MYTHOLOGY TODAY

According to a popular conception of intellectual history, mythology is characteristic of human pre-history. In this view, mythology was replaced by religion (Plato), religion by philosophy (Hegel) and now philosophy by science (Ayer).

It is marvelous that something so completely wrong can be so widely believed! In all historical periods, theology, philosophy and science have co-existed – sometimes happily, sometimes contentiously. The founding fathers of Greek philosophy, for example – Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Zeno, Thales, Democritus, et al. – were theologians and scientists as well as well as philosophers. Parmenides made astronomical discoveries that were not improved upon for centuries.

So what doesn’t belong and why? Mythology! Mythology, albeit ever evolving, is common to all ages and all disciplines. As we will soon see, there is no theology, philosophy or even science without it.

This is hard to accept because from our over-intellectualized Enlightenment perch to say that something is a ‘myth’ or ‘mythical’ is to suggest rather strongly that it is untrue or unreal. In fact however, a myth is neither true nor false, real nor unreal. It is a way of understanding the world.

In his essay, Logos and Mythos, Wladyslaw Strozewski wrote, “We want to understand a myth as a way of revealing the mystery of reality,” and he quoted Roland Barthes, “Myth is a system of communication, it is a message…it is a mode of meaning.”

To understand the role of mythology in the contemporary world, we need to recover three terms from ancient Greek philosophy: Gnosis, Logos and Mythos.

Gnosis is a body of knowledge. It is impossible to know everything there is to know about the world and it is certainly not possible to know everything all at once. We organize what we think we know into large, internally consistent, but ultimately limited, bodies of knowledge (gnoses).

In this essay, we will focus on four gnoses:  science, art, philosophy and theology. These intellectual disciplines are often thought to be in conflict with one another. Actually, they have a complementary relationship. No one system can tell us everything we should want to know about the world. We need multiple gnoses, working together, to begin to piece together a map of reality.

(There are other gnoses, of course, but many of them are narrow bodies of knowledge or subsets of the four I’ve chosen. In any event, my chosen four are sufficient to give us an understanding of the role of mythology in the modern world.)

Let’s examine these four gnoses in more detail:

Science and art are complimentary. They help us understand the world in different ways. Science considers the world systematically; art considers the same world syntagmatically.  Science explores the evolution of closed systems over time; art presents moments (or regions) of time in their fullness. Science tells us about the past and the future (cause and effect); art tells us about the present (subjective experience).

Between science and art there is an almost Heisenbergean relationship. To the extent that we see an event as a process over time, we will not be able to experience it as a whole; likewise, to the extent that we see an event as a holistic experience in the present, we will not understand its evolution over time.

Of course, we can alternate the ways we experience the world and we do. Varying our perspective can deepen our appreciation of the world in both modes; but we cannot experience the same event in both modes at the same time.

Philosophy and theology, on the other hand, only consider the world as a whole. The objective and the subjective, the temporal and the non-temporal are complementary aspects of a single reality. Philosophy and theology look for the patterns that bridge objective reality and subjective experience. They provide the context in which the complimentary disciplines of science and art can coexist as elements of a single whole.

Logos is the pattern underlying things. It is because of logos that events can be defined, distinguished from one another and ordered according to some principle. Without logos, the world would be a swirl of unrelated sensations.

Genesis describes the world before God’s creative act (logos) as “…without form or shape with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters –.” Genesis has it right: without logos, chaos.

The Gospel of John tells the same story in a different way but specifically invokes Logos in the telling: “In the beginning was the Logos…All things came to be through him (Logos) and without him nothing came to be.”

So how does the concept of logos relate to the four gnoses we identified earlier? Every gnosis must have its own logos, its own way of exploring the universe and its own way of ordering its findings. Logos makes it possible for us to search meaningfully for answers to our questions. When a young child asks an endless stream of ‘why’ questions, she is building her logos.

So what is the logos of each gnosis we are reviewing?

  • The logos of science is method.
  • The logos of art is image.
  • The logos of philosophy is logic.
  • The logos of theology is liturgy.

On the level of logos, we experience the world first; then we come to understand it.

Now we are ready to turn our attention to mythos. Behind every gnosis stands a logos but beyond every logos stands a mythos, a myth.

According to Strozewski, a myth is “an answer to an unasked question.” It consists of the habits of mind and the unexamined assumptions that allow us to do science, write poetry, apply reason and practice religion. In a logical or mathematical system, it would be the ‘undefined terms’.

On the level of mythos, we understand the world first; then we experience it. If we think of the logos as the endoskeleton of a gnosis, we can think of the mythos as its exoskeleton.

Each logos is incorrigibly corrupted by its reliance on a specific perspective. Science is dependent on the scientist, art on the artist, philosophy on the thinker and theology on the believer.

The holy grail of science is to isolate the measurer from the measurement. It can be approximated, but never fully realized. Worse, it may be the case that there are no defined measurements in the absence of a measurer.

Wordsworth defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility”; but perfect tranquility, like total objectivity, is never achievable.

Philosophy and theology have their own holy grails. For philosophy, it’s ‘a non-trivial matrix of decidable propositions that is complete’. Kurt Gödel proved that such a matrix cannot exist.

For theology, it’s revelation. Unfortunately, by definition revelatory moments are not repeatable or verifiable.

So there are four ways to understand the world and four logoi with which to understand it. Unfortunately though, the nature of all four logoi is such that a perfect understanding of the world is not possible. We can alternate our perspective among the four but we end up with an overlay of four flawed maps. So we must look beyond these four logoi for a complete understanding of the world.

Enter mythology.

Mythos aims to deliver a vision of the entirety from the perspective of the entirety. Mythology is how the world understands itself. There’s no scientist, no artist, no philosopher and no theologian to intermediate. Homer sings the epics but the epics are not the myths themselves; they are merely vehicles, albeit beautiful ones, for the communication of those myths.

There are no acknowledged ‘myth-makers’. Myths make themselves or they aren’t real myths. Harry Potter is spectacular but it’s a story with mythological content, not a myth.

Mythologies are as varied as the cultures that treasure them. Yet, as Sir James George Frazer, Robert Graves, Joseph Campbell, Claude Levy-Strauss and others have shown, the core contents of these mythologies are often remarkably similar. Still, mythologies do evolve as our collective understanding of the cosmos deepens.

Logos, as we mentioned above, gives us tools to translate our experience of the world into an understanding of it. Mythos works in reverse. Mythos is a tool that translates our understanding of the world into experience. Mythology is a filter that conditions the way we experience the world. Far from being fairy tales, myths are what tell us what’s real (and what isn’t), what’s valuable (and what’s not).

Logos determines what is real and what is of value for any gnosis; mythos passes judgment on the determinations of the logos.

A myth is not falsifiable. In fact, it is the nature of myth generally that it is not susceptible in any way to ‘mere evidence’. In fact, it is mythology that defines what is ‘evidence’ and what is ‘hearsay’.

Today, there are four dominant and apparently incompatible mythologies afoot in our world. Not coincidentally, they coincide at least loosely with the four gnoses and the four logoi reviewed above.

The first myth is related to the scientific world view. It is not concerned with any specific hypotheses or models. Rather it embodies as articles of faith certain basic attitudes about the world that make science possible.

Generally speaking, this myth is rooted in empiricism. It understands the universe as self-contained and somehow self-generating. Any notion of transcendence is excluded a priori. What you see is what you get; and it’s all you get. It’s all you can get!

Events proceed from cause to effect according to unspecified but definite physical pathways. Values are necessarily relative, conditional and situational. Events acquire meaning only in relation to one another. Human consciousness is just one aspect of this world and merits no special status. What matters is objectivity: objective knowledge about an objective world.

Sure, this model is compatible with everything from Newtonian physics and Laplacian determinism to General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory…but that’s the whole idea. We are not talking about any one physical theory or model here; we are talking about an attitude of mind that lies behind all such models and makes them possible.

The second myth is related to what we would generally describe as ‘humanism’. Humanity collectively and each human being individually is the center of the universe, morally if not physically. The origin of the universe is unimportant (because past and future are generally unimportant). What matters is that it exists now and has sentient beings in it. Those sentient beings are what give it meaning. Human experience is the touchstone of truth. The wellbeing of humanity and its members is the ultimate value.

This myth is not concerned with any one work of art, any one artist, or any one medium. Instead, it is what makes experience and emotion, the raw materials of art, worthwhile and relevant. It’s what gives art its credibility and value.

The third myth is what we would call ‘rationalism’. It judges multiple systems of axioms and theorems, not just according to internal consistency, but according to their resonance with the real world. The world is fundamentally a rational place. Human beings can rely on reason to find answers to their deepest questions.

The fourth myth is related to the divine. It situates the space-time universe in the context of non-spatial, non-temporal eternity. It is that eternal realm that gives events in the temporal realm their value and ultimately their meaning.

Events may certainly be influenced by other events (‘causality’) but there is also openness to freedom, creativity and even miracles. Values have a transcendental origin and so per se are absolute (although they can certainly have varied expressions, applications and interpretations). Events derive their meaning from the transcendental values they manifest.

Being is self-generating (causa sui) in the context of an entity that is supremely actual and eminently good. In this universe it is values that are sub-structural; essence precedes existence. Values are not relative nor are they merely normative; they are generative (Anaximander). Entities are not incidentally good; they are because and to the extent that they are good. Value is not an extrinsic measure of an entity; it is the intrinsic source of its very being.

Our fourth mythology incorporates the transcendent and the immanent in a single, seamless reality. Events occur in real time but they have an eternal aspect as well. Everything changes (Heraclitus) but nothing vanishes (Parmenides). Change is the source of historical novelty but also the engine of eternal harmony.

And what of the mythology of ancient Greece? Like each mythos above, it provided a framework for understanding the world. It validated a particular gnosis. However, the logos of that gnosis is what we would today call ‘magic’…not a tool widely used in our day.

Clearly then, we are no less dependent on mythology today than we were in pre-historic times. It is our nature as human beings to construct gnoses, but ever gnosis must have a logos to power it and a mythos to justify it,

We need to know what’s real and what’s valuable. This is our primal question and no gnosis (body of knowledge) or logos (intellectual tool) can answer that. For better or worse, we are ultimately dependent on mythos to guide us through life and no mythology can be verified…or falsified. We are in uncharted waters. Like Kierkegaard, we must make a leap in the dark. It is all up to us. “I set before you…therefore choose…” (Deuteronomy)

 

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MORALS AND VALUES IN JOB

The Old Testament Book of Job is thought to be a meditation on the so-called problem of evil: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” (Rabbi Harold Kushner)

It is odd then that the book provides no real answer to that question. Is it possible we’ve missed the point entirely?

In Job, a just and righteous man enjoys family, wealth and respect. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he loses everything. His children are killed, his wealth is wiped out and his body is covered with boils.

Three old friends hear of Job’s plight and travel a great distance, ostensibly to comfort him. Job’s dialogue with these so-called ‘comforters’, with a young man traveling in their party, and later with God himself constitutes the long dramatic poem that forms the bulk of this book.

Job is organized in a ‘call and response’ format. First Job states his complaint:

“Perish the day on which I was born…may that day be darkness…may it not be counted among the days of the year…why did I not die at birth?…I have no peace nor ease; I have no rest for trouble has come!”

From here on a comforter will speak and Job will reply. Eliphaz and Bildad speak three times each, Zophar twice. Job delivers a total of 9 answers (once answering the same speech twice).

What is striking about this dialog is that it really isn’t dialog at all. Both sides continually repeat their positions but they do not seem to hear or react to one another. One is reminded of contemporary American politics. The debaters talk at, not to, each other, and the so-called ‘answers’ seem scripted.

This lack of true dialog frustrates all 4 participants. As the conversation continues, they get more and more exasperated. Why can’t he/they understand what we/I am saying?

Perhaps it is because the two sides do not share a common philosophical framework. Each side bases its argument on certain assumptions which (it turns out) the other side does not share.

The comforters offer a model of the world that is algorithmic (if A, then B), deterministic (A causes B), and moralistic. The will of God consists of a collection of moral precepts, rules (611 of the 613 precepts of the Torah perhaps). A violation of any of these rules triggers punishment.

The comforters’ model does make room for divine mercy and forgiveness but even that is accessed algorithmically. Say this or do that and God will forgive you.

“In your place I would appeal to God, and to God I would state my plea…For he wounds but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands give healing…See, this we have searched out; so it is! This we have heard, and you should know.”

In other words, do not mount a defense but throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Job takes issue with this advice on two counts. First, he protests his innocence:

“…I have not transgressed the commands of the holy one.”

Job is like a defendant who rejects a plea deal because it means confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, even though he invites a much stiffer sentence by doing so.

Second, even more than mercy, Job wants justice. He wants the right to state his case before God.

“I would speak with the Almighty; I want to argue with God. I will defend my conduct before him.”

Interestingly, for all their theistic protestations, the comforters do not need God for their model to work. A machine, a zombie or a computer would do just as well. Anything that can coordinate outputs with inputs will suffice.

Job’s model, on the other hand, is absolutely reliant on God’s agency. Job’s God is no Turing Machine. Rather his God weighs the totality of a situation, consults empirical evidence, and then judges based on the application of certain eternal values:  Justice, Mercy and Love, for example.

God is not content to observe passively the algorithmically determined course of history. Like Hercules at the Augean Stables, he wants to intervene to change that course.

Job is an early ‘observer of the human condition’, perhaps even a philosopher of the Absurd. The world is neither fair nor just; bad things happen to people for no apparent reason.

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without any hope. Remember that my life is like the wind…As a cloud dissolves and vanishes, so whoever goes down to Sheol shall not come up. They shall not return home again; their place shall know them no more.”

The comforters, on the other hand, would agree with Leibniz: this is the best of all possible worlds. God ensures that things are as just and fair as they possibly can be.

Therefore, if Job suffers, it can only be because he has sinned. Nothing is random, nothing is unjust (except sin itself).

“What innocent person perishes? Where are the upright destroyed? As I see it, those who plow mischief and sow trouble will reap them.”

“For not from dust does mischief come, nor from the soil does trouble sprout. Human beings beget mischief…”

Suffering is not part of the natural order of things. It results directly from transgressions of the moral code.

Job understands that this is nuts! Isn’t it obvious that virtue is no assurance of prosperity and that wickedness is no guarantee of misfortune.

“Yet the tents of robbers are prosperous, and those who provoke God are secure…”

“It is all one…Both the innocent and the wicked he destroys. When the scourge slays suddenly, he scoffs at the despair of the innocent. The earth is given into the hands of the wicked…”

“Why do the wicked keep on living, grow old, become mighty in power? Their progeny is secure in their sight…Their homes are safe, without fear, and the rod of God is not upon them…They live out their days in prosperity and tranquilly go down to Sheol. Yet they say to God, ‘Depart from us, for we have no desire to know your ways!”

In the movie Yellow Submarine, the hero (aka Jeremy Hillary Boob, Phd) says, “Be empirical, look!” But the comforters are not empirical; they do not look.

Instead, they reject Job’s conclusions. Like modern day preachers who tell grieving parents that their child’s death is the result of God’s ‘master plan’, Job’s friends insist that there is some moral justification for the world’s apparently amoral condition.

For the most part, the comforters are content to impute undefined sins to Job as explanation of and justification for his sufferings. After all, Job’s sufferings are prima facie proof of his guilt. What need have we of further evidence?

“Does God pervert judgment, does the Almighty pervert justice?…Behold, God will not cast away the upright; neither will he take the hand of the wicked.”

By his third speech, however, Eliphaz’ frustration gets the better of him and he manufactures details of Job’s wrongdoing without the slightest hint of evidence:

“You keep your relatives’ goods in pledge unjustly, leave them stripped naked of their clothing. To the thirsty you give no water to drink, and from the hungry you withhold bread… You sent widows away empty-handed, and the resources of the orphans are destroyed.”

Initially, Job refutes his friends by denying his guilt:

“My foot has always walked in his steps; I have kept his way and not turned aside.”

“God has given me over to the impious…although my hands are free from violence and my prayer sincere.”

“…Till I die I will not renounce my innocence. My justice I maintain and I will not relinquish it; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.”

“…I rescued the poor who cried out for help, the orphans, the unassisted…”

Perhaps anticipating Job’s assertion that he is innocent of any specific wrongdoing, the comforters have built a ‘Plan B’ into their argument:

“How can any mortal be blameless, anyone born of woman righteous? ”

“How can anyone be in the right against God or how can any born of woman be innocent?”

Misfortune is a form of God’s judgment. God cannot be wrong so no matter what the accused may say, and even believe, God has to be right.

Surprisingly, Job admits the logic of this argument:

“How can anyone be right before God…I am innocent but I cannot know it.”

It is impossible to know for certain that one has not violated, perhaps unknowingly, some divine statute.  It might seem at this juncture that the comforters have won the argument; but now Job has a more important argument to make. This debate is not about Job’s specific guilt or innocence. It is about the nature of justice itself.

“Even if it were true that I am at fault…it is God who has dealt with me unfairly.”

Even if you accept a theory of ethics based on moral law and even if you accept that Job, knowingly or unknowingly, has violated that law, you still cannot argue that his sufferings are just.

“Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus he will know my innocence!”

Justice demands that God weigh the totality of Job’s actions and intentions. His wrath may not be triggered mechanically by a single misstep. By any measure, Job’s sufferings are disproportionate to any possible crime. Mercy (one of the eternal values, above) would not permit God to impose so severe a punishment.

Here is where Job’s argument diverges most radically from that of the comforters. Their ethics are linear, Job’s are holistic. Job sets out an alternative theory of ethics based on values rather than morals.

“Even now my witness is in heaven, my advocate is on high…that justice may be done for a mortal with God: as for a man with his neighbor.”

Job is holding God to a higher ethical standard than the one applied by the comforters. Judeo-Christian ethics require a person to forgive his neighbor’s trespasses and resist the temptation to exact vengeance. If this is ethically binding on human beings, why not even more so on God?

Fundamentally, Judeo-Christian ethics are based on values, not morals. The exhortation to “love your neighbor as yourself” is found in all four Gospels; but it originated in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. It is one part of the so-called Great Commandment which is said to sum up the 611 specific precepts of the Torah.

The behavior of machines is based on rules. If the cosmos is a machine, then a rules based ethic (moral code) may govern. But not a universe where free will, motivated and guided by eternal values, dominates!

Who has free will? At a bare minimum, human beings…and, if he exists, God. Where do the eternal values that motivate and guide free behavior come from? They can only come from that God. So, according at least to Thomas Aquinas (4th Proof), God has to exist. But we’re getting a bit beyond the Book of Job now.

One thing we can say for certain about Job is that he believes in God:

“As for me, I know that my vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust…and from my flesh I will see God.”

Free actors, who make decisions based on the application of values, make those decisions very differently than do machines. They are not ruled by specific inputs or even by inputs generally. Rather they weigh inputs and make value based decisions based on those inputs and on consideration of the consequences of potential outputs. Free actors decide on appropriate outputs by evaluating their consequences in light of eternal values.

Those decisions are not determined. We are free to weigh inputs and values differently in different situations. There is no one right (or wrong) formula. With freedom comes judgment.

Job understands this and he bases his argument on it.

“So mortals lie down, never to rise. Until the heavens are no more, they shall not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep. Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol, shelter me till your wrath is past, fix a time to remember me!”

Job appeals to God as a child might appeal to an angry parent.

“If a man were to die, and live again, all the days of my drudgery I would wait for my relief to come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands…My misdeeds would be sealed up in a pouch, and you would cover over my guilt.”

Here Job demonstrates unimaginable bravery. He appeals to God based on the entirely unproven hypothesis that God loves him: “You would long for the work of your hands.”

By extension, if Job is loved by God, then it follows that his “misdeeds would be sealed up in a pouch” and his guilt covered over.

So what does Job want? An end to his suffering? Yes, but more than that, he wants a fair trial!

“Would that I knew how to find him, that I might come to his dwelling! I would set out my case before him…he himself would heed me!”

“Slay me though he might, I will wait for him; I will defend my conduct before him.”

“Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature: let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!”

In the best Old Testament tradition, Job is not afraid to argue with God, and his arguments explore all possible registers. He appeals to God’s ego:

“Oh, remember that you fashioned me from clay! Will you then bring me down to dust again?”

“Your hands have formed and fashioned me; will you then turn and destroy me?”

He appeals to God’s ‘compassion’ which is slightly different from his ‘mercy’:

“If I should sin…you would not absolve me…Why then did you bring me forth from the womb?”

“Why do you not pardon my offense, or take away my guilt? For soon I shall lie down in the dust and should you seek me I shall be gone.”

Compassion is a personal quality, actually an interpersonal quality; mercy can be merely algorithmic. (Consider Pilate’s practice of pardoning a prisoner at Passover.)

Job challenges God’s motives and his sincerity: “…you seek for guilt in me and search after my sins, even though you know that I am not wicked.”

He even tries to shame God: “I have become the sport of my neighbors: ‘The one whom God answers when he calls upon him, the just, the perfect man’, is a laughingstock.”

All of this must have mystified Job’s comforters. That a man would contend with God over ethics…unimaginable! Even more so that a man would argue with God as if God was subject to the same values and emotions that humans are.

To the comforters, God is effectively a machine and the world is created in his image. Human beings cannot control their actions; they may sin without knowing it and be punished accordingly. To Job, God is a ‘person’ and the world he created is therefore personal as well. Human beings have free will; they should be judged based on their intentions and even then according to mercy as well as justice.

So we have heard the morals based arguments of the comforters and the values based arguments of Job. But we’re not done yet! We haven’t heard from the comforters’ young companion, Elihu…and we haven’t heard from God.

Elihu has been silent throughout the comforters’ 8 speeches and Job’s 9 replies; but now that the debate seems to have run its course, Elihu offers a fresh perspective:

“If you sin, what do you do to God? Even if your offenses are many, how do you affect him? If you are righteous, what do you give him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only someone like yourself, and your justice, only a fellow human being.”

Elihu accepts Job’s personal understanding of God but he rejects Job’s brave assumption (above) that God loves him or cares about him or even notices him.  Elihu’s argument must have been the hardest for Job to hear. It challenges Job’s bed rock belief that God is involved with him. Elihu is almost taunting Job. Some comforter he turned out to be!

While Job urges God to behave like a human being and be guided by shared ethical values, Elihu argues that God behaves exactly like a human being, selfish and indifferent. Elihu’s argument debases both God and man.

Elihu ends his monologue with this: “The Almighty! We cannot find him, preeminent in power and judgment, abundant in justice, who never oppresses. Therefore people fear him: none can see him, however wise their hearts.”

Ethically and theologically, Elihu is a nihilist. He fits comfortably in the tradition of the Epicureans, the Deists, Nietzsche and the Death of God Theologians.

Job does not respond to Elihu…but God does! The moment Elihu finishes, the Lord appears!

First God presents his credentials: “…Where were you when I founded the earth?…Who determined its size?…Who shut within doors the sea?…Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place…Have the gates of death been shown to you, or have you seen the gates of darkness?…What is the way to the dwelling of the light?…What is the way to the parting of the winds?…Who has begotten the drops of dew?…Have you tied cords to the Pleiades, or loosened the bonds of Orion?’”

Then, buried in God’s first speech, is a challenge: “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens; can you put into effect their plan on earth?”

Job has waved eternal values in God’s face and urged him to act on them. God affirms Job’s values but challenges Job to implement those values himself. In effect God is saying, “If you think it’s so easy, do it yourself!”

The Lord’s 2nd speech builds on that challenge:

“Let loose the fury of your wrath; look at everyone who is proud and bring them down. Look at everyone who is proud and humble them. Tear down the wicked in their place, bury them in the dust together; in the hidden world imprison them. Then will I too praise you.”

The Lord then speaks at length regarding two of his creations, Behemoth (Hippopotamus?) and Leviathan (Sea Monster?). First of Behemoth, “whom I made along with you…See the strength in his loins, the power in the sinews of his belly.” But the Lord ends by asking, “Who can capture him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a trap?”

The Lord continues on to Leviathan: “Can you lead Leviathan about with a hook…can you put a ring in his nose…Will he then plead with you, time after time, or address you with tender words? Will he make a covenant with you that you may have him as a slave forever? Can you play with him, as with a bird? Can you tie him up for your little girls?”

Let’s sum up:

  • The comforters believe that events succeed one another algorithmically and that the matrix of events is ultimately the product of God’s will…and therefore fair.
  • Job counters by demonstrating the manifest unfairness of events in the real world. He exhorts God to intervene, citing certain eternal values (e.g. justice and mercy).
  • Elihu does not dispute Job’s value based ethics but insists that God is indifferent to those values and indifferent to Job himself.
  • God affirms Job’s values and confirms Job’s perception of injustice in the world. Obviously, the world is a complex organism, not a machine. For that very reason, reliance on divine intervention is insufficient. There is an element of ‘freedom’ in the world that God can’t or won’t compromise. Instead, God turns the tables on Job and urges him to use the guidance offered by the eternal values to alter the course of historical events himself, always conscious of the limited extent to which he can do that.

So the Book of Job is not fundamentally about the problem of evil at all. That is merely the back drop for something much more important. The Book of Job is about a clash of ethics, ontologies and theologies. Viewed this way, the book comes to an unmistakable and unequivocal conclusion:

There are eternal values that guide God and should guide men. Following that guidance does not guarantee a fair outcome in every instance…or even in many instances. Rather it an ethical imperative binding on God and man. We are up against it in this world but God is in it with us and together, we’re in it to win it!

#god #culture #aletheiaessays #moralsandvaluesinjob

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