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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

She's Where She Needs To Be 3

Back to the ongoing saga about the hand of God in the Asian Tsunami, refer to William Safire's latest NYT colum entitled "Where Was God?"

In the aftermath of a cataclysm, with pictures of parents sobbing over dead infants driven into human consciousness around the globe, faith-shaking questions arise: Where was God? Why does a good and all-powerful deity permit such evil and grief to fall on so many thousands of innocents? What did these people do to deserve such suffering?

The biblical answer to this question, basically restated as "why do bad things happen to good people?" comes from, as Safire reminds us, the Book of Job. The story of Job brings us a bizarre form of reassurance. Although God, as demonstrated in much of the Old Testament, may bring down torments as punishment for trangression of the law, that is not necessarily the case.

No, you may comfort yourself in the knowledge that, even though you've done everything right, your misfortune may simply be the result of a sick and twisted celestial bet.

8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?

10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

To which God says "nu-uh!" and proceeds to let Satan visit every sort of misfortune on poor Job that is humanly imaginable. So therefore, the 150,00 dead people in southeast asia may have sinned against the Lord and thus brought their fate upon them, but it is also entirely likely that they drowned horribly because God had to prove a point.

Quite frankly, I don't know how the Book of Job ever made it into the canon. God does not come out well in the telling of it. Not only does he allow his loyal servant to be utterly f***'d in the ass by Satan on a bet (and what about Job's original wife and 7 sons and 3 daughters? The ones who were slain/raped/sold into slavery? Yeah Job gets 7 times 7 back in the end - but where's their reward?) but even more amazingly, the Lord cheats on the bet!

Satan's premise, that Job will renounce God if sufficiently pressed, nearly comes true. God has to make a personal appearance before Job and bellow at him from the whirlwind

4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

And it goes on for 4 more chapters, just to let Job know what's what.

God has to intervene to prevent Satan from winning the bet, basically yelling at Job "My reasons are not for you to understand! Just shut up and do what you're told!"

Safire seems to flat out misread the intention of the book. He elevates Job to some sort of modern hero. That Job somehow proves that one can question the will of the Lord, indict the Lord and still not blaspheme. But that's the absolute opposite meaning of the book!

The lesson of the book is that God is beyond your understanding, so don't try. Otherwise he just might appear and put the smackdown on you. No wonder God's reaction in that episode of Family Guy

[PRIEST] And God smote Job with boils from the soles of his feet to the tip of his crown...

[GOD] {embarassed} Man, I hate it when he tells this story!

Note: This is one of the few jewish references to the devil. I find the jewish conception of Satan to be interesting in that he is most definitely not the Manichean counter-weight to God that he is in Christianity. He is not the master of evil or pretender to the throne of heaven. He's a normal angel, part of the celestial panopoly under God's will. But he has a specific role. He's the tempter, he's the one who roots out imperfection in the universe. He is, essentially, God's quality control agent.


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