirlwind. It was not a dust devil like we have here in the Mojave Desert. It was something dangerous as befits a dangerous God. Somewhere G.K. Chesterton wrote something like, that those who worship a God of tornados, must at least some times, root for the tornado. There is something invigorating about that. Of course, I do want people to be injured, die or lose property. And of course, God also comes to us in a still small voice and other gentle ways. And yet… If we are to survive the overwhelmings of the world, we must be overwhelmed and saturated by the Presence, the Holy Spirit, the living water, the abundant life, the love and the burning heart of God. If we try to tame or domesticate God, we become bored, apathetic, listless and courage and heart leaks out of us. For more on the theme of overwhelming, which I frequently use, check out: The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life by David F. Ford (Baker Books, 1997).
I can’t leave this subject without reminding us of the lovely passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. The children have entered Narnia and are just beginning to learn about the lion Aslan (who is a Christ figure). “‘Is – is he a man?’ asked Lucy. ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you that he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver, ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ ‘I’m longing to see him,’ said Peter, ‘even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.'” (pg. 75, Penguin Books, 1950)
Two writings by G.K. Chesterton that are somewhat like my thinking about living with questions and suffering are: “Introduction to the Book of Job” http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/job.html and “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare” This essay and book are available cheap on Amazon for Kindle.
We are coming to the end of my longest post so far. My parents are from Oklahoma, which is tornado country . My wife, Terry, is from Kansas, which is really tornado country. I have been too close for comfort to several tornados, but probably never in great danger. One summer, we visited Terry’s family in Kansas. I saw a lot of t-shirts on people and at the mall that combined the themes of Kansas, tornados and the Wizard of Oz. I still remember two of them. One said, “Dear Auntie Em – Hate you, Hate Kansas, Took the dog – Dorothy. The other one said, “Dear Dorothy – Hate you, Hate Oz, Took the Shoes – Toto” Hey, that’s Kansas humor for you. Did I tell you that some of the good ol’ boys in Terry’s family like to chase twisters? Well, they do.
It’s been hot here, over 100 F. Jack Lewis is a smart dog: he avoids going out in the heat, and when he does, he stays in the shade. A few days ago I was reading one of my daily devotional books, this one from C.S. Lewis. The subject was forgiving. Lewis wrote that, rather than start with forgiveness of major villains, we start with the people around us: family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. This seemed like something I should do. Meanwhile, while I read and napped for several hours, I assumed that Jack was in the spare room. When Terry came home, Jack ran in with her. Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, says that dogs live in the present moment and do not tell themselves stories about the past. They respond to energy that comes from humans now. So, Jack came in and jumped in my chair with me, as though I had done nothing wrong. I don’t say that Jack forgave me, but that he didn’t hold a grudge. There is something to be learned from that.
Oh yeah, the end of the story. God said Job was right and his friends were wrong, and if they wanted to be forgiven, they must ask Job to make sin offerings for them. Job was given back his good health and became much wealthier than he had been before. He was given some incredibly beautiful daughters. But I fear he was stuck with his old wife. If you want to dialogue with me about meanings of The Wizard of Oz or about whether Job was an historical figure, let me know and we can do that outside of this web site.
Today’s post was powered by: “10,000 Charms” (2002) by the Robbie Seay Band and by “Live Under the Red Moon” (2006) by the Call.