Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Smacking Up Against the Brick Wall of Church Orthodoxy

When I started reading Job in the Old Testament of the Bible, I did it for the same reason every person who's going through a hard time does: to find out why God is punishing me, is there a God, why is evil rampant, am I totally alone. Because of my brain injury and because this is a difficult book of poetry, I was unable to read it on my own. Unbelievably and kindly, my Pastor came to my rescue and discussed it with me each week via e-mail. As we progressed, I learnt that the study of Job is problematic for two reasons: translation, and really out-of-touch interpretations being touted as the best word on this book. And in contrast to other books, people don't discuss Job much in public.

Job is written in ancient Hebrew, a language from a different time and culture than from English. And so that plus some sloppy scribing in long-gone centuries lead to some very different translations, to the point where I wondered if the translators paid any attention to Job's character and the ways of poets. Worse, many seem to read it from the New Testament viewpoint and don't just stick to the text itself. They end up twisting the text inside out to suit their own prejudgements of what it should say. And in the process they harm, don't help, the suffering person. Job was written for the suffering person, not for experts who want to hang onto their religious assumptions by hook or by crook!

That's why I started writing a series of articles on Job, to help people read it.

And so at times my Pastor and I clashed over accepted interpretation versus what I saw from my totally ignorant-of-orthodoxy, totally Jobian-person viewpoint. But this clashing never really got problematic until God spoke in chapter 38. And now I've smacked into the brick wall of orthodoxy. I know my interpretation is not unique, but it doesn't seem to be representative of the church nor even of my father's Zoroastrian faith. Doubting my understanding, I spent long, brain spraining hours reading chapters 38 to 42, referring to my notes on the other chapters, going back to Genesis, looking at a couple of different translations, all the time keeping in mind the character of Job and of God as described in the first two chapters. I tried to look at it from the orthodox viewpoint despite finding virtually nothing written on it by the church or at least not easily found. But all I get is completely, totally, utterly depressed. Going back to seeing what I think Job saw uplifts me; it gives me hope.

And so I wonder how a church that talks little about the nature and origin of evil, of Satan and developed its orthodoxy long after the time of Christ can really meet the needs of the too-many but few of us who've been isolated like Job was, who've been blamed cruelly for our travails, who look fine on the outside but struggle just to follow the hymn or to understand conversation, who live on little, bouyed up by the generosity of one or two persons as the road to bouying oneself up has been banged shut. If the church is unwilling to enter into why God would treat Job with respect and truly answer him not just confuse him with imagery and is unwilling to look hard at why God would create evil even though the answers are strewn throughout the Bible, then they never will understand and really help us. We will forever hear people talk at the lectern about helping the poor and then only helping the obvious poor. We will forever have coffee cliques after church, where the known but fine-looking congregants will be ignored. We will forever have congregants asking after a missing person without actually calling that person up. We will forever have churches full of people looking to the Pastor and leaders to show compassion so they don't have to. And we will forever have people like Job's friends blaming the suffering person and trying to walk away from them.

The church must face this head on, and saying evil only comes out of sin, when clearly that's not the case, and saying that humans cannot resist it on their own negates the experience of too many who've had to face it without God's help as He watches, just like He watched Job to see how he'd resist the evil thoughts of his three friends and the unbelievable youthful cruelty of Elihu. Because Job resisted successfully, God treated him like one does an equal, came out of the whirlwind, and spoke to him with respect. While humans and even the church still scoff at Job for having the temerity to question God, God does no such thing. God talks and talks to Job, building up His answer knowing how well Job listens, until at last he sees. God wants Job to see. And that's why I can't fall in line with church orthodoxy on Satan and people's ability to resist him.

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