"Job, I think I have finally honed in on my question. I have said that when you said "I despise" in 42:6, you fell apart emotionally, just like you did in 7:16. In ch. 7 all you could then do was cynically turn Scripture upside down and then wish for God to leave you alone so that you could lie die. My question: did you also feel the same way in 42:6 and afterwards? That is, did you feel that you just wanted God to leave you alone again so you could die? Did you abandon any hope you once had in God?
Well, you give us only a few words to help us out. They say, "I repent in dust and ashes." At least that is what many translations have. Professor Good, who is a good interpreter of yours, but may not be too good here, renders them to say that you gave up dust and ashes, so that in a sense he sees these as your declaration of independence from organized religion and from God. You repented from repentance. His point would then be, and I am developing his argument, is that this vision so overwhelmed you, so wrecked your day, that you will have no more of this religion and God stuff. It just takes too great a toll to continue to believe in a God who is this close to you. Kind of like living next to a TNT factory--you never know when you are going to wake up dead after an explosion. Thus, you would be saying that such a powerful God simply devastates your life. God has devastated you and your family once; now God has done it again. Getting close to God just causes too much pain. It wrecks life. Give up God. Give up religion. Give it all up.
But, Job, I have to read those words once again. Literally, they read, "I repent upon dust and ashes." Hm. That sounds to me a little like 2:8, where the narrator says that after the Satan afflicted you, you took a potsherd with which to scrape yourself and "sat among the ashes (the same word as in 42:6)." What this says to me, and I like to take the simplest explanation before we consider really complicated ones*, is that you
[*that is just the way I am, Job. I am incurable in my quest for simplifying things. In fact, I think it arises from my complexity. I know that my life is so difficult for me to sort out that I seek to say what I know in simple terms, lest everyone else descend into the fog that so frequently envelopes me]
want to return to the dust heap where you were in ch. 2. Maybe during the course of the conversation the friends "lifted you up" (see 21:3--it literally says "pick me up and I will speak," almost as if you are asking the friends to lift you and put you in a more comfortable position before you continue in your attack against them), but now you want to return to that heap. What would you mean, then, if you really just wanted to return to the dust heap?
I think you mean that there is no place else for you to go. When you were first assaulted by the combined traumas of losing goods, children and heath, the ash heap was a place where you could scrape your sores in peace, despite the pain. It was the place where you spoke that statement to your wife (a bit snippy, at that, wasn't it?), "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" (2:10) But it was the ash heap that took you emotionally from the place of seeming trust in God in ch. 2 to your Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption of emotion in ch. 3. That is, the ash heap was the place where your first emotional transformation took place. It was the place where you learned to discover your freedom in speaking. By saying "I repent upon dust and ashes," I bet you are saying that you want to return to that dust heap, because that is the only place in the world where your intellectual freedom was preserved when all else fell apart.
Correct me if I am wrong, Job, but when you said, "I repent upon dust and ashes," you really were emotionally vacant and overcome, but you at least knew that the ash heap was the place where you had had some previous insight. I may be reading too much hope into these words, however. It may be that "dust and ashes" just emphasizes our basic humanity, our similarity with the earth on which we sit, our combustible and evanescent quality. I am not sure on this one. Then, it would simply be tantamount to your words in 7:21 that you would now "lie in the earth." I can't really decide, and you may not have been completetly clear in your mind. After all, after God has come in and rearranged your thought patterns and taken away your breath, you could be excused for not explaining yourself with crystalline precision. At least I think I am on the right track when I say that you wanted to return to that heap. Am I right, Job? Was that a nod?
You "knew" life was over in 7:16, and you wanted to die, but you didn't. Chapter 8 followed, and you had to listen to your friend Bildad's ambiguous words, that you could have heard as a stinging rebuke. Then came chapter 9 and you were still alive and in sound voice. And you still spoke. And, guess what? You developed a strategy in that chapter to help you in your quest for meaning. I'll get to that strategy (a legal one) shortly, I think, but I want to ask you now, since we are focused on this topic, whether you had any such strategy in mind in 42 when you wanted to return to the dust heap? Or were you just so overcome that you wanted to die again? I think the latter is more accurate.
But then something happened, didn't it, Job? Instead of you having to develop a "new strategy" to handle your personal devastation in 42:6, something else came into your life, something that was completely unexpected. Isn't that right, Job? And, wasn't it about the most unexpected thing you have ever heard? Up until five minutes previously, you would have said that the vision of God that devastated you was the most overpowering reality of your life. Now, God will do something else after 42:6. Something really unexpected. Didn't he apologize to you?
Well, I see that has shocked even you, so let's leave that point until tomorrow. Hope you have a good nap now, Job. You are looking tired.