Who needs such friends?
Posted: 05 Oct 2010 @ 00:00
A superb study shows why Job’s comforters get it all wrong, says Anthony Phillips
Human Conciousness of God in the Book of Job: A theological and psychological commentary
T. & T. Clark £40
Church Times Bookshop £36
WHILE Boss recognises that the book of Job may be the product of more than one hand, he sees it as a “unified work of art”. It is a drama in which the reader is invited to participate, and in which it is possible not only to be enriched, but, like Job, changed.
Boss comments on the Masoretic text chapter by chapter, constantly illuminating the narrative with his shrewd insights and wealth of knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and their interpretation. It is a pity that length precluded the inclusion of his own translation of the text.
What is novel about this commentary is that Boss addresses not only the theological issues raised by Job’s situation, but also his psychological state as he encounters the different faces of God.
While in the Prologue (1-2) and Lamentation (3) Job meets God as nurturer, destroyer, and self-concealer, it is in the long Dialogue (4-31) with the three friends that Job gradually emerges from his despairing darkness. In his integrity, he refuses the temptation to accept their easy arguments, and thereby discovers his own worth. As Boss emphasises, the friends speak about God; Job speaks to God. And, throughout the Dialogue, God is still, for Job, the far-off object of his desire.
At the end of the Dialogue, Job recognises that he cannot find out by confrontation what God’s purpose for his suffering is. Yet, because he has held fast to his integrity and faith, God can break into his life, which is then transformed.
For Boss, the author of Job points to two kinds of wisdom: human wisdom that stands in awe of God and eschews evil, which Job already has; and divine wisdom, which is “a view of creation and the created things wider than we can encompass”. This is the mystery beyond our knowledge, which Job recognises from the speeches of God, “the ineffable Holy One”.
Rightly, Boss dismisses any idea that Job repents, which would make the book meaningless. What Job does is to turn away from his past life, “dust and ashes”, for something new. He had been wrong in whatever expectation he had about an encounter with God. But, unlike the friends, he had spoken what was right. While, as Boss points out, we never learn the purpose of Job’s suffering, Job does discover, through the Dialogue, a freedom to rise above the framework of his life.
In a brief conclusion that deserves further development, Boss argues that the book of Job is relevant to our condition today, in relation to economic processes, religion, and education. It rejects both the worship of wealth and a religiosity that knows it all. Job’s ethics are social. “Over religion which knows only personal salvation, and over an economic system that gives overriding precedence to the thrust of individuals against each other, the Book of Job stands in judgement.”
Any serious study of Job and the issues it raises cannot afford to ignore this superb study, which is applicable to all faiths. Indeed, the author of the book of Job, with his frequent borrowing of non-Hebrew words, may himself have sought to indicate the universal relevance of his work. Too many religions have “friends” whose simplistic theology prevents encounter with the life-changing divine wisdom.
Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of the King’s School, Canterbury.