Mon 06 July 2015
I have just finished reading the book by Dan Drápal „Spor o Joba“ (Návrat domů, 2015; “Dispute about Job”) and I am rather unsure about it.
Firstly from purely formal reasons. To say it bluntly: the book is in my opinion longer than it deserves to be. The really important part is the first one (44 pages). When I was reading it, I felt constantly an intense feeling that this was exactly the book I would love to write myself, but I have never overcome my laziness and incompetence to do it. Then, however, there is also the second part (37 pages), which is just more or less (more less than more) commented annotated reading notes on many books related to the book of Job. The third part is a comprehensive (7 densely printed pages) bibliography.
I understand that publishing of books especially in the small volume is quite a challenging activity financially, so I do not suspect pecuniary motives on the side of the author. I would guess that it is more a wish (more and more problematic in the time of Kindle, Internet, and similar tools) to have his thoughts immortalized on pieces of dead trees. Let me just note that the result looks to me sensible neither from the environmental, nor economical point of view (on the side of a buyer; 44 pages for 130 CZK or how much the book costs is quite a drastic amount). I would welcome much more than this patchwork (half-page paragraphs typeset on separate pages with almost every third page blank; is it really necessary?) if the author published a collection of his most timeless blogposts (including the part of this book), that could in my opinion in total make a way more valuable book and less pity for the sacrificed trees.
So, fortunately now we can leave behind the only really negative part of this review and we can deal with something which I see as the real contribution of this book. First of all, let me deal briefly with a second part of the book which seems to me relevant for the rest of my thoughts, which is the consideration of historicity of the Book of Job. I hope the author would agree with me that The Holy Bible constitutes whole library of works by various human authors and various literary styles (that shouldn't deny the inspiration of the Bible and I would like to leave that issue outside of this review). We have in the Bible historical books (however the concept was understood in the time of their writing, e.g., The Books of Chronicles), spiritual poetry or a prayer book (Psalms), prophecies, wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), shockingly open erotic poem (Song of Songs). So, it makes sense to ask for the literary form of the Book of Job. It seems to me obvious that it is not (prima facie) historical writing, or prophetic or mythological one, but that it is a rather unique(?) example of the Biblical fiction prose, in the modern terms closest to some kind of novel or long story centered around the deep theological / philosophical contemplation of the human suffering (let me emphasize again, that it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of the level or manner of the inspiration of the book by the Holy Spirit). If we accept this classification and follow its consequences, we have to get in my opinion to couple of conclusions:
Whole question of the historicity of the Book of Job looses its value. If the Book of Job is truly a novel, the question of its historicity is roughly the same as the historicity of Alyosha Karamazov. Yes, perhaps there are some literal historians, who are dealing with the issue whether Alyosha Karamazov is based on some historical person or not, but it is completely secondary question for the literary quality of the work and for its message.
When looking at the Book of Job as a literary work, it seems to me obvious that the key part are all discussions between Job and his friends (and God) dealing with the main issue of the book, question of human suffering in the world. The first two chapters and the half of the last one are then just a frame story giving a context to the rest. From this point of view the whole idea of using the second chapter of the Book of Job (meeting of God and Satan) as the explanation of the Job’s suffering. Our author this explanation firmly rejects in the first part of the book, but then in the second part he seems to be playing with the ideas suggesting such explanation.
It is actually startling how most of the interpretation issues in our book (and I am afraid it is the true reflection of the discussion around the Book of Job generally) centers around this frame story and how little work is done comparatively on the rest of the book (here I need to recommend largely forgotten but very interesting book of Jiří Dohnal Pastoral Care of the Job’s Friends; Logos, 1992).
Moreover, using of the second chapter of the Book of Job to explain it (“it was not about the real suffering of Job, just a bet and game between Satan and the LORD God”) seems rather suspicious. From the Job’s point of view this bet or game makes rather strange testimony about the God’s character (who kills all Job’s family just to prove his point to Satan). What such bet says about the God’s love, his respect to the value of human life, etc.?
Here I really end with the objections to the book and I can finally continue with what I consider to be the most important about the book, and why I think it is a very valuable one, that is to its first part.
It is some time, so I am not sure exactly when it was, I saw in TV (or read in newspapers?) interview with some Czech painter (or was it a composer?) about his last work. Young journalist, who obviously didn’t have much idea what to ask, and so he (or she?) hoped to please the author by letting him talking about his work, and so the journalist ask him what he wanted to say by the work. The answer was rather irritated: “What do you think? If I was able to tell it in two sentences to the newspapers, would I spent two years struggling with the creation of it?”
I thought about this interview when reading the first part of our book. When we try to explain simply the Book of Job, we have to miss the its true meaning. Do we really think, that the Holy Ghost has nothing else to do than to inspire writing whole book of Bible, when it would be enough to tell its message on one or two pages of simple text? There is not a simple way in my opinion how to avoid reading and struggling for understanding of any Biblical book.
Our book starts by explaining how the obvious understanding of the issue of evil in the world leads to belief that the good God always blesses virtuous and punishes sinners, and how this kind of faith can get very dangerous in the moment, when it turns to its other side and we start to believe that blessed people are somehow more virtuous and suffering people are sinners. Authors reminds us about the famous text of Luke 13:1-5:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. // And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? // No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. // Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? // No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus here quite clearly rejects implicitly suggested theory of “some” that the killed Galileans and eighteen killed under the tower of Siloam somehow got what they deserved. I would even suggest that this suggestion that blessing is the certificate of just, is quite often tool of self-justification (rarely is such theory promoted by somebody who just goes through “the dark night of the soul”, but mostly by those who feels themselves blessed). Jesus seems to me lead his listeners by the reminder of need to repent away from this illusion of self-justification.
The remainder of the first part of the book deals with the various methods, who to make Job’s suffering explainable and rationally understandable and proves that none of these ways make any sense or in fact that they don’t give any answer to the question of the meaning of human suffering.
Some of the false paths mentioned by the author (and I wildly agree with him) are thoughts that Job didn’t raise up his kids properly, that perhaps his fear of the LORD God was just an unhealthy fear, that perhaps the LORD God wanted to lead him to higher perfection, that perhaps he could be an precursor of the Lord Jesus Christ a his substitute sacrifice, or that in the end it is a judgement over Job. It doesn’t make much sense to deal with these reasons more in detail. First of all, the author did himself very well, and moreover it seems to me that most of the ideas have something common with the theories provided by Jobs friends in the Book of Job itself.
Let me just stop for a paragraph, that Job was a precursor of the substitute sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. This idea the author found in the study notes of the Czech Ecumenical translation and refused it briskly in one of its half-page chapters closing that it is just another “ornate religious rubbish”. Even though I generally agree, that the parallel is rather strained and it is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible (neither in the Book of Job itself or in the New Testament), still I would say, that the author was a little bit too fast in renunciation of this idea. Obviously the explaining the Book of Job by this theory of the substitute sacrifice suffers from the same problem as the LORD God playing gamble with Satan (see above): nobody asked Job whether he wants to be sacrificed (nobody even explained him that he is being sacrificed for the larger good). On the other hand we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ went to his death willingly and I would think that at least with some thoughts that his death will bring salvation to humanity. So this theory doesn’t lead to love-driven sacrifice but it looks very much like an useless waste of human life. On the other hand, the situation of the just human who because of his suffering gets the power (or authority) to save by his intercession others who violated him, seems to me legitimately giving some possible parallels to the situation of the Lord Jesus Christ. How does it relate to the strange sacrifices on behalf of Job’s children from Job 1:5 I don’t know as well, but to brush the idea in few (specifically five) sentences as rubbish seems to me a bit hasty.
So the result of the first part of the book is that the author gets to the conclusion that we really don’t know (perhaps we even cannot know?) reason, why Job suffered the experience he got into. In the same time we can see from the whole story that Job accepted the reply to his situation, that there was some specific reply to be accepted, and so in the end the Book of Job leaves us instead of simple answer with an encouragement to search for the answer from the LORD God when we get into similarly murky situation and that we should look for the answer in meeting with Him. In this context I always think about Psalm 73. Psalmist stands in it in the similar situation as Job: how come that he in his justice and effort to achieve holiness experiences just suffering (“For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.”), whereas the wicked lives in comfort and peace? Psalm actually doesn’t give unequivocal answer but suddenly in the verses 16 and 17 he claims: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, // until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” After this meeting with the LORD God suddenly remaining part of the psalm changes into the hymn of praise of the God’s justice and goodness.