One of the most curious thing about many readings of Job is that there is actually very little focus upon the way in which Job ends, that is, he gets back all his stuff, everything is restored with an additional bounty besides.
It seems that most people who talk about Job would either focus upon Job’s philosophic stoic acceptance of the will of God (the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord), or they would focus upon Job’s holding on to his authentic integrity and calling upon God to answer for his calamities. Is there not much for us to marvel in these two responses? Is there not much to admire in the firm and calm stoic acceptance of one’s calamities, unmoved by the storms of external disaster? Or is there not something wonderfully heroic about Job’s refusal to accept his calamities as a matter of divine judgement or reason, revolting against the rationalisations of his comforters and protesting his integrity and honesty, and for daring to call God to account for the meaning of his calamities? Is there not something romantically authentic, “true to himself”, about the act?
For God to simply restore Job’s fortunes after such grand philosophical exhibitions seems to us so anti-climatic, even repulsive and revolting. Can God simply annul profundity with mere goods and gold?
The stoic error is the one which is the one more frequently pointed out. In refusing to speak or call upon God to account for the meaning of his calamities, one fundamentally treats God as a cold and impersonal blind “Fate” or “Force” in the universe whom one cannot engage, it is a behaviour on par to the villager in the face of an impersonal tsunami or volcano, simply shrugs his resigned shoulders in response to such a “blind forces” and simply accept it as it is. In the stoic acceptance of one’s calamities, one does not honour God but dishonour him instead by treating him as a mere wooden force to whom to argue with would be as pointless as shaking one’s fist against the waves. In effect, one has simply despaired of the grace and mercy of God, and no longer believes in a God who does care and love us as individual subjects, concerned about our pains and sufferings.
But even Job’s stoic acceptance had it limits. When his three friends tried to place the meaning of his calamities surely upon Job’s shoulders, Job refuses to accept the blame and refused to accept responsibility for the calamities. In this, he preserves his “integrity” and gave glory to God whom he rightly attributes for his calamities. If anything, this is perhaps one of the most succinct refutations of the freewill theodicy, the buck for every evil cannot be so conveniently passed unto the sinner, Job refused to rob God of his glory for having permitted/enacted the calamities. God is the one who did it, and in refusing to take the blame, Job gave glory to God, his calamities are rightly “acts of God”, and in the language of insurance, “acts of God” are precisely those which are without any reason or cause, especially not that of the sin of Job.
Refusing to accept that the blame or reason for his calamities lies upon his own shoulders, and that it is God’s act alone, Job cries out against God and demands an answer for his sufferings and his calamities. There is much to admire in this passionate, philosophical and existential cry. Is there not something “authentic”, “real”, and “honest” in the revolt of Job? Is there not even something to the point of the heroic and courageous, in his attempt to call the Almighty to account?
But herein lies the even great danger. The cry for an answer becomes a mere dramatic performance, a posturing which threatens to become a romantic tragic attempt at self-redemption. It threatens to become as much an act of despair as the “stoic” response, despairing that God will not or cannot answer, the “romantic” Job attempts to redeem his place in an indifferent cosmos with his passionate laments and cries, which dramatic performance and philosophic complaint becomes for us a catharsis and a tear-jerker and stirrer of impassionate subjective emotions in the face of a hostile world. In this, the passionate cry to God becomes sealed in unto itself; its cry ceases to be an outward self-negating looking towards God and his answer, and collapses from a dialogue into a mere staged monologue. Job becomes that familiar Christian joke about how a person in the middle of prayer, who upon hearing God reply, shushes the voice and cries, “Be quiet God! I’m praying.”
But suddenly God actually answers. What if God bursts into the middle of our dramatic prayer and answer saying, I have heard your lament, I will answer your pleas, I will heal your wounds, you shall be whole once again. All that you have lost, I will restore, the memory of your sufferings, you will remember no more, all is as it shall be, and even more!
Suddenly a crisis grips our heart, are we prepared to allow our “authentic” laments and pleas to simply be annulled just like that? Shall our pains and sufferings which has so deeply entwined into our heart, be ripped out and forgotten upon a divine fiat? Shall such philosophical profundity vanish through such a simple “bribe”? Shall such a “meaningful” act and performance be nihilised that way?
But herein the human pride in its philosophical wisdom or artistic performance confronts the Biblical truth. “Let God be true, but every man a liar!” The “honesty” and “authenticity” of man, no matter its depth, its grandeur, its value and worth before man, crumbles in the face of this divine judgement. Lies, all lies! The authenticity of man is a fake, the honesty of Job is a lie, for all things are in the command of Him who can alter the facts, remove the cause and basis for our laments and cries. He alone is true, and to him belongs all honour, glory, power and dominion!
Let the cry of Job be an act of faith, which looks to its God, which seeks the divine redemption, which gladly forsakes its “romantic” authenticity for joy of the divine voice, who would join the prophets and apostles who cries, “Where is thy sting O death? Where is thy victory?” And this Job does, who repents in dust and ashes, who renounces his passion and “authenticity”, and chooses the truth of the living God, who is both able and willing to hear our cries, to heal our wounds and annul all evil.
Ever man from the fall of Adam unto the end of the world, shall ever choose the “lie” of Job over the truth of God, the romantic righteousness and integrity of man over the divine righteousness of God. This is why we persistently evade the final conclusion of Job, this is why philosophers have taken offense at the ending of Job, which seems to them to “buy off” the authenticity of Job with a few cattle and children.
Yet, blessed is he who is not offended! Therein lies the secret of Job, not in the stoic acceptance nor in the romantic performance, but in God’s answer and redemption which reveals him as the living God, and in Job’s glad reception of his salvation, lies the seed of the Christian faith, which looks to the new heavens and new earth, when every tear shall be wiped, every sorrow redeemed, creation restored, evil annulled, and when we shall remember no more the pains and sufferings of this world…