The Children of Job


Little can be added to the considerable corpus of writings on the Book of Job. It remains the most unique and problematic of all Biblical texts, perhaps the only one where God pays tribute to Man. Still, the book calls to us to consider its ambiguous lessons in this season when the celebrations of major religions crowd each other and contend for our attention with daily calamities.

We must consider the impossibility of discerning divine intentions in actions subject to human agency. God undertook a wager with Satan (the accuser) in direct contradiction to human understanding of his omniscient nature. This inscrutable action should dissuade us from seeing his hand in such events as the election of a leader, as the Rev Franklin Graham does. Whether we are free or subject to God’s whims, or Satan’s designs, is unknowable, and therefore we should act as if we are free, focusing on the consequences of our actions.

We should also see mystery in the death of the innocent. The disasters that befall Job are either focused on his person (boils) or are impersonal, such as the theft of his property. Except, of course, for the death of his children who die when “a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.” The book makes no mention of any guilt on their part. Nor were they the last of the innocent to die. We live with the children of Job every day now; on a street in Aleppo, a Church in Cairo, a square in Europe or a school in Connecticut.

Nor can we be comfortable in our judgements. All too often we drift from disapproval of an act to condemnation of the actor. The book cautions against harsh judgements in the persons of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Unable to understand the heavenly plans, they unjustly condemn Job, judging his misery to be evidence of guilt they can not uncover.

Any attempt to construct a human order identified as “God’s plan” is bound to end up with a monstrosity, simply out of a lack of understanding. God waves away Job’s attempt to understand his reasons with a simple and mocking admonition, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

The only avenue left open to humans is to honor whatever divine spark is within us by actions, both small and grand, that tilt the balance not so much toward “justice”, which is ultimately unknowable, but to smaller and more tangible ends, such as mercy, kindness and affection. “History”, if it is indeed an actor at all, tilts in no particular way. We must jerk it along.

— Maged Atiya


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