JAMES CROOKS offers a philosophical reading of the Book of Job which he regards as a work of dramatic irony, “because it is the irony of life itself”. So, for instance, when the three friends set out by means of human reason to restore Job, instead their arguments become “the vessel of despair, of unforgiving condemnation, of rage”. Human reason does not reduce suffering.
In contrast, ironically, Job’s bitter discourses move from nihilistic despair, through faith, to a genuine intimacy with God. Nothing will make him abandon his integrity. But the question remains: can suffering be reconciled with a world that is welcoming and loving?
Crooks sees the friends at their best in their silence at their discovery of Job’s plight, which incident, he holds, bears the weight of the entire text. Indeed, silence frames the narrative, which concludes with Job’s recognition that, in the face of God’s whirlwind, there is nothing left to say. He recognises that a moral explanation for his situation cannot be given, thereby discovering “the truth of nature, of existence itself”.
At the core of the author’s thesis lies Spinoza’s concept of conatus, the endurance of living beings to make every effort to go on living without any belief in a better future. In this sense, the enduring sufferer is the model of humanity. It is the power simply to endure which Job exhibits by his patience: his journey affirms the primacy of conatus.
After examining each section of the Book, Crooks argues that what Job comes to in the end in terms of “things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” is the love of God — “the highest possible contentment of mind”. But the question remains: “Where do we see God’s love?” Turning again to Spinoza, Crooks concludes that the love of God flows out of human individuals, out of “the human mind”.
This author’s work results in an innovative understanding of this much-written-about text that still challenges the fundamentals of human existence. As Crooks puts it, “the Book of Job is best read as a careful description of how we find ourselves put to the test.”
Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.
We Find Ourselves Put to the Test: A reading of the Book of Job
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