As we grapple with another mass shooting in Toronto, I am reminded that we live in an incomprehensible world. In the Old Testament Book of Job, Job is defined as a very good man who has not knowingly ever sinned. He is also very rich as God has blessed him with plenty. He regularly offers to God burnt offerings for his sons and daughters, just in case they have sinned.
The story unfolds and Job loses everything in a series of calamities including all his family (save his wife), all his wealth and even his health. We learn at the start that God has permitted Satan to torment Job because God knows Job’s faith will not fail, regardless of life’s suffering and loss.
We find Job sitting on an ash heap in the dump trying to relieve the itch of the sores which cover his body. His wife advises him to curse God and die. Then, in a series of conversations with his friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, they advise him: ” Job you must have done something wrong – confess your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.”
Job is having none of it: “I have done nothing wrong and God knows it. If only I could get a judge to arbitrate between me and God, I will be vindicated.” His friends are astonished and think, boy has he gone off the rails as they know how God thinks and acts.
A fourth friend, Elihu emerges and takes a different tack. “God is supreme, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Who are you Job to pit your righteousness against God’s? One must acknowledge and submit to God’s total supremacy and be humble about it.”
Job is silent and God finally speaks: “Job, how dare you presume to know how the world was created and works. How dare you ask to haul me into court and press charges. If you are so smart, go ahead and show me your stuff!!” Job says, “I am sorry for my words Lord, I am listening.” Then it comes, God says “Who could confront me and get by with it? I am in charge of all this – I run the universe!” Job apologizes to God again and says that he babbled on about things that are far beyond him.
[There is a little more in the book – God admonishes the 3 friends for presuming to know how God thinks and works. He will forgive them if they go to Job and ask him to sacrifice a burnt offering on their behalf. They do, Job does and they are forgiven. The mysterious Elihu is not mentioned again. Finally, God restores Job’s health and wealth and doubles it.]
While it appears that faith in God is rewarded in the end, there is no guarantee of this – we cannot presume to know God’s ways. The world is and always will remain incomprehensible to us – we are mere specs of dust in the universe hardly worthy of God’s attention. He has bigger fish to fry. We cannot presume to know how God acts or thinks. It is a pretty bleak outlook that we must accept in humility. The Abrahamic or Semitic tradition has taught us that we really do live in an incomprehensible world and so we must rely on God’s mercy.
[A note about the Book of Job. It is a very old text (circa 6th century BCE) and may have actually been written originally by Sumerians. The inclusion of God’s pact with Satan at the start and the mysterious appearance of Elihu some think, were grafted on at a later date. It is considered to be one the greatest poems of ancient and modern times, an absolutely great read I must add.]