The lesson this week takes us into some very interesting territory. It leads us to think about an aspect of the Holy Spirit that is very intriguing, namely that the Holy Spirit, for reasons not fully understood by us, works behind the scenes more than in the limelight. The official lesson even uses the word, “elusive.” If we ascribe personhood, or personality, to the Spirit, we could very quickly come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is somewhat introverted, perhaps.
Perhaps you have seen the Youtube video of a now famous 1999 experiment by two cognitive scientists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, on selective attention. In the film, six people stand in a room, some of them dressed in white and some of them dressed in black. Viewers are instructed to watch the group throw basketballs to one another and to count only the passes made by the players dressed in white.
Three well-heeled theologians walked into a bar to meet with a peer who had fallen on hard times and was facing a harsh legal sentence. It was the bar of justice, and they came as friends of the court. Each had prepared a brief designed to convince their peer that his adversary was in the right and that he needed to plead guilty and make a deal. They argued that he could not successfully resist the arguments of the prosecution. His adversary had power, public opinion, and tradition on his side. The outcome was a given.
“Blameless and upright.” According to scripture (Job 1:8), Job was known as a person of good moral character. Of course, one can always argue about “the good,” character, and associated virtues. Norms of morality ebb and flow through the years, so the character of Job and/or his friends may be somewhat foreign to us. Nonetheless, in three stages, roughly chronological, let us explore character through the story of Job.
In the last attempt to defend himself at the court case Job longs for perpetual and written evidence of his innocence. The unfairness of his treatment has to be recorded as a testimony for future generations. The hand of God has struck him and now he wishes for the permanent record as a witness of this unfair balance of power (Job 19:21-24).
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).