Thursday, February 4, 2010

152: The Bible Goes Off the Deep End

Job 1-4
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away - Common paraphrase of Job 1:21 (though that's not actually what it says in any version of the bible)

It's the moment you've all (or at least I've) been waiting for. The book of Job! I'll admit that I at least know a little bit of the story line of this book, and from what I've heard it's ridiculously crazy. But I'll do my best to reserve judgment till I read it.

Job was the "greatest man among the people of the East". He had seven sons, three daughters, thousands of animals, including sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. Every morning he would sacrifice an animal for each of his children, just in case they had sinned the previous day. The bible says Job was "blameless and upright". I think it's safe to say this is the most sinless guy in the bible so far.

This is where the bible goes into crazy land. One day, the angels all go to visit God. Satan is among them. God brags to Satan about how wonderful his servant Job is; how he fears God and shuns evil. Satan retorts, saying that Job only worships God because he has a bunch of land. Satan contends that if Job were stripped of all his belongings, Job wouldn't worship God.

I'm going to make a reasonable prediction here. I predict, under the hypothesis that God is all knowing and all loving, that God is going to tell Satan to go screw himself and never come back. God should know the motives behind Job's worship, and what Job would do if God did, for some reason, take away all of his belongings.

What actually happens is that God says (to Satan) "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." What?! God just told Satan to "have at it" on his most loyal servant? What's the motive? Why would God ever want to do this? The only thing God has to gain from this situation is proving Satan wrong. God presumably already knows what's going to happen. Is the God/Satan dynamic some sort of playground rivalry with human life as fodder? And I haven't even gotten to what Satan does with his new, God-approved, human plaything.

It's just another day in Job-land. His workers are in the fields plowing and his children are feasting in one of their houses. Suddenly, one of his servants runs up to him and says that all of his donkeys and oxen have been killed, along with all of the servants attending them, by a band of marauders. Only the servant telling him the story survived the attack. Before the servant can finish, another servant runs up to him and says that all of his sheep have been burned up by the fire of God, along with all of the servants attending them. Again, this is the only servant that survived.

The story repeats again, with another one of his servants telling him that another band of marauders has killed his camels and the servants attending them. Still a fourth messenger arrives, bringing news that the house containing his children has collapsed, killing all of them.

Through all of this, Job only says "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away". The bible exalts Job for not blaming God for his afflictions. Even though, in this case, God is to blame. In fact, God is the only person in this situation that isn't blameless. Satan is going to wreak havoc where ever he goes (especially if God tells him it's ok), so it's not really his fault. And Job certainly didn't do anything. God is acting like a 12 year old.

Ok, Job has been afflicted. God should be satisfied that he's proven Satan wrong, Job doesn't need to be punished (for no reason) any more... I'm so naive.

Satan comes back to God and God says "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." God himself admits, that Satan talked him into destroying Job's family for no reason!

Satan then says "Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." God doesn't hesitate in agreeing! Are you kidding me?

Satan goes down to Job and gives him sores all over his body. Job's wife says the first intelligent thing in the book of Job "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" God fully deserves being cursed at this point. This idiot-God of the book of Job represents none of the qualities that I've ever heard about God. All loving: no. All knowing: no. All powerful: not if Satan can so easily toy with his mind.

Three of Job's friends come to comfort him. It seems that the rest of this book is a dialogue between the four of them. We get the first couple of pages of dialogue in today's section. Job essentially asks why people who wish for death aren't grated it, and how he wishes he'd never been born. One of his friends begins to respond but is cut off by the end of this section, so to be continued tomorrow.

Summary of today's section if that was to long for you to read: What the fuck God?

*News*
New fitness regimen, based on the bible? Jerry Anderson has apparently written a new book called "7 Ways God Made It Simple to Take Care of Your Temple". In an unrelated story, Pat Robertson claimed to leg press two thousand pounds.

How do these two stories relate? This same personal trainer that wrote that silly book tried to test Pat Robertson's 2000 pound claim:



As a side note, I think with the combination of this story and his New Year's Eve show, Anderson Cooper is my favorite news reporter. Favorite quote of the video from Anderson Cooper "For the record, Madeline Albright says she can leg press 400 pounds. And as for me, I have no muscles".

(via The Daily Breeze)

5 comments:

  1. When I first read Job, my impression was pretty much the same thing. And by the time I got to the end I smelled at least 3 different authors having their hands in this story (or at least 3 different tones / versions).

    The ending does not impress me at all. It reads like it was just slapped on the end to tidy things up quick -- as Sideshow Bob might describe, "so formulaic it could've spewed from the powerbook of the laziest hollywood hack!"

    That being said, why do you think the story has been left as is? What do you think is the point then?

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  2. It reads like it was just slapped on the end to tidy things up quick

    That's charitable. To me it reads like it was crafted carefully to make sure that the story emphasized that God was Just and not just capricious.

    That being said, why do you think the story has been left as is?

    As you say, Job clearly shows the hands of multiple authors. As far as my opinions: The central part - the part that is probably the original text - is an answer to the question of "why do bad things happen to good people." The author of Job excoriates priests and "righteous people" who are blaming the victims for the bad things that have happened to them. At the end of the book (before the tacked on ending) God gives his monologue where he rips righteously into smug, self-righteous twits who are blaming Job instead of putting the blame/credit where it belongs - square on God's own shoulders. And the answer to the question of "why do bad things happen to good people" boils down to God saying "I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do and you don't have the power to stop me. So when you see someone who's down on their luck don't act all self-righteous and smug about it - that could be you just as easily if God decides to smack you around instead."

    The later author(s) clearly didn't like the capriciousness of God evidenced in this book. So they try (unsuccessfully in my mind) to slough some of the blame off onto his angel Satan. They also try to fix the problem of God looking capricious and unjust by making sure that Job gets everything back that God had taken away (except for his dead wife and kids, who get replaced instead of resurrected - that always bothered me as a kid). Again, that doesn't really work - God still looks like a capricious, unjust, arrogant monster. But that's because the original author portrayed God as a capricious, unjust, arrogant monster - the ancients didn't hew to our ideas that gods should be exemplars of "good" they were just supposed to be gods. As to why it was kept - well, if it was old enough and had been in circulation long enough when the canon was being compiled it might have been kept just for that very reason (Martin Luther, for example, really, really wanted to do away with some of the non-Paul letters in the Bible, James for example, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it because they had been part of the religion for so long. Possibly that's what happened with Job, even if it needed to be modified over the years to conform with evolving ideas of what "God" was supposed to be like).

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  3. Jer,

    Awesome. Absolutely.

    Even today there are tons of books spewed out on why bad things happen. And in some cases, with much better style and much more useful ideas for the modern age.

    I admit that this was a bit of a set up and I'm glad to see there is understanding out there. Job is a very important book, in my opinion. But, it has to be studied as ancient literature.

    As my tag suggests -- godwillbegod. There ain't a damn thing wecan do about it. There ain't a damn thing we can 'know' about a 'supernatural being' that tells us to worship by faith alone.

    But what we can do is stop trying to own god or make excuses for him, and just look out for one another. As you suggest, the self-righteousness and smug are just as likely to end up having no real ground on which to stand...

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  4. Anytime I hear anything about Job, I immediately think of this Lewis Black routine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpqcBu3tpsk

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  5. The book of Job always reminds me of the Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places. I expect God to pay a dollar to Satan when he finally breaks Job.

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