Friday, January 09, 2015

2015-01-08 - A Year With The Harvard Classics: Trying the Patience of Job

January 8 - Trying the Patience of Job:  God was pleased with the piety of Job, but Satan accredited the piety to job's prosperity and happiness.  So a trial was made.  See how each succeeding affliction visted on Job shook the depths of hisw nature, and how he survived. Read from The Book of Job, Vol., 44, pp. 71-87.

Read an online version of The Book of Job (NRSV) HERE.

As I prepare to teach the Sociology of Death and Dying at Worcester State University in the Spring 2015 Semester, I turn again to the Book of Job and read the tale of the man who has everything, then has it all taken away on an outrageous divine game of "let's see what happens now" only to have life return with abundance when he proves himself a faithful soul.  Along with this tale of woe and wonder I also reread Harold Kushner's little gem, When Bad Things Happen To God People.  The lecture in which I refer to these too sources has to do with the concept of theodicy, and dealing with death as punishment.  

We review the essentials of the story and turn to Rabbi Kushner's theological response which is to posit that when things are going well, three things can be held in tension and relationship: 1) Good is good; 2) God is all powerful and 3) Human kind is good.  Once things start to go badly, one of these, says the Rabbi, has to go.  For him the answer early on is "God is all powerful." That is to say that as biological beings we are susceptible to all of the power and vulnerability that come with such origins.  That disease, trauma and death are as much a part of our reality as the joy of birth, the benefits of good health and the gratification of sexual expression. Recently, I discovered an updated and more theologically nuanced explanation offered by the Rabbi.

"I could have created a perfect wold, a clockwork world in which nothing regrettable would ever happen…I chose instead to to make a world of challenge and response, a world in which humans would eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and have to make a hundred decisions every day as to what was the right thing to do…It would be a world with no shortage of problems, but a world blessed with great minds and great souls to solve those problems, to invent things, to discover cures, to create great works of art that can only be born out of great pain (like the book of Job). And most important, I did not abandon this world when I finished making it. I was always here, comforting, inspiring, strengthening. Where do you think people would get strength to overcome sorrow, to fight injustice, to heal the wounds of body and soul if I were not there to infuse My spirit into them?" (The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person,

The notion here is that the spirit which is infused into us that gives us the strength to deal with life's hardest problems is itself sacred, is part of our heritage as human beings who were created in the image of God and living it is itself part of the way that we live up to that genetic predisposition.  So I turn again to the words that Kushner himself finds so meaningful in his famous little book, from Archibald MacLeish's play JB.  

It's too dark to see...

Blow on the coal of the heart.
The candles in churches are out.
The lights have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we'll see by and by. . .

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