21 February 2005

Lessons from Job

And we're back to God, his problem, and our problem with him...

The sole source of the Bible grappling with the problem of evil is in the Book of Job, which forms part of the Wisdom literature. Job, the most virtuous man of his age, is visited by a series of natural disasters: his children are struck down, his fields go fallow, his cattle die, and Job himself contracts a disfiguring skin disease. All because God allowed these disasters to happen.

Unlike the premoderns, Job refuses to opt for passive acceptance of his hand. He recognises that the disaster is unwarranted, meaningless. In a way, he questions God for allowing this to happen. If God is good and all, why this evil? Especially to a pious man like himself?

Job holds God to account. Actually, Job files a lawsuit against God, making him the first man to hold God accountable for His own action/inaction. Not even the philosophers would court karmic disaster by filing suit against the Almighty outside from their academic musings!

Like our 18th century philosophers, Job presents his case: the evil and suffering existing in this world is unjustified and out of proportion to normal human failing. Disasters happen by chance, striking evil and terror indiscriminately to everyone. By what right does a good God persecute or even allow this?

After Job's impassioned prosecution, God's defense is classic.

So, you want to know why? Little man, stand still and ponder:
Where were you when I made the world? Do you know how I made the earth, filled the seas?
Do you know how to call on the rain and the dew?
Can you send lightning? Move the stars?
Do you provide the birds with their food?
So does that answer your question, little man?

Of course, I'm paraphrasing here, but that's essentially what transpired. One might argue, as many atheists have, that this is essentially a cop-out: God refuses to answer Job's question, refuses to account for his actions, and instead makes what is technically an argument to force: "I'm more powerful than you, so I'm not required to defend myself to you."

Or, one might say that God reminds us of the mystical nature of the Divine Will, that the ways of God and even the nature of God is beyond the comprehension of humanity. God may be a personal saviour who intercedes, but do not mistake him for a human being, do not assume that He shares our idea of "good" and "evil".

Unluckily for the philosophers and their "free will" and "greater good" defenses, God doesn't seem to think much about humanity and its sufferings in Job 37-39. Is there a Divine Plan? Yes. Is there justice? Yes. But no, don't think the entire universe revolves around humanity, that divine justice must resemble human concepts. God mentions about the stars, animals, birds, the seasons and their places within his plan, but not a single word about humanity.

How humbling. And Job was so stunned, then humbled that he dropped his lawsuit against God.

And indeed, the only proper response for a person of faith during a time of disaster is not to demand an accounting from God, but to be awed by the extent of the disaster, to be humbled from it. And then, to accept it.

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