Content warning: descriptions of physical and emotional abuse towards a child.
I was inspired to re-read the Book of Job after reading a minjung theologian’s unique interpretation of the meaning of God appearing in the whirlwind. I remembered that, growing up, Job was one of my favorite books in the Bible — likely because of the fantastical creatures mentioned. But as I read Job with new eyes, I was struck — and rather disturbed by — some of the language God uses to justify certain actions. I wanted to tease out why the language was bothering me. So I decided to reimagine the conversation between Job and God at the end of the book as a conversation between a child and her abusive father. Each and every quotation below is directly from the Book of Job’s text. While I am sure some might read this as idle sacrilege, I believe that sometimes sacrilege helps us see through more faithful eyes.
The Child cried out in pain, “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces? Are you not ashamed to wrong me? Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered.”
The Father’s face reddened with fury at the little one’s insolence. “Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together! Up on your feet! Stand tall! Now what do you have to say for yourself?” He sneered, saying, “Are you going to haul me into court and press charges?”
His sudden outburst terrified the Child. She quickly began to apologize, afraid of provoking her Father to more violence. “I should never have opened my mouth!” she exclaimed. “I’ve talked too much, way too much. I’m ready to shut up and listen.”
“Do you presume to tell me what I’m doing wrong?” her Father shrieked. “Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?
He raised his hand. “Do you have an arm like my arm?”
The Child flinched, causing him to laugh in disgust at her.
“Go ahead, show your stuff,” he finished, satisfied he had put her back in her place. “Let’s see what you’re made of, what you can do.”
The Child, however, knew she was once again trapped. Deflated, discouraged, and afraid, she backpedaled. “You are right,” she said quietly. “You can do anything and everything.”
She continued: “I was the one at fault. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’” She began to cry. “I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!”
He laughed. He knew he had once again won.
3 thoughts on “Job, Reimagined”
There are some very real conflicts regarding the idea of a completely just and loving God and some of the biblical texts. This passage and the entire book of Job must be fiction. One of the dilemmas that Christians must face is the dilemma of an all-knowing being placing know-nothing beings in such overwhelming circumstances and punishing us for reacting as he created us to react. You’re absolutely right to use this allegory. The response shouldn’t be charges of blasphemy. The response should be “how do we reconcile the idea of a just and loving God with very clear images of callous abuse?”
I read the bible for the first time after I had lost everything due to a disabling illness. My disability is “invisible”, so people are able to dispose of me without being frowned upon. And have they ever. I felt an affinity with Job. No, my losses were not as profound, but they were/are a far cry closer to his losses than most of the Christians with whom I sought solace. These people were Job’s friends. And for me, God is the heartless God who’s playing puppet master with my life. Has he actually been intervening and stopping my life from getting even worse than it has? I have no idea. All I know is the utterly unrelenting pain and anguish. I don’t care about Jesus’ love anymore. It isn’t tangible enough. I long for human love and compassion. I’m human. I’m God’s creation. He created me with this need and he’s put in motion the processes that caused me to lose it all.
“The patience of Job”. What an inaccurate concept. Patience is a choice to endure. Job had no choice. Ok, so he didn’t swear at God. But the entire story centers around his anguish over his losses, his desire for his life to get better, and his confusion about why God would allow those things to happen in his life. Even God says that Job did nothing to deserve his suffering. His allowing Satan to torment Job was to prove a point to Satan. Why? Why should God care what Satan thinks? Shouldn’t God be above this? It was needless suffering. At the end of the story. we’re simply treated with a God who doesn’t tell him why. He simply insults Job for being the ignorant creature of God’s own design.
Often in life we read stories of people who persevered in the direst of circumstances. These are extraordinary people. The definition of extraordinary tells us that they’re different than most. Yet people point to them and tell others that they too can win just like that. This simply isn’t true. Not everyone is endowed with extra-human strength physically, intellectually, or emotionally. Similarly, Christians should not abuse suffering people by insisting that they have “the patience of Job”. If these people are Job’s friends, is God the cruel monster of Job as well?
The parent you put in God’s place is not a loving parent. The God of Job must be reconciled with the God who claims to be love defined. The omniscient being described in the bible should be far above the petty being described in Job. He shouldn’t respond in spite and degradation as we little humans do. The book of Job must be understood as fiction that’s simply attempting to explain that we don’t understand how or why God does the things he does.
Christians need to do a better job at understanding God before they can effectively proselytize. They need to resolve the conflicts. They tell us that God is sovereign. God is in control of our lives. Nothing happens without his approval. But when bad things happen to us; when we’re destroyed by people who violate the very things that God claims to love, we’re told that Satan is responsible. I lost my health, then I lost my family to greed and adultery. I tried to save my marriage and family, yet the people who won were the greedy adulterers. I fought for against what God claims to hate. They prosper and I suffer one step away from homelessness. Christians then tell me of the book of Job; how Job was rewarded with even greater riches than he had before. They assure me that passages in the New Testament imply that God will do the same for me. I know the bible tells us no such thing. It only promises a place in heaven. Our lives on earth may be an unrelenting hell. Mine is. And I hate the monster who gave me no choice about my being here and suffering as I do. The inability of Christians to resolve these conflicts leads them to turn their backs on me and others like me. It impedes non-believers from coming to God because they can clearly see the erroneous claims that Christians offer.
I was his for the bulk of my many years, but I’m his no longer. I still hold out hope, but he has to come to me and no, yet more pain isn’t going to cut it. And believe it or not, I’ve even had Christians respond that why should God care about losing me? This was after they’ve tried to convince me that God DOES love me and he DOES want me. I believe. I just don’t love him or want him anymore.
I totally agree. And maybe even more importantly, “How do we do that reconciliation in a way that doesn’t just cause cognitive dissonance? Is that possible?”
I think it’s possible; it just isn’t simple. People tend to want to make the entire bible about us when it isn’t. People read Paul telling us that all scripture is for our benefit, and they conclude that God is speaking to all of us all the time. For example, I’ve heard pastors and followers alike telling us that “we’re all as filthy rags” because these people believe that Isaiah was talking about all of us. They conclude that NO ONE is considered righteous in the eyes of God. There is NO ONE who can do good. This is not true. Isaiah was speaking specifically to apostate Jerusalem. There were many men in the bible whom God viewed as good men. But good does not equal perfect.
The bible speaks to different people. Perhaps the book of Job was meant for the audience of the time. This was a time of stonings, slavery, and capital punishment for relatively minor offenses. It was a much harsher time and the Jews rebelled against God flagrantly even though they were given overt signs of his existence, power, and help. I don’t think people really understood the fullness of his power and superiority. They questioned him. They questioned their need for him. He had to let them know how vastly inferior people were to him. People needed to FEAR God if they were to obey him. They needed very clear laws as a way to establish order that would persist for generations. By the time Christ came, they were ready for a shift in gears. Paul still needed to instill a sense of order for the previously disordered Gentile communities, but people were ready to transition away from the micromanagement of the old laws.
Another example of people not understanding what the bible is saying is when they conclude that since Paul didn’t allow women to teach, we shouldn’t either. Paul very clearly said that HE doesn’t allow women to teach. Given that at the time, women were probably not educated like men, this may have been understandable, but it doesn’t even matter: Paul didn’t say that Jesus told him women should teach. It was simply a decision that Paul made for himself.
And don’t get me started on the idea that we don’t need to do good works to get to heaven!
Just thoughts off the top of my head . . .