"Job, Job, Job, you help me see into myself and into the way I construct my mental playground. I have been looking at your story much like I was looking at Joseph in 1989--Joseph was one who embodied the pattern of living that I wanted to adopt for myself. You know, Job, I think I instinctively knew in 1989 what I also know today--that a good deal of my life since 1986 has been "in the pit," or in a sort of dejection-imposed funk, and that I so much wanted to clamber out of it, that I devoted considerable attention to the two biblical characters who themselves descended into deep "pits"--Joseph and you, in order to learn the "secret" of clambering out of those pits.
But you, Job, were much more fitting for me in 2005 than in 1989 or, to put it differently, the story of Joseph's relatively easy rise from the pit to the pinnacle was more in tune with a sunny and optimistic strain in my personality in 1989 than today. Today, after having gone through the rigors of Kansas, the change in career, the breakup of a marriage, the departure from the practice of law to part-time teaching, the learning of web technology, etc., I am no longer able to be much nurtured by the rather simplistic story of Joseph. Oh, there might still be something there in the way of a story about a biblical family in crisis--I was going to write a book called "The People of Joseph: A Biblical Story of a Family in Crisis," when that term "family in crisis" became a sort of big word in the 1980s, but now I am not too interested in Joseph or his family. I need the complexity of your story, Job, to help me mirror and name and define the complexities I feel in my life now. I need the ambiguity of your response in ch.42 to limn the ambiguities I feel about life.
So, let's lay it right out here and now. The central "ambiguity" I feel about life, Job, is whether one is really ever "restored" after one's great distress. You, Job, were "restored," whatever that means (42:10). I really want to ask you how it was that you were restored or, more accurately, how your fortunes were restored. Was it simply your physical possessions that were restored? Or was your position in the community also given back to you? How about your sense of closeness to God?
Or, maybe we should look at it differently. Maybe I should recognize your restoration in 42:10 as happening in the physical realm, to be sure, but that it took place only after you had achieved some kind of spiritual and psychological restoration in 42:7-9. Here, then, is how I tentatively want to see ch.42. (1) In 42:1-6, you end up despising (life) and want to repent and sit right back on the dung heap of life. You know that the dung heap has been the place of self-discovery for you; in 42:1-6 you simply want to return to that heap to figure out the meaning of the new things that have happened to you--i.e., the vision of God. (2) But then, while you are waiting for the fun to begin in 42:7, something unexpected happens. Maybe it was just as unexpected and unpredictable as was your friends' visit in 2:11. It was God speaking again.
But when God speaks this time he has a completely different tone and content from the words in 38-41. He doesn't come out with his blunderbuss against you. He actually speaks against Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. He is angry at them because they have spoken incorrectly about God, while you have spoken what is "right." Oh, my. Job, when I heard those words and read and re-read them, when I went back and lovingly caressed each Hebrew word of that verse, I began to feel a certain vertigo come over me. You were right, Job, and God was saying so. However, it was like when Magic Johnson admitted to the press in 1991 that he was HIV positive. He didn't come right out and say it; he said it almost as an afterthought, as if its subordinate position in his remarks was indicative of the subordinate importance of the experience of HIV. But, of course, it wasn't. The subordinate position only highlighted the central importance of the announcement of the disease.
That is how I hear God's words, "as my servant Job has" in 42:7,8. He gives the impression that the most important things he is saying are that the friends are wrong and that he is mighty angry. In fact what is going on is that the words after the comma, "as my servant Job has," are really the most important things said. God is saying, Job, that you are right. I want to try to understand what effect these words of God had on you, Job, and I would like you to explain this to me if you can. For, I think, Job, that these words hit you with such a refreshing force, such a delightful potency, that you were giddy and glad and humbled and amazed and abased and lifted up all at once. I think it was these five words that not only set the new interpretive parameters for your time on the dust heap but these words actually reinvented your life.
And, as I write this, I can't get the image of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz out of my mind. Let me tell you, in the next conversation, what I mean by this.