The Ark of Hardships

A Man Named Job/3 The suffering of the innocent seen and understood as the start of resurrection

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/03/2015

logo Giobbe"Stunned, Job turns to God and says: »Master of the universe, can it not be that a storm has raged in front of you and made you confuse Iyov (Job) with Oyév (the enemy)?« Strange as it may seem, of all the questions asked by Job, this is the only one to deserve an answer."

(Elie Wiesel, Biblical characters through the Midrash).

The highest and truest words rising from the earth are those of the poor, whose wounded flesh contains a truth that the treaties of the professors cannot know. It is the truth of Job that gives strength to what he says even if it is cursing and swearing. His big unanswered questions are much more convincing and true than the answers of the experts of his time and ours - that come without big questions. Today, if we were able to listen to the questions - often mute ones - of the poor who are wounded by life and our structures of sin, we may have some glimmer of light to illuminate the many crises of our time that we will not understand until we re-learn to read the words etched into the skin of the victims.

After the prologue, with chapter three we enter the heart of Job's poem, built around his dialogues with friends, with himself, with life, with God. “Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept...” (2,11-12). Everything suggests that they are true friends: they learn of his misfortune, they come to visit him, they sit and cry with him. Friends who did not recognize him from a distance, because Job, for all the pains he was suffering, was becoming other, too far from the first Job, and from them.

It is Job who speaks first. He curses life with shocking and scandalous words: "Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said,‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. (...) Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?” (3,3-4; 11-12) The misfortune he is just going through makes him look back and curse his origin. Then he makes them yearn for the end, want to be free and reach the realm of the dead finally, where “...the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master” (3,18 -19). The patriarchs of Genesis had come to death full of days'; Job who is full of pain, only longs for death.

Job's friends are shocked and become scared of his words. And so the first of the friends, Eliphaz, breaks the seven days of silence and mourning, and takes the floor: “Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.” (4,3-5). Eliphaz seems to scold Job for a lack of moral integrity. Job was a powerful master, he had comforted and helped other people who were in a situation similar to that in which he crashed; but now he cannot make use of the moral resources that he had donated for years to others for himself.

The ethical principles and values ​​on which we built our morale in times of prosperity and that we had shared in conferences or written in books are of little help to us when we fall into a real misfortune. The mighty wind of misfortune sweeps away not only his goods, children and health, but also the moral certainties of yesterday. Herein lies the difficulty of the big and real tests of life. The night envelops everything, and the soul is not in possession of either the vocabulary or the grammar to write sentences of life. The words of the times of joy and certainty now appear as a lie, as deception, not truth. Until we reach this absolute poverty, we are still in the land of the rich. But it is from this radical disappointment that a new life can start that is all different and certainly truer. The masters of spiritual life know that it at the culmination of this night (which can last for decades) that the real spiritual life can begin, of which the times of the gift of light and were only the waiting room where we had played with toys, and with some small idols. But Job does not know all this, he cannot and does not need to know - and we must be ignorant like him, if we follow him in his radical experience, and try to be reborn.

No wonder then that the logic of the (nice) speech of Eliphaz, albeit containing many truths of the best ethics of the time (the virtuous life leads, sooner or later, to happiness), is of no consolation to Job. And so, after repeating the depth of the abyss in which he has sunken, Job begins a bitter and beautiful reflection on friendship and loneliness of existence: “My brothers (i.e.: friends) are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away, which are dark with ice, and where the snow hides itself. When they melt, they disappear; when it is hot, they vanish from their place” (6,14-19). Friends vanish in times of trouble. We look for them, and as a caravan that leaves the beaten track in the desert in search of the oases that once were full of fresh water, we go to them burned by the thirst of pain and loneliness, but after the long course we find only empty riverbeds full of stones (6,19-22).

We are alone in the great crossings of life; among those turbulent waters no company can support us and comfort us. Not even the dearest hand that would grab ours in the last ford of life can follow us until the end of the fight, when, left with only our own hand, we will be begging for final blessing.

Job continues his battle with life. He does not stop trying and asking for new reasons after the death of the old ones. From these early dialogues there emerges a Job who is strong in his extreme weakness. He no longer sees the coordinates of the way, he is lost. In his words, however, there is a power of a truth that is absent in those of his learned interlocutors. His is the wisdom of those who experience misfortune on their own skin, concretely, a “competence” that is unique and cannot be passed on, that no expert outside of the experience can have.

The strength of Job is his status of victim, which gives truth to the words he says. It is his wounded flesh that gives strength to his word. The flesh that is made word.

The flood of Genesis had deleted the order of creation, confused light and darkness, water and land again; the flood that hit the life of Job deleted all ethical order and turned his cosmos in a chaos. Job was righteous like Noah, but while Noah was saved by Elohim, Job is the victim of the big waters. Submerged and inundated by an unfair flooding, he does not see the light, harmony, happiness, beauty and order of life. And he curses it, in a song of radical and outrageous curses, but he never gets to the point of cursing God (even if he is at the verge of doing do).

But if we read his poem with the 'wisdom of the scriptures', we can make an amazing discovery: his song of curse is also the building up of a new and different ark of salvation. Those boarding the ark of Job are not his children and animals, but all the desperate, the disconsolate, the depressed, the abandoned, the fallen, the excommunicated, all inconsolable and unconsoled victims of history. That is how the Bible loves us and saves us, paradoxically and really. Just as great poetry and great literature redeem and save us like they did to the Prince Myshkin, Cosette and Jean Valjean, the “wandering shepherd in Asia” (in a famous poem by Italian poet Leopardi), as they reach them, meet them and inhabit their misfortune.

The “resurrection” of these miserable characters comes when we see, describe and love their suffering. If it weren't so our poems, art and literary masterpieces would only be fiction, and they wouldn't contain any truth or salvation. However it is not so, we know and feel it every day, when we are in great pain and in the midst of the misfortunes of life and we are still loved by poets and by the scriptures that lend their psalms and their words to us to accompany our muted nights. And they accompany and love us even when we cannot read either poems or the Bible, because we do not understand them, we never learned, or forgot how to read.

The author of the Book of Job has included all the defeated and all the desperate in the book of life and God only because he pronounced their very words, too. Resurrection is in the passion, the abandoned one has already risen. And this is where we find what is not vain hope: that in history, in this endless procession of the suffering innocent, a mysterious but real type of justice may be included.

We can all enter Job's ark. The rainbow of the covenant extends over us to colour the whole sky and the earth.


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