"Job, why am I so hung up on the "shape" of your post-distress restoration? I think it is because I want to use you as a model or guide for my own life. But there are two problems with that, as I think about it. On the one hand, why do I think that you have to provide the "model?" Can't I just see what happened to you as one of the ways that a human might respond to loss, grief and restoration without trying to make you normative for me? Yikes, I want to reflect on that concept of normativity for a minute.
You know, Job, I thought I was leaving biblical studies when I moved to Sterling KS in 1990 to take up my position as a professor of world history. But I continued to reflect on biblical issues and had my students read religious texts. Then, I got into law and I felt I had interred the Bible along with the evangelical faith that had been so much a part of my life for so long. But when I got into law, and especially began to study jurisprudence, which I took from Hans Linde in 1999 and then began teaching in 2003, I continually ran into the word "normative" or "normativity" when the jurisprudes spoke [I invented the word "jurisprude," Job, to refer to those who study jurisprudence. The "accepted" word is "jurisprudent," but I think mine has much more to say for it]. Maybe they were just stuck on old episodes of "Cheers" [and the greeting "NORM!" when Norm walked into the bar], but I think they were searching for something that doesn't really exist: some kind of absolute system of law that is "true." They wanted to know if X was a normative or descriptive claim; if Y was a normative theory, etc. It never made any sense to me until I thought to myself, 'Yes, what hangs up these law professors is the same thing that hung me up about Job. I read your story, Job, and I want to know if your story is "normative" for me--if it becomes the way I ought to look at life. They were doing the same thing, however, with claims of right or theories of human duties or whatever. I think they were much more obscure in saying what they were trying to say, and much more irrelevant, but I think they were up to the same thing as I was, Job. They wanted to have guidance for life, as I did.
But as I think of it more and more, why should I want "guidance for life" from the enigmatic or incomplete final verses of your book? Even if it was crystal clear, Job, why should it have a claim on ME as the way that I should hope to be "restored"? So, as I have gotten to know you better, Job, and to reflect on your book, I have abandoned the quest for normativity. Isn't that a bit of an irony. The better I know your book, the more hours I plough into it, the less I want to derive "life lessons" from it. How wonderful. It is as if I am a living example of uselessness. Only when I truly find your work to be unhelpful for shaping my life am I truly satisfied. And, it takes me HUNDREDS of hours to get to that position of uselessness. Some may come by uselessness honestly and with little effort. I, on the other hand, really have to work at it.
But, of course, there is a little tongue-in-cheek as I wrote the previous paragraph or two, wasn't there, Job? For, maybe the most profound thing I am learning from you, Job, is that there are ways a book can shape me without becoming "normative" or "directive" or whatever term of ultimacy I want to use. Maybe I will just learn to refine my language of despair by picking up an image or two that is very vivid of the ways in which a person can feel assaulted by you, or out of breath, or completely hopeless. Maybe I can derive a picture or two from the words. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what is a word picture worth?
But as I give up my quest for normativity, Job (and, it dawned on me, I am still on my FIRST point--I will get to the second one soon enough. My mind may be failing, but it still can remember that much!), I am finding that I have a unique kind of authority that I never knew I had. Let me illustrate what I mean. As you know, I have been teaching in a law school in an adjunct capacity for the past five semesters. This semester, I believe, has led to several gratifying connections with students that I did not know was really possible. Professorial/student distance is maintained, to be sure, but the relationships have worked in such a way that the other's humanity is truly evident. And, as I begin to know people better, to become more cognizant of the throbbing realities of their life, I begin to speak with more authority as a teacher. I can't explain how it happens, but I think I teach with greater clarity, I feel free to intersperse personal stories with legal principles, I even feel free to give "moral advice" to students. Wow. Me, give "moral advice"? Well, what I mean by that is general advice on how to be a good lawyer and how to integrate being a good person with being a good lawyer. So, I have abandoned any quest for normativity, but feel that once I have abandoned it, I can speak with more confidence about matters of "truth" than I ever could when I was seeking definitive "guidance" from someone else.
Thus, Job, when I look at your words, even at the end, I don't do so as much anymore to try to get insight into how I ought to live. I do so to hear the living and throbbing reality of your language and see how it gives me a lazer-like vision into a man with a great heart---you. Oh, the freedom that comes when I abandon the quest for normativity, for "truth," for "guidance" from others. Then, because there isn't as much "at stake," I can truly begin to listen to life as it comes to me. Does ANY of this make sense, Job?