"Job, I am starting more slowly this morning. I think it is the combination of lots of things I need to get done in the next two weeks, things that are beyond the call of the normal teaching life, such as cutting my DVD on your book, speaking to a few groups in a town 45 miles away, preparing for my spelling bee on Saturday and then preparing final exam questions for two classes. In addition, I want to keep up my writing. So, Job, I come to you with the struggle not to let these things distract me from hearing what you have to say to me.
And, I don't know if I have anything to say, Job. But, there is virtue in keeping up the "workout," so to speak, even if you don't "feel" like it, right? Working through the dullness of spirit and of tasks is knowledge-giving, even if using the word "redemptive" to describe it might be too lofty. And, we are on such an important point in our conversation, aren't we? I am discussing how you were able to "yield" yourself to God, to "fall into" the divine grace. The point I made yesterday is that you first became aware of your vulnerabilty, of your inability to put an interpretive film over your weakness after God spoke to you in 38-41. I suppose one way to look at the the effect of God's speech to you was to remove the vitality of your legal argument. You had lost your physical vitality and almost everything that you prized deeply. Now, God was taking away the one thing--a legal complaint--that was your "replacement" comfort when all else had been removed. God was absolutely relentless. Everything, yes everything, would be stripped away from you.
You know, Job, the Christian mystical tradition, which grew up about 1500-2000 years after you lived, talks about this kind of stripping away that the true believer in God may have to face as part of the "Dark Night of the Soul," or as preparatory to the experience of illumination or vision of the divine. We become so invested in our lives, so committed to our interpretation of things, to our reputation or striving. It is an act of divine grace, so the mystics would argue, that we are drawn from dependence on earth's pleasures and human comforts to be led into the presence of God.
I know that you knew in ch.42 that you were a vulnerable man, Job, that you truly were naked before God. But then, there is a second "lesson" of your life for us. In your vulnerable state you had to be "redeemed" by the act of another, the words of another. You didn't have it within to construct a future for yourself. All you could do was to retreat to the ash heap. It took God's words, and even words that were not in the first instance spoken to you, to save you. And, we ought to think about that for a second. The words of God "as my servant Job has," which were the words that reoriented your life, in my theory, were not spoken to YOU. You only "overheard" them, as it were. They were addressed to Eliphaz. Does grace and new life come, in our vulnerable state, when we hear words not addressed to us?
You know, Job, one of the "classics" of Western literature is called the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo (North Africa). The most significant words of his life, in bringing him to God, now that I think of it, were not addressed to him either. Here is how it worked. He was tormented in spirit, convicted of the truth of Christianity and the reality of the living God, but was seemingly unable to make a choice to give himself into the hands of God. In his torment he went out into his garden and he heard the sound of what he thought was a child's voice. The words, "take it and read," were not those that were from any child's game that he knew and, despite the fact that the words were not seemingly addressed to him, he decided to apply them to himself. He therefore "took" the book of Paul's Epistles and opened it to a passage in Romans exhorting him to give up the ways of the flesh. Immediately, he was converted. All his strivings and self-castigations then ceased. He knew that his life would forever be different.
Augustine, like you Job, had reached the proverbial end of his rope. Nothing more remained to be done. Misery, and nothing else, was seemingly the final and only word left in the rich vocabulary of living. But then God spoke--but not to you, and not to Augustine. But God spoke words that you could immediately apply to your heart and to your condition, and you were healed. A new life dawned. All the strivings and uncertainties and pain then ceases. There are really no "answers" that follow; all you know is that your life has received a fundamental reorientation--a reorientation whose full scope would be evident only as life continued. For the 30-something Augustine, it meant a meteoric rise in the Church and endless writing. For you, Job, it meant the restoration of friendship and of life. All because you heard a word, in your vulnerable condition, that was not spoken to you in the first instance, but which you applied to your heart.
A man dying of thirst will slake his thirst with nearly any non-lethal liquid that is available. So you took these words and applied them to your heart. The gifts of words are out there for us once we recognize the depth of our vulnerability and need. Drink them deeply. Isn't that what you would say to me, Job?