Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eat, Drink and Be Merry (5/18/08)

We are celebrating our 225th anniversary by doing a number of things. One is plugging through the Bible in a year. You can follow along on my Bible and Jive blog. I have been using worship to emphasize a biblical text. We following the order of the TaNaKh and are into the Writings. This Sunday's focus was Ecclesiastes. We opened worship with The Byrds. Here is today's sermon:

Eat, Drink and Be Merry
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church

Trinity Sunday
May 18th, 2008

What’s it all about, Alfie?
The author of Ecclesiastes asked a similar question:
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
5The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
6The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Have you ever wondered?
Of course you have.
Some people don’t think it is good for you to get too philosophical. Perhaps they are right. I used to get philosophical before every final exam in college. Come, enter my brain. We will relive that college angst:
Oh what’s the difference?
I get an A, I get an F.
The sun rises and the sun goes down.

You need a job.

What’s the point?
It’s all vanity.
Chasing after the wind.
What do I gain from all the toil
At which I toil under the sun?
I’ll die. You’ll die, too.
Even the professor who created this stupid exam
Will be a corpse one day.
His flesh will slowly rot and turn to dust.
That’s actually a pleasant thought.
Yeah, but so will mine.
No one will remember I ever existed.
After all, how many 14th century English peasants can you recall?
How many Neanderthals do you remember?
We aren’t even sure of the existence of a species
Let alone an individual.
Supposedly Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.
I doubt it. We can’t even trust that!
If it wasn’t Solomon then it was someone
(we don’t remember) who wrote this:

The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ha! Joke’s on you buddy.
You aren’t even remembered,
And you wrote the book!
So who cares about this final exam?
It is dangerous to get too philosophical, we’re told.
Even if Mr. Solomon Anonymous was right,
Still we tell ourselves:

Never mind that Solomon. It is not your business.
Do your duty.

Maybe Solomon Anonymous is wrong.
Maybe there really is a Father up above
Looking down with love.
Counting all your sins, one by one
Judging, judging, judging,

You’ll get yours in the afterlife,
If not before…
You lazy student.

Who invented that theology, anyway?
The theology of a divine being who is always checking you out?
I bet it was a professor
Who likes to give exams.
What’s a better philosophy?
Reincarnation some say.
We go around and around.
I guess that offers variety.
Build up good karma.
I suppose that’s motivation enough.
Hope for a better turn next time.
But that just delays it, doesn’t it?
It is still the same thing again and again.
Solomon Anonymous thinks so:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Reincarnation, heaven and hell, going toward the Light
Who knows?
They say they know.
They are very certain about their books.
Maybe one of them is right. Who knows?
I just think they are avoiding the question.
Solomon Anonymous didn’t avoid it:

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth?

The only difference is that animals don’t have to take
This stupid exam that is supposed to mean something.
No one will remember that I ever took it,
Or that the professor ever gave it,
Or what it was even about.
Supposedly if we study and pass our little exams
We will be happier.
We will know about life and be able
to contribute to the good of the world,
So they say.
Solomon Anonymous had an answer for that too:

I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. 18For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

My sorrow increased when I registered for this class.
And what good of the world?
Good people suffer and mean people skip right through.
There is no justice; it is just luck.
Disasters, hatreds, pain—it happens to any, good or bad,
There is so much hurt. So much injury and pain.
So much anger. So meaningless and worthless.
And if we don’t hurt each other then Nature unleashes her fury.
And those who suffer…
Are they worse than you or I?
Did they deserve it?
Will you say the same if it happens to you?
Or do you think you are immune?
Solomon knew about that, too:

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

I really shouldn’t read Ecclesiastes before taking an exam.
I should just buck up and do it and be cool with it.
I should be philosophical tomorrow and do what I have to do today.
If all is vanity, all is vapor, then, why take it so seriously?
Maybe we should be lighthearted about it all.
Maybe that is the point Solomon Anonymous has been making:

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the partner whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

This is our portion in life.
This is what is.
What other choice is there?
We play the game.
We experience it.
We participate. Enjoy what we can.
Eat drink and find enjoyment in all the toil…
Maybe that’s what its all about.
Enough. I think I will just listen to the radio for a while:
(Play "Alfie")

Oh yeah, love. There is that.
Perhaps even exam-giving professors need love.
That’s enough.
Love is enough.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Following the Wind (5/11/08 Pentecost/Pluralism/Mother)

Following the Wind
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church

Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday
May 11th, 2008

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word,
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

 3:8, Dhammapada #100,
 Acts 2:1-
We have the makings of a perfect storm. On the horizon is a mighty wind.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. According to the legend of Acts, the Twelve were gathered in the upper room and the Holy Spirit landed upon them and they began speaking in all the languages of the known world so everyone could hear the gospel. The church has celebrated this as its "birthday."

Some Progressive Christians have taken this Sunday as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the world's faith traditions and celebrate Pluralism Sunday on Pentecost.
This is from the Pluralism Sunday website:

On Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008, churches around the world will dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion—and we can understand our own traditions better—through a greater awareness of the world’s religions.

This year the wind has shifted. Today is also Mother's Day. I have been thinking of how to tie these three together. I came up with some sermon titles. You always want to begin your sermon with a title, even if you change it. That is why more often than not, my sermon title doesn’t fit what I am talking about. After I have posted the title in the bulletin, I go in a different direction. Nevertheless, it is always good to start with a title. Here are some sermon titles for that perfect storm of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mother’s Day:

* Pluralistic Pentecostal Mothers
* Tongue-Speaking Inter-Faith Mom
* Mama Was a Holy Rollin’ Pluralist

I also thought up a title that the loyal opposition could use for this Sunday. To borrow a page from Danny DeVito:

* Throw (That Fiery Pluralistic) Momma From the Train.

As you can tell, I am fascinated by this combination of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mama.
Today we celebrate the “Bible-believin’, devil chasin’, on fire for Jesus” Mama whose passion is promoting understanding for diverse sacred paths.

We don’t often think to connect the fiery, spirit-filled, self-assured, passionate individual with religious tolerance and peace-making. Perhaps we should.

We can’t celebrate Mother’s Day without mentioning that Pentecostal Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe. I thank Sandra Garrett for telling me about Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward Howe is famous for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She did more than that. In 1870, she made a declaration for A Mother’s Day for Peace. This is from

Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

You tell me if there isn’t some Pentecostal fire in this speech:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

She wasn’t able to get this Mother’s Day for Peace recognized.

Mother’s Day as we know it, was officially recognized in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson. That story is interesting as well. Julia Ward Howe’s contemporary was a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis.

Anna Jarvis was an Appalachian homemaker. In 1858 Anna Jarvis began a crusade. She organized Mother’s Work Days (as if Mothers weren’t working enough) in order to improve sanitation. During the War Between the States she organized women to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Her daughter, who was also named Anna Jarvis, started her own crusade to start a memorial day for women. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 and in the church where her mother had taught Sunday School. Mother’s Day caught on and Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day in 1914.

Today Mother’s Day serves mostly commercial and sentimental purposes, and in many churches to shore up traditional gender roles. I don’t think Julia Ward Howe nor Anna Jarvis would be amused.

I don’t think we can celebrate Pentecost, Pluralism and Mother’s Day without mentioning Molly Ivins. Molly Ivins was filled with that Pentecostal fire for justice. She was a staunch advocate for the welfare of children, for the poor, and against war. My favorite quote from Molly Ivins is this one:

"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

As the bells rang today for breast cancer awareness, it is appropriate to remember Molly Ivins in that context as well. She died of breast cancer at the age of 62. She wrote this about her experience with breast cancer:

Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.

One of the first things you notice is that people treat you differently when they know you have it. The hushed tone in which they inquire, "How are you?" is unnerving. If I had answered honestly during 90% of the nine months I spent in treatment, I would have said, "If it weren't for being constipated, I'd be fine."

If I had a Pentecostal Pluralistic Mama Award I would give it in memory of Molly Ivins. I really don’t know much about her religious convictions or even if she was a mother for that matter. But I think she had a bead on that experience of Pentecost in the legend of Acts.

The biggest problem with Christianity, as I see it, is that it tends to think too highly of itself. It claims to speak with authority about things it doesn’t know much about. Then it pronounces that it is the only one true religion. Molly Ivins had a good way of putting its spokespeople in their place. In a column entitled, Let God Speak for Himself, she wrote about folks who like to speak for God. She wrote:

Quite a few people have been mishearing the Lord lately. The Rev. Pat Robertson thinks the Lord told the people of DoverPa., they shouldn't ask for [the Lord’s] help anymore because they elected a school board Robertson doesn't like. And Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana said right after Hurricane Katrina that "we finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did it."

I kind of doubt Katrina was designed by the Lord as a form of urban renewal. I think it's a big mistake for us to go around putting our own puny interpretations on stuff that happens and then claiming the Lord meant thus-and-such by it. It is my humble opinion that some folks should do a lot more listening to God and a lot less talking for Him.

The point of the Pentecost story is that the disciples didn’t do a lot of talking. They did a lot of listening. They waited for the spirit, the wind, the fire, to speak through them. And when the wind of God spoke in Acts it was a message of unity, grace, compassion and hope for all people—all nations. That message was twisted pretty early on to be a message of grace, compassion, and hope for us and for those who join our club.

This is why I think Pluralism, which is nothing more than embracing the truth that we may not know everything about God, is an appropriate correction to simply celebrating Pentecost as the church’s birthday. As if it were about us, that is we Christians.

There are so many more women, some mothers, some not, some Christian, some not, who model that Pentecostal passion for peace and justice for all people regardless of race or creed.

Women like Emma Hart Willard who pioneered the education of young women;
Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist preacher
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffragette and advocate for women’s rights,
Eleanor Roosevelt, Carry Nation, Rosa Parks, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Maya Angelou.

I will give the last word to Marian Wright Edelman, the Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman has been a strong advocate for children and against violence. She gave a speech entitled, “Standing Up for the World’s Children: Leave No Child Behind” in which she spoke with Pentecostal fire for children and against violence, and for getting our priorities correct.

I will close with the prayer with which she ended this speech. I invite you to pray with me:

O God of the children of Somalia, Sarajevo, South Africa, and South Carolina, Of Albania, Alabama, Bosnia, and Boston, Of Cracow and Cairo, Chicago and Croatia.
Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of black and brown and white and Albino children and those all mixed together, Of children who are rich and poor and in between, Of children who speak English and Russian and Hmong and Spanish and languages our ears cannot discern,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the child prodigy and child prostitute, of the child of rapture and the child of rape. Of run or thrown away children who struggle every day without parent or place or friend or future,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the children who can walk and talk and hear and see and sing and dance and jump and play and of children who wish they could but they can't Of children who are loved and unloved, wanted and unwanted,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of beggar, beaten, abused, neglected, homeless, AIDS, drug, and hunger-ravaged children, Of children who are emotionally and physically and mentally fragile, and of children who rebel and ridicule, torment and taunt,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of children of destiny and of despair, of war and of peace, Of disfigured, diseased, and dying children, Of children without hope and of children with hope to spare and to share,
Help us to love and respect and protect them all. AMEN.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Who Is This That Darkens Counsel? (5/4/08)

Who Is This That Darkens Counsel?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
May 4th, 2008

The Book of Job is in my view, one of the finest examples of literature in the Bible.  Literary critic, Harold Bloom, calls Job “the greatest aesthetic triumph of the Hebrew Bible.”[i]  Bloom writes that Job is “one of the world’s great poems, though complex and ambivalent.” 

Job is not what we might expect or what common wisdom says it is.  Bloom points out that the cliché, “the patience of Job” does not apply to this Job.  According to Bloom, Job is about as patient as King Lear, and neither King Lear or Job provide much of a justification for the gods or for YHWH. 

The Book of Job can be divided into five sections.  The prologue is set in the heavens in which YHWH boasts about his servant Job to Satan or the Adversary.   Satan is not the evil fallen angel but more of a prosecuting attorney.  He goes to and fro on the earth to determine who is naughty and nice. 

In response to YHWH’s boast about the righteous of Job, Satan tells YHWH that Job wouldn’t be so faithful if he experienced trouble.  YHWH’s blessing of Job is what makes Job faithful, suggests Satan.  Take away the blessing, you take away the devotion.   YHWH takes the bait and makes the bet.

YHWH said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.  Job 1:12

YHWH is as Bloom points out an unsympathetic character in the extreme.   Bloom writes:  “Yahweh’s motivation appears to be either His usual bad temper, or merely a CEO’s skepticism concerning his most faithful employee.”[ii]  There can be no justification of this God.

The second section of the book, chapters 3-31, contains dialogues between Job and his three comforters, who offer no comfort, just nonsense.   Their nonsense is the driving theology of the Deuteronomic covenant.   You are suffering as punishment for your disobedience.   We as readers, and Job, as character, both know that is not true.  Job knows from experience and the readers know what neither Job nor his comforters know:  Job suffers because YHWH is bored and is playing with Job as a cruel child plucks the wings from a fly.   

Job in this second section is neither patient nor repentant.  He is defiant.    He wishes he were dead and curses the day of his birth.  Hardly patience.  

O that I might have my request,
   and that God would grant my desire;
that it would please God to crush me,
   that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
This would be my consolation;
   I would even exult in unrelenting pain;
   for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
What is my strength, that I should wait?
   And what is my end, that I should be patient?
Is my strength the strength of stones,
   or is my flesh bronze?
In truth I have no help in me,
   and any resource is driven from me.  Job 6:8-13

Job is certainly not repentant.  He speaks of YHWH:

If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one!
   If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me;
   though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
I am blameless; I do not know myself;
   I loathe my life.
It is all one; therefore I say,
   he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
   he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
   he covers the eyes of its judges—
   if it is not he, who then is it?  Job 9:19-24

In the third section of the Book of Job, Elihu speaks. 

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.  Job 32:1-3

Elihu harangues Job for three chapters.   Elihu defends God’s majesty and justice and says of Job:

Job opens his mouth in empty talk,
   he multiplies words without knowledge.’ Job 35:16

Job does not get to respond to Elihu, because finally in the fourth section, YHWH appears in the whirlwind and speaks to Job:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me.  Job 38:1-3

Finally, Job is going to get an answer.  Finally, we the readers will expect YHWH to come clean.   We expect, because we must think of YHWH as truth and justice to say something like this:

Hey, Job, buddy.  It is kind of funny really.  Old Satan and I had a little wager going..  I was bragging about you and Satan thought that if he took away everything, you would cease your devotion to me.   I told him to let you have it, because you are my man.   And hey, you are.   Sorry for the trouble.  Tell you what.  I will give you back everything and more.   And those children who all died?  No problem, I’ll make you some new ones, even better looking than the last.  Still friends, Job, old buddy? 

But no.  Neither Job nor we get a straight answer.  What we get from the whirlwind is YHWH’s resume.   All we and Job receive, in beautiful poetic language, is the sarcastic taunt of absolute power:

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone
7when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7

And YHWH challenges Job even further.  YHWH reminds me of President Nixon:  “I am not a crook” when clearly he is. 
And the Lord said to Job:
‘Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?
   Anyone who argues with God must respond.’ 

Job responds with no response, kind of like Jesus before Pilate:
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
   I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
   twice, but will proceed no further.’

 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Gird up your loins like a man;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
   Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God,
   and can you thunder with a voice like his? Job 40:1-9

YHWH taunts Job further:

‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,
   or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
   or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it make many supplications to you?
   Will it speak soft words to you?
Will it make a covenant with you
   to be taken as your servant for ever? Job 41:1-4

Of course, no, Job cannot.  But that isn’t the point is it?  Or maybe it is the point.  YHWH is not just.  YHWH is power.   Then Job answers:

The traditional translation of Job’s answer is that Job repents.  Here is that translation:

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘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.
“Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare 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.’ Job 42:1-6

There is a problem with that answer.  Job has no reason to repent.  Job as we the readers know, and as he himself knows from experience is right.   This translation is a translation choice based on theology not grammar, nor context.  These six verses are confusing and ambiguous in the Hebrew, especially verse six where Job is supposedly repentant. 

Another literary critic, Jack Miles, pointed this out in his fine book, God:  A Biography.  I won’t go into the complexities of the translation problems here.   I will offer Jack Miles’ translation of these six verses:

Then Job answered the Lord:
“You know you can do anything.
            Nothing can stop you.
You ask, “Who is this ignorant muddler?”
Well, I said more than I knew, wonders quite beyond me.
‘You listen, and I’ll talk,’ you say,
            ‘I’ll question you, and you tell me.’
Word of you had reached my ears,
            But now that my eyes have seen you,
I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.”

To paraphrase Job: 

I know that you, YHWH, are absolute power, and you will do what you want.   You ask “Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge?”   I spoke more than I knew.   You said, “Listen and I will speak.  I will question you and you declare to me.”   I heard you and now I know by seeing, and I mourn for humanity in dust and ashes.”

That is a very different reading.  A reading, I think, consistent with the text.  Job acknowledges the absolute power of YHWH.  He can do no other.  But he will not be sorry for what he has spoken which was the truth.  YHWH is not just.   Job has not changed his mind.

Job never questioned YHWH’s power, he questioned YHWH’s justice.   YHWH’s speech gives him no reason to think otherwise. 

The Book of Job I think is a critique of absolute power and of blind obedience to authority.  Jesus before Pilate acted like Job.  He acknowledged that Pilate held the cards.  Pilate had the power to take his life.  But Jesus in stubborn silence retained his dignity. 

That act of defiance is what gives humanity its dignity.   Throughout history, the Church, or the State, or the paterfamilias has held power and authority.  But that did not mean that these authorities held justice or truth.   There were a few courageous souls who stood up to them, took their lumps, and inspired future generations.

Job won this battle with YHWH.  In the fifth and final section of the book, YHWH concedes defeat by restoring Job’s fortune, giving Job twice as much as he had before.   It is a pretty sappy ending.   But Job did end up with some beautiful daughters, more lovely than the first ones, I suppose.

  After this encounter, neither Job, YHWH, nor the honest reader will remain the same.   No longer will any of us including YHWH be able to get away with confusing power with goodness.  YHWH learns that there is more to being a god than simply being able to put a fishhook in Leviathan’s nostril.  Job learns the dark side of divinity, that what he most feared is correct.   God may be God, but it doesn’t mean he is good. 

We, through Job’s defiance, will learn that human dignity is far more noble than the tyranny of the gods, whether those gods are incarnated in Church or in State or in our own imaginations.    The virtue lies not in obedience but in defiance to that which is unjust no matter how holy it may mask itself. 

This higher virtue may be in what Ghandi called non-cooperation. Any god we worship must not be a god of power but a god of goodness.  I will close with Ghandi’s words:

"Non-cooperation is an attempt to awaken the masses, to a sense of their dignity and power. This can only be done by enabling them to realize that they need not fear brute force, if they would but know the soul within."

[i] Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?  (New York:  Riverhead Books, 2004), p. 13.
[ii] Ibid., p. 15.