Having recently experienced a terrible tragedy–the untimely death of my estranged wife by suicide–I can’t suppress a passing literary thought: Is there any major work of tragic literature, broadly conceived, that is more preposterous, more wildly inapposite to the subject matter, than the Book of Job?
The Book of Job is one of the literary masterpieces of all time, and provides a profound discussion on the suffering of a just man.
No, it fucking isn’t–and no it fucking doesn’t.
Could anyone capable of speech, much less an omnicient and omnipotent deity, produce a theodicy more fallacy-strewn and tone deaf than the drivel that the Hebrew God serves up in answer to Job’s tribulations?
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
In other words, what suffering? Look at all the shit I did for you! You can see why Republicans think that the morality of welfare reform has a Judeo-Christian basis. This is what the average Republican ideologue sounds like when he wants to cut the budget for some poverty relief program–or frankly, when he opens his mouth to say anything at all.
I would, as a kind of expert on this topic–tragedy, I mean–advise anyone searching for specifically literary solace from tragedy to avoid the mind-numbing banalities of the Hebrew Bible, and read or watch Sophocles or Shakespeare instead. Ignore any philistine who tells you that these authors are too foreign, too exotic, too emotionally distant or weird, to offer insight into the tragic dimension of the human condition. Read or watch them without preconceptions and make the judgment for yourself.
When I discovered to my shock that my wife had, in a moment of terrible despair, taken her life and deprived me forever of the chance to say what I’d always wanted to say to her, I drew comfort from my emotional kinship with Oedipus, Antigone, Ajax, Hamlet, and Shylock. I was neither inclined to wonder what the Judeo-Christian God might have to say about my situation, nor to point my browser in the direction of whatever wisdom might be on offer at Fake Nous. Even in the teeth of tragedy, I’m gratified to say that I have more sense than that. Just a passing thought: I don’t wish tragedy on anyone, but if you experience one, I hope you’ll have more sense than that, too.
Thanks to Britt Long for a helpful conversation on the Book of Job.