Most readers of the book of Job find the divine speeches (Job 38-41) bewildering. (To avoid biblical references and footnotes, I merely direct the reader to Linda Jean Sheldon, “The Book of Job as Hebrew Theodicy: An Ancient Near Eastern Intertextual Conflict between Law and Cosmology.”)
Elihu, the fifth wheel, the young upstart, the babbler—he has been caricatured as all of these. He has even been called a disguise for Satan. Many of the standard commentaries treat him dismissively. Elihu is not mentioned in the prologue or the epilogue of Job where the visiting friends are mentioned. He speaks with a stronger Aramaic influence evident in his language. Whether he even belongs in the book has been questioned.
It should not surprise us to realize that what we claim to know about God may very well turn out to be wrong. Coming to terms with the realization that our images of God may not be at all accurate marks the achievement of some spiritual and theological maturity. I give credit to the Book of Job for teaching me this lesson. The way in which its authors frame the story of Job tells us that they have come a long way thinking about and coming to some conclusions concerning God.
Probably not as strange as it may initially seem, but comedians are the actors who most frequently play the part of God: George Burns, John Cleese, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Parsons, and, in a sense, Jim Carrey, have all played the part of God. In the movie “Bruce Almighty,” God (Morgan Freeman) allows Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey), a down-on-his-luck TV reporter, to exercise his divine powers for one week. At first Nolan wastes the powers on frivolous and selfish whimsies.
The book of Job had never triggered this question for me before, but all of a sudden it came to me as I was working on this commentary: Where are the tears in the book of Job?
One place, that is all. The tears flowed when the friends come to comfort him: “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12 - 13, NIV).
Wise Man Talking
Talk about absurdity, that painful presence of meaninglessness! We bump into it everywhere. This morning, as I ran around Hamburg’s inner-city lake I couldn’t help notice the candles and flowers under the Kennedy Bridge. Two weeks ago, a sixteen-year-old teen was stabbed here by a still unknown assailant for no visible reason. The kid died. This weekend, Isis laid claim to the attack. The thought of my own sixteen-year-old daughter roaming around the same places makes me shudder. Job is everywhere, so it seems.
The concrete subtleties of Hebrew narrative can easily elude readers versed in theological talking points and religious "viewiness" (to quote Cardinal Newman). We all have just enough pseudo-education in our blood that we cannot really help but reduce the Book of Job to a predictable series of lame paradoxes and postmodern clichés. Meanwhile, the Job story demands intrepid readers—you know, the kind of seekers who peer at words in the same way explorers once groped doggedly along fog-shrouded shores se
Theodicy, or the justification of God in the face of evil, is a presumptuous undertaking. Why should deity necessarily be the epitome of all that is good? The ancient Mesopotamians did not assume so. The Sumerian and Babylonian gods were capricious, fickle, and only sometimes beneficent; there was no expectation of ultimate goodness.