If there is any text in the bible that presents us with a clear cut case against god, it’s the Book of Job. If it isn’t an outright cry for atheism then, at the very least, if you still insist on theism, you might find yourself saying, “Not this god.”
There are two Jobs that we must contend with. The first is the Job of folklore. This is the man that pastors and priests opine about when they talk of the “patience of Job” (the biblical Job is hardly that). The man of folklore did wait patiently for his god to restore his prosperity – decades – and was eventually rewarded.
But, the biblical Job is an entirely different cat. He’s a rebel, a heretic who dares to think for himself (at least for awhile). He is the man whose feet are firmly planted on the pathway that leads to knowledge. Sadly, in the end when confronted by the presence within the whirlwind he capitulates and returns to the blind world of the demiurge. The principal act of bravery that stands out is that of Job’s wife who suggests that he, “Curse God and die.”
The religionist is uncomfortable with Job. The text – what is often referred to as one of the poetical works of the bible – is a tremendous meditation on the suffering and injustice of life which leads us to a most profound pinnacle of doubt. We are left wondering how it came to be a part of the biblical canon in the first place. This text is hardly a case for faith. It certainly is not an example of “God is Love” as today’s post modern Christian and New Age muddle head believes in.
Job is lauded for his days of silence as he sits in his pile of ash scraping the boils and eruptions on his body with a shard of broken plate. We are admonished to take Job’s attitude of, “The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away,” in the face of loss and grief. But, his cry for justice; his demand that god present his case against him and account for himself is ignored by your run of the mill cleric who is uncomfortable with such bald doubt and anger toward the ineffable. My religious training completely ignored Job. It wasn’t until I was a philosophy major in college that I read the text and then only because it was assigned reading. But, being a good existentialist as I am, this started a love affair with this text that persists now into my middle age.
Who is this god that we should accept anything from him in the first place? In Job’s opening scene god and Satan (the Christian interpretation of this being) enter into a wager over the piety of Job. In fact god and satan are indistinguishable. The dark angel is the underside to god. Jung in his book, Answer to Job, suggests that god is completely devoid in understanding of the human condition and therefore needs to incarnate in order to complete himself. In a sense this is a perfect metaphor for the process of gnosis.
The god we encounter in Job is not unlike the Grays of Whitley Strieber, cold, unfeeling and reptilian in nature they long to recapture their ability to “feel” again. In short they desire to become human.
Indeed to accept anything from this god is a curse as much as it is a blessing. For god acts to his own purposes which do not always benefit his creatures. God is love…at times. But, god is also cruel. As my brother often counsels his executive coaching clients, the truth without empathy is cruelty. The god of the whirlwind does not have empathy. In fact, he is sociopath. God and satan are like the two Wall Street goons in Trading Places who make a wager about Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy. We loved Dan and Eddie, but we hated those Wall Street fuckers and were glad to see them get what they deserved.
The troubling thing for the poet who wrote Job and for us is that the titular character isn’t just a good man. He is the quintessential icon of righteousness. He is man of justice. Job is the defender of the widow and the orphan. Job feeds the hungry and lends of his resources to those in need. When Job wrongs another man he pays restitution willingly and then some. Job is kind, generous and compassionate. And god takes a big shit all over him.
Job demands an accounting from God and rightly so. Except that god never does that. We can paraphrase the voice from the whirlwind quite simply. “I am God…shut the fuck up.” This is the voice of the demiurge. Instead of addressing Job’s questions and speaking to love and justice this god brags about his accomplishments and points out to Job that he does not have knowledge to explain his act of creation. If Job were alive today he can fall back on science and explain what seemed extraordinary in his day. He could respond to god by saying, “I am man…shut the fuck up.”
I Am Deus interficientis…
I awake in dark gnosis to reclaim my soul
I Am the self-actualized man.
I have overcome
The problem for Job and his friends is that they do not know god as he really is. They worship a philosophical god of religion. This god is an archetypal reflection of humanity. But, when god shows up not expessing human concepts of love and justice we become devastated.
Ultimatley the problem is not with god, but with Job and his friend’s understanding of god. On that score god does give some measure of satisfaction to the reader. He lets Job’s friends know that under no certain terms the bad shit that happened to Job had nothing to do with Job at all. He wasn’t being punished for some unknown or overlooked sin.
Sometimes bad shit happens and there is no reasonable explanation for it no matter how long and hard we search. As the pslamist says of god, “I make the the rain fall upon the godly and the wicked.” Trying to fit our orthodox and dogmatic understanding of god into the context of Job is emotionally unsatisfying. We might be inclined to sum it up as an immature and primitive attempt to understand suffering or why bad things happen to good people, as one Catholic commentator offers.
There is a more primal truth in Job that we avoid. The text does not give us an emotionally or spiritually satisfying answer to the experience of pain. What it does do is allow us to see the true nature of the creator god perfectly framed. The god of the whirlwind is the perfect metaphor for the universe. The universe is a violent and chaotic place devoid of divine justice, but running over in sheer wonder.
The god of the whirlwind knocks the idol of the religionist off its pedestal and shatters into tiny pieces, an act of creation in and of itself. It puts us back in our proper place in the grand scheme of things. As Jennifer Michael Hecht suggests, in her book Doubt: A History, God silences Job, but Job silences God. God never speaks again in the bible…not directly. This is most likely a happy occurance due to the ordering of texts. It certainly has nothing to do with the age of the text as it is much older than many that come before it. But, it serves as yet another metaphor in the process of gnosis. In order to awaken we must silence god and move past our superstitious enthusiasms.
 I do not capitalize the G in god. As an atheist it seems silly to turn this word into a proper noun for an entity I don’t believe in. For me the word “god” symbolizes a psychic process of our inner life and not a supernatural being. Thus gnosis is a psychological state of self actualization and not a “spiritual” one.