Sunday, March 08, 2009

Job, Augustine, Nietsche, and Kierkegaard - Truth

The book of Job, we are told, is about the problem of suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa if God is Good? So what, in a nutshell, is the answer that Job gives?

Job does not give us and answer that can be summarized in a nutshell.

I am a modern person accustomed to filtering and distilling information in order to arrive at a succinct and useable conclusion. I often need an easily stated and justified rationale for spouse and employer for decisions and requests. In my occupation as an R&D engineer (a quintessential Enlightenment discipline) I couldn't function without this way of thinking.

So why didn't the author of Job trash chapters 3-41 and replace it with one chapter that gives the standard answer? Which is that if you are good, you will go to heaven and experience bliss for eternity thereby making any suffering endured in a short life insignificant. End of proof, QED.

Evidently such would not have been the right thing to write because we do have these chapters with relentless complaint about pains physical and mental, grasping for explanation, elaboration of images and arguments and wrestling with living in the present world.

And near the end of it all what does God say by way of answer?

Look at the world! It is great isn't it? Aren't the stars, mountains, rocks, rivers, and animals way cool? I think they are. You don't know how I did it do you?

Is this a direct answer to Job's suffering? God does not spell it out to Job, nor to us. And it is not direct because the most important truths cannot be directly stated. It calls to mind my June 4, 2008 blog post which presents a Karl Jasper's lecture quote about Nietsche and Kierkegaard and their use of what he calls Masks.

For them masks necessarily belong to the truth. Indirect communication becomes for them the sole way of communicating genuine truth, indirect communication, as expression, is appropriate to the ambiguity of genuine truth in temporal existence, in which process it must be grasped through sources in every Existenz.

And this correlates with a post by Fr. Stephen's blog titled Augustinian Surprises. He starts with quotes from Augustine.

God is He Whom we know best in not knowing Him. - St. Augustine

It is He about Whom we have no knowledge unless it be to know how we do not know Him. - St. Augustine

I have come to a greater appreciation of paradox, contradiction, and mystery. It seems that the further east one travels within the Christian geographical world, the greater is the appreciation fo rthis sentiment. The Orthodox tradition of "apophaticism" emphasizes the unknowability of God as a means of, paradoxically, understanding God. Further West, Protestants and especially the Evangelical types are taught the facts. We must understand everything and make it fit in tight logical bundles. The syllogism quickly wraps up the issues at hand. List the classical proofs of God and we are done. Little about mystery and the indirect.

Monday, March 02, 2009

How to Enjoy the Book of Job

Remember that most of the book is poetry. The introduction that sets up the story is prose. The last chapter is prose. In between, we do not have a logical and rational development of the problem of evil. No, we have an ancient middle eastern love for coming at a problem with a profusion of colorful images and metaphors. The same thing is sometimes repeated but in different combinations and permutations.

The author, whoever they were, lived in our world and loved it. They were not a denier of the flesh as some would be in the early Christian centuries. God and all the interlocutors draw upon what we call the natural world for many of their lessons. Notice how God loves his creation and describes the activities of creatures he has created. He derives much joy from them.

The book is about sense. Imagery from and about all the senses is there. Among his many ills, Job complains about not being able to taste.

We men often have difficulty with expressing ourselves, what we see and how we feel. Job, Jeremiah, and the other prophets are ancient examples of men who expended great effort and spoke from out of the depths of their being. They were not evidently afraid to tell God they hurt and they did not like what He was putting them through. These guys were emotional. They were generally way ahead of contemporary ancient literature in this.

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