"Job, this is our last chat together, and I now sort of know what Edward Gibbon felt like. Oh, you don't know him, since he lived in the 18th century, but he wrote a massive history called the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." He was one of those polymaths which we only dimly understand today, who mastered Classical, Medieval, early Christian and Renaissance languages and literatures and wrote a most authoritative history, in six volumes, of this decline and fall. He was an Enlightenment historian, however, and viewed the growth of Christianity not only as a human phenomenon (rather than something impelled by an inner divine force or led inexorably by a providential guidance in history) but as the record of oppression and small-mindedness triumphing over the noble traditions of ancient Rome. But, the reason I cite him here, Job, is that when he reached the last day of his writing, he paused for a moment and bid farewell to his project, a project he said had taken him 20 years to complete.
I guess, I am only partially bidding farewell to you , Job. We have finished our talk, but I will continue writing about your book. Indeed, I want to bore deeply into the rhythms of the Hebrew speeches this summer and write about them; I want to hear all the tones of the language of your book. Thus, I don't feel I am saying a final good-bye to you, Job, even though I won't be bringing my uncertainties and questions to you now.
And, I think the major reason I won't be doing that is that I have come to a place in my mind of peace with respect to your book, your life and the way your life impacts me. I see your book as solving some questions but opening up even more questions, and I am ready to deal with them now. For example, I see the major virtue of your book is in describing and portraying the emotions attendant upon great loss. Your words and the friends' words have such a ring of authenticity to them, such verisimilitude, that I can do nothing better in myh life but listen to them, learn from them, and hope I hear every nuance of every word. The words explode with a fireworks of meaning.
But there is more. I think your book also presents the process by which life might return to a semblance of order after great distress has ravaged it. Not only does it teach us that you, Job, have to be "all talked out" before you were able to listen to someone else (Elihu, and then God), but that when someone comes in to help the situation (Elihu) he reframes the issue in clumsy but effective words. That is, your book shows me that the chief step in being able to see your pain differently is to place an interpretive wedge between the pain the the former construal of the pain. You were hurt. You KNEW that God caused it. You KNEW it meant that God hated you. But Elihu came in and gave a different interpretation of your distress--your distress was a way that God was leading you to freedom.
I think I learned, therefore, that Elihu is the key person in your book, Job. Every scholar in the world disagrees with me, but that is no concern. I saw you nod when I broached the theory a while back, and that is all I care about.
But I also learned that God is a pretty interesting figure. I seemingly lost respect for him when he said the taunting words to you early in ch.41, but he earned it back in my mind when he fessed up that you were right all along, Job. But there is something compelling about the God character, don't you think, Job? He is a really powerful guy, and I think you were right to be scared spitless of him during the book. You knew that if he appeared and wanted to clear his throat, the whole universe would tremble. And, you know, you wanted to get close to this God because you felt that he was the source of your life, the glue that held it together, the force or person to whom you would repair for understanding, meaning and acceptance. God is truly a glorious God, and becomes more glorious when we see he has the courage to admit his mistake.
And so you were restored. Bravo for you, Job. I don't know if you were also spiritually alive again or engaged in the pious practices of ch.1--practices that were seemingly so important to you then. I kind of think you slept in a few times in the next dozens of years and weren't quite so worried about fulfilling your religious duties. I don't think you wanted to be a judge again. I think you just were fascinated by your little girls and the great gifts that womankind brings to the world. I think that you would have been agnostic on all religious questions....just like President Clinton who, when he faced that terrible deposition under the authority of the scurrilous special prosecutor Ken Starr (and his minions), just kept repeating, when that Jackie guy asked him weird questions, "I advert to my statement," so when people asked you in your "restored" life about whether you were religious, I bet, Job, you just said "I advert to my earlier story." Let people try to imagine. Don't answer every question that they have. Let them engage in some uncertainty for a minute. After all, you engaged in the most hellish incertitude for a long time--it won't hurt people who say they want to understand you live with a little dissonance themselves.
So, finally, Job, I want to thank you. You have spent a lot of your valuable time just listening to my ruminations. I am sure that many of them were off base, but you were kind enough just to let me speak all of my words and hear me with a non-judgmental air that I hope I can show to others now. This conversation has not exactly saved my life, Job, but it has helped me more than I can ever say. I think that your book is the greatest book I have ever read. And I don't say that very often...As with you, so with me, The words of Bill are ended."