Language: ENGLISH

There Is No Curse in the Meeting

A Man Named Job/16 - As long as we are able to ask questions we are free, even with God

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/06/2015

logo GiobbeI returned to Job, because I cannot live without him, because I feel that my time, like all times, is that of Job; and that can only be left unnoticed because of a lack of consciousness or because of illusion.

David Maria Turoldo, Da una casa di fango – Job (From a Mud House – Job)

It is not uncommon that the poor are so deprived of their dignity that they are not even asked why they are poor. We tend to convince them that the fault lies not in our lack of answers but in their questions that are wrong, cheeky, arrogant and sinful. The ideology of the ruling class convinces victims that seeking reasons for their misery and for the wealth of others is illegal, immoral, perhaps even irreligious.

When the poor, or those who give them a voice stop to ask themselves, others or God the true and radical questions that arise from their objective and concrete conditions, when they are silent or formulate their questions in a more gentle and harmless way, their slavery starts to become irreversible. We can always hope to free ourselves or someone from a trap of material, moral, relational or spiritual poverty, as long as we continue to ask ourselves and others: 'Why?'.

After Elohim beautifully described animals and sea monsters from inside the storm, silencing it with the spectacle of his omniscience and omnipotence, "...Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know’." (Job 42,1-3)

How to interpret these words? God did not tell him anything about the reason for the unjust suffering of the innocent and the wrong well-being of the villains - these were the real questions that Job expected to get answers for during his incredible process against God. He was looking for a new justice and Elohim answered him with an abstract speech that was too similar to those of his ‘friends’ who had humiliated and hurt him in the first part of his book. How is it, then, at the end of his endless waiting, that Job feels his hunger and thirst for justice satisfied by the non-answers of Elohim, and that he even admits to having made the wrong questions ("I have uttered what I did not understand")? No, this Job cannot be the one we knew: fighting like a lion in his plaint against God. How and where can we find coherence between the earlier and the latter Job?

Every now and then something sublime happens in the life of writers, when the character of their book becomes bigger than the author who is their creator. They slip out of the author's hand, begin to live their own life, to grow until they get to pronounce words and to discover the truth that the author himself did not think or know. The author becomes a student of his character. What occurs here may well be called ecstasy, and it is there in every genuine work of literature - and if a writer has never experienced it then he has simply stopped in the antechamber of literature - but the really great authors are moved by their writerly transcendence into their characters to produce masterpieces. It is however necessary for the author to have the spiritual strength to die many times in order to be reborn every time in a different way, and to keep his work up without succumbing to the temptation to own and control his 'creatures', preventing them from growing in their freedom and diversity. These are the literary experiences (or artistic ones, in general) that make true literature and art not only fiction but the discovery of the more real things. If it were not so, novels and short stories would only be projections of their authors, writings about what was already there anyway. Instead, it is thanks to this transcendent capacity of the writers - that is charis, gift after all - that Edmond Dantes, Fra' Cristoforo, Zosima, Pietro Spina, Katyusha Maslova are more real than the people we meet in our street, and they love us just like and even more than our friends, our mothers or our children. Writers make the world more beautiful by populating it with real creatures that are truer and larger than they themselves.

I think that something probably happened to the distant and unnamed author of the Book of Job. And that's how the masterpiece was born, which is perhaps the greatest in all the Bible. When the ancient writer of this book - or maybe, we cannot know, a community of wise men - began to write this poem, they could not know that Job would come to actually ask those radical and revolutionary questions to God and to life. Job has grown immensely along his drama, and the moral grandeur of his cry has far outstripped the theology and the wisdom of his author. So this writer after following Job to the highest peaks, after having made him speak even when he himself did not understand what he said and asked nor would he have ever dared to think and write - perhaps he has actually had the experience of not having a God (theology) available that could really interact with Job. Elohim did not grow during his part of the poem - also because the growth of God on this earth can only take place parallel with the growth of man. So when he found himself having to finally give the word to God, he heard the huge gap between Job who has grown throughout the book and God who was still unchanged inside. For this reason it is plausible and fascinating to think - along with some commentators - that the first draft of the book ended with Chapter 31 ("The words of Job are ended" 40b), without Elihu and with no response by Elohim.

But we can try to attribute these latter difficult and uncomfortable chapters to the same author by daring to make another interpretation, the key to which is contained in the Prologue of the book (chs 1-2), in the bet between Satan and Elohim on the nature of Job's righteousness. The book opened with Satan challenging God to test Job to see if he was righteous out of interest or for his sheer gratuitous love of God, to see whether having to face the destruction of all his possessions and his own body would stop him blessing God and start cursing him.

Job begins his test, he resists until the end clinging to a single hope: to be able to see God appear in the dock. At the end of his song and his test, God enters. However he does not sit in the courtroom; he does not answer the questions of Job and silences him with his omnipotence.

It is perhaps at this time that Job comes to the culmination of his trial. In the name of his God-of-the-not-yet awaited who had not appeared yet, Job could condemn and curse the God who had arrived. And so Satan would win the challenge. However, even though Job does not find the God he has waited and hoped for, he continues to bless Elohim: "Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you! Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42,4-6)

Job passes the last temptation and God wins his bet against Satan. He does not curse the God who did not respond to his questions and did not show himself capable of taking the most difficult and most real why-s of man and the innocent poor seriously. Job can finally see God, but actually he sees him again, as he sees the God whom he had already known in his youth; he does not see that new and different face he had yearned for. The Goel, the guarantor whom he had desperately prayed did not arrive; God did not show another, still unknown face of his.

But now Job does not rebel anymore: he surrenders. As long as he was still waiting, when he could and had to ask everything in the hope that a different God would come, he could have protested and complained about God without cursing him. And he did it, too. Now that the waiting was over and God spoke: if Job had continued his protest it would have necessarily become blasphemy. Only a God who has not yet revealed himself could accommodate the desecrating cries of Job, not the God that has finally arrived. If Job had repeated the complaints and accusations that he had turned to the God-who-is-awaited to the God-who-has-arrived, these would have only been malediction.

Job spoke and shouted to a face of God other than Elohim, and not having managed he found himself faced with a single dramatic choice: curse or unconditional surrender. And he chose to give in.

There are some decisive moments in life when the crossroads of ‘curse-or-yield’ occurs in all its drama. For many, death comes in the form of this dramatic crossroads. When after a long struggle, having finished all one's own energy, that of the family and that of medicine, the day finally comes when we understand that we still have a final choice between two possibilities: the one suggested by the wife of Job ("Curse God and die": 2.9) or docile surrender. And even in this last choice it is very likely that the angel of God who comes is not what we expected, that the life that is ending has not answered the big questions that we have been making from the first day of our childhood. And it is also in that time that we will have to decide whether to die meek or angry, blessing or cursing.

But the crossroads between surrender and cursing arises regularly also in the important relationships in our lives, when facing the disappointment in our child or a friend of ours who give us answers that are less than expected and not what they should have given us, instead of cursing them and losing them we choose to give in and bless all as it appears, accepting the disappointment to save the trust-faith in that relationship. And maybe from this time our ‘personality’ can begin to surprise us.

Jacob got the blessing from the angel of Elohim along with his hip injury, in the great struggle at the bed of the River Yabbok (Genesis 32). Job, in the ford of his river of suffering, is wounded by Elohim yet he is the one to bless him. The God of Jacob wounds and blesses, that of Job wounds and is blessed. And thanks to Job - and the author of his book - the earth and sky meet again in a new reciprocity, where even Elohim can be revealed as someone in need of our blessing.


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