The story of Job is at once ancient and immediate to us. Thousands of years divide us from the primaeval setting of this story, and yet we encounter its strange protagonist with a sense of intimate familiarity. We may even see our own likeness in Job and his trials—who has not had his faith tested in the furnaces of hardship? Unlike the brawny and heroic figures that Homer presents in the likes of Achilles and Odysseus, The Book of Job puts on display all of the frailty of the human condition. And yet, Job also shows us the manner in which these trials by fire may become more than mere sources of suffering or woe. Instead, they can become catalysts for inner transformation. The same forge that melts the iron may also temper it. Indeed, transformation implies a dissolution of a prior form as a condition to establish the new one.
I wish to briefly explore The Book of Job as something like a roadmap of “repentance.” Just like the story itself, the word “repentance” conceals its true meaning by appearing as such. Often “repentance” evokes associations with “regret” and “remorse.” Thus the significance of the term is hid under the bushel of a familiar word. But “repentance” is an esoteric name for an inner transformation. It may be conceived as “intellectual conversion,” or “revolution of the spirit,” or “turning about of the heart,” or “going beyond the mind,” etc. “Repentance” appears as a conventional translation of the very expressive Greek term metanoia (μετάνοια, μετά- “above,” “about,” “over,” “after” + νοια “mind,” “intellect,” “spirit”), which evokes the image of interior conversion. Thus, The Book of Job is a manual of metanoia.
Conventional interpretations of The Book of Job have tended to lay emphasis on the literal and theological dimensions of the text. More specifically, the story of Job is interpreted as the depiction of a righteous man, which others may emulate. The Epistle of James, for instance, affirms that “we count them happy which endure” and then puts forth Job as an exemplar: “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” (James 5:11) Job is confronted with a trial that tests his faith. He overcomes the trial and God compensates him for his trouble: “also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) In this way, the story may serve to incentivise taking Job as a role model for the sake of guaranteeing a reward for ourselves. Interpreted in this way, the story may also seem to affirm the very principle of cosmic justice or karma that God’s speech from the whirlwind in the climax of the narrative nominally appeared to contradict. This is as awkward a reading as it is common, however, because not only do God’s deeds and testimony call into question that the world that he created and seems to minister is fair, but Job’s own speeches hardly strike one as the words of a paragon of unwavering faith and stoic endurance. If anything, The Book of Job recounts how Job’s stoicism is dashed on the rocks of anguish. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD giveth, the LORD taketh away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21) gives way to a jeremiad two chapters later; like a dam that is burst by torrents of woe. Job begins his lament by cursing the day he was born, (3:3) and over the course of his replies, repeatedly accuses God of injustice (10:1-7, 12:6, etc.), demanding that God give an account and defence of his persecution, though at the same time affirming that God is unbeholden to this demand, “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.” (9:32) Suffice it to say that these statements hardly resemble the virtues that we typically ascribe to Job. At the same time, Job also seems to possess the mustard-seed of redemptive faith: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26)
Job’s words are prophetic in the context of the narrative since he foretells his encounter with God at the end of the text. They are also prophetic in the context of the revelation of the New Testament since they affirm Jesus’ assertion that “…he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Matthew 4:25) Still, Job’s soul is by no measure unanimous in the conviction of its eventual salvation and indeed, the bulk of the narrative concerns itself with Job’s trials and Job’s doubt and not his faith. Perceiving this discrepancy is what led me to inquire further into the meaning of the story of Job, and I will present some conclusions later in this exploration. First, however, I wish to touch on another theme that is conventionally coupled with this ancient text. This is of course the problem of evil, or theodicy.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus offered among the most concise articulations of this basic challenge to classical monotheistic worldviews:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
The interlocutors in The Book of Job pose a similar dilemma. If God is just, and if Job is pious, why then does Job suffer? Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar affirm the antecedent as an axiom and are forced to deny Job’s piety “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” (8:3)
Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed? For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes. But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee; And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth. (11:3-6)
Job, by contrast, retains unfaltering conviction of his own innocence and as a result doubts that God has dealt justly with him. For this reason, he demands that God give an account for the reason of his afflictions. As I noted above, the true object of Job’s faith appears to be in his own lack of sin and not in God’s fairness. “Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand” (10:7), “Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated” (13:18) while “The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.” (12:6)
How does The Book of Job seem to answer the challenge of theodicy? Hearkening to Epicurus’ formulation above: God certainly seems able to prevent evil by refusing to oblige Satan’s request following their reciprocal provocation of one another. A brief note on the character of Satan is in order before continuing on the question of theodicy. Satan (שָּׂטָן) seems to us to be a proper noun. But to the Hebrew reader, it was also a title. Indeed most proper names trace their origins to titles. Satan translates roughly as “the accuser” or “the adversary.” Thus Satan appears as a divine prosecutor who indicts Job in the heavenly tribunal. Ironically, the defendant of this process imagines he will put God on trial. This metaphor poses the question, however, of whether there is an advocate for Job, especially since God does not seem especially inclined to engage in the disputations of his own courtroom. Instead, his answer from the whirlwind is more akin to “turning the tables on the money changers” than entering into any kind of reasoned argument. In Job’s case, he himself must serve the role of playing his own advocate against the accusations of his friends, who in their prosecution, appear to channel Satan. In The New Testament, however, Jesus seems to proclaim an addition to the divine tribunal: “But when the Advocate is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). “Advocate,” or “Comforter,” as the King James Version has it, is a translation of the Greek word Paraclete or Parakleitos (Παράκλητος). The word is sometimes translated as “intercessor.” In any case, it presents a clear picture of a spirit who raises his voice against Satan to speak in defense of the accused. Here I am tempted to inquire into the nature of the Paraclete, the Third Person of the Trinity in more detail, but I will refrain and save such an exploration for another time.
Returning to the theme of theodicy: it must be affirmed that God does not prevent evil, and yet this alone does not make him malevolent. Indeed, The Book of Job ultimately makes Epicurus’ syllogism look like so much straw before the whirlwind of theophany. Paul articulates the situation very concisely in his first letter to the Church of Corinth: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” (1:21) He adds by way of explanation that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (2:14) The categories of good and evil seem like maps that do not fit the territory of divine initiative. The actions of God can only appear incomprehensible from the perspective of our conventional logic and its facile contrarieties. Again, I believe that the revelation of the New Testament serves to clarify this enigma in the Old. Thus Jesus’ response to his disciples in John 9 speaks in answer to Job as well as his own immediate audience:
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (9:1-3)
Jesus always upends our hermeneutical complacency that tries to get at the truth by way of literalness or dogmatism. Jesus’ counterposition against the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospel accounts is an allegory of the truth poised between outward appearance on one hand and strict adherence to ritual and tradition on the other. Job also seems to find himself between two influences: his wife, who enjoins him to “curse God and die,” (Job 2:9), and his three friends who axiomatically affirm God’s benevolence and thus conclude a priori that Job must have sinned.
The Book of Job does not offer facile or trivial answers to the mighty questions that it poses. Still, in respect to the problem of theodicy, it seems possible to conclude that to imagine God as a transcendent “scorekeeper” in wrong. This is partly because God’s character as he reveals it at the end of The Book of Job (and further in the New Testament) prevents this conclusion. More importantly, however, the story of Job seems to demonstrate that even if God were such a scorekeeper, mortals would not be able to understand what counts in his tally. When it is suggested that Job’s suffering was all for nothing, or that he was ultimately compensated when God returned all of his wealth twofold, this misses the most essential points. First, Job’s suffering was a crucible for his interior transformation. It is written that “God is a consuming fire.” Fire is a sensible manifestation of transformation and thus the metaphor is fitting as it applies to Job, since Job at the beginning of the narrative is not the same as Job at its end. Second, to suggest that Job’s suffering was either senseless or outwardly compensated ignores that typological nature of myth. Wealth is a symbol for value. By itself it is just an arbitrary datum. Job’s reward was to converse with God in the rubedo of his spiritual conversion. This leads me to the theme that was my true inspiration for this essay. Namely, to explore the concept of metanoia in The Book of Job. Specifically, I believe the narrative may be read as a map of sorts that describes the process of interior transformation.
So far, I have attempted to set forth the theory that The Book of Job may be read as a map of sorts that describes the territory of metanoia (μετάνοια, μετά- “above,” “about,” “over,” “after” + νοια “mind,” “intellect,” “spirit”). Often translated as “repentance,” metanoia indicates an interior transformation. The transformation at stake can be described as a conversion, a reversal, or a turning-inside-out of the soul. Clearly, such a transformation does not come naturally because we ordinarily expect we can change without ceasing to be what we were before. As a result, we do not change at all except in dreams. Having imagined ourselves to have accomplished such a transformation, we no longer recognise the objective necessity of actually undertaking it. Job, for instance, imagines himself to be a pious and God-fearing man so when misfortune after misfortune is visited upon him, he has no way of responding productively. God appears to corroborate Job’s own estimation of his own virtue in prologue in Heaven, but this might just as easily be interpreted as a deliberate provocation of Satan to the ultimate effect of shaking Job from his complacency and impelling his evolution.
The narrative introduces Job as externally pious:
And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually. (Job 1:4-5)
Together with his obvious piousness, however, is a strange detachment that is evident in Job’s actions. This is especially manifest in his relationship to others, including God. The fact that Job does not know what his own sons feel in their hearts suggests Job’s alienation. Moreover, that his wife, who also represents his unconscious soul, tells him to “curse God and die” demonstrates Job’s estrangement and inadvertent duplicity. He seems to be enclosed in a kind of shell or chrysalis that closes him off even from his own heart. The metamorphosis of Job demands that the cocoon of perfunctory rites and worship that Job has woven about himself be laid to waste:
…that [he] put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man…and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Elihu, the mysterious figure who appears out of nowhere in chapter 36, represents the “new man” that the Apostle Paul would later describe. Elihu’s youth and the fact that he possesses the vision to rightly evaluate the hardship that Job has undergone both testify to this identity.
Before Job’s conversion begins, Job was mechanically pious and resistant to hardship, responding to the death of his sons and daughters with the stoic phrase “the LORD giveth, the LORD taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21) Job’s transformation begins when “the arrows of the Almighty” (6:4) finally succeed in puncturing Job’s cocoon. The beginning of Job’s initiation is symbolised by the “seven days and seven nights” during which he sat upon the ground in silence in the company of his three friends (2:13). After this time has elapsed, at once the floodgates of Job’s soul burst open and his repressed anguish rushes forth in torrents of lament. His grief is almost entirely self-referential.
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day. And Job answered and said:
Let the day perish wherein I was born, And the night which said, There is a man-child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; Let not God from above seek for it, Neither let the light shine upon it.
Let darkness and the shadow of death claim it for their own; Let a cloud dwell upon it; Let all that maketh black the day terrify it.
As for that night, let thick darkness seize upon it: Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; Let it not come into the number of the months.
Lo, let that night be barren; Let no joyful voice come therein.
Let them curse it that curse the day, Who are ready to rouse up leviathan.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark: Let it look for light, but have none; Neither let it behold the eyelids of the morning:
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, Nor hid trouble from mine eyes.
Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when my mother bare me?
Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breast, that I should suck? (3:1-12)
Oh that my vexation were but weighed, And all my calamity laid in the balances!
For now it would be heavier than the sand of the seas: Therefore have my words been rash.
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, The poison whereof my spirit drinketh up: The terrors of God do set themselves in array against me. And to God he can only bemoan his fate (6:2-4)
He nominally addresses his complaints to God and to his friends, and yet clearly fails to communicate with them. This is most apparent in the lack of semantic evolution in the exchange between Job and his three friends. Their exchange is more the aggregate of their respective monologues than any sort of conversation. Job repeatedly bemoans his experience of this fact and naturally scapegoats everyone else for a spiritual opacity that he himself typifies: “wearisome comforters are ye all” (16:2). Do we imagine that Job would have been capable of responding in any other way if the roles were reversed? He is subliminally grieved by his estrangement, and yet casts himself as a victim of forces out of his control. Thus he bemoans God’s decision to divide him from others:
He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me.
My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.
They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight.
I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth.
My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children’s sake of mine own body.
Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me.
All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. (19:13-19)
Indeed, the majority of Job’s speeches consist in lamentation that borders on arraignment against God. Together with the above accusation, Job charges God with being intrusive and heartlessly destructive of human designs (7:17-21), wrothful (9:13; 14:13; 16:9; 19:11), severe (10:13–14), and hostile (16:11–14).
Gradually, however, traces of a transformation become evident in Job’s plangent speeches. His emphasis begins to shift from lamenting his own miserable fate to enunciations of God’s awesome power. Job begins to acknowledge that, in spite of his ill fortune, he does not have a monopoly on misery. Rather, Job begins at once to accept God’s unfathomable might as well as the fate that he shares with all mortals. These realisations come like “chinks of his cavern,” to quote Blake, that represent a turning point in his initiation:
If I have despised the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, When they contended with me;
If his loins have not blessed me, And if he hath not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, Because I saw my help in the gate:
Then let my shoulder fall from the shoulder-blade, And mine arm be broken from the bone.
For calamity from God is a terror to me, And by reason of his majesty I can do nothing. (31:13-23)
The appearance of Elihu, “the new man,” follows this final answer from Job. Elihu recasts Job’s suffering as purposeful. The extent of Job’s insight into hardship before the arrival of Elihu was the perception of his own suffering. As a consequence, that God would afflict him with such hardship could only appear arbitrary to Job. The narrative is something of a dramatic irony because the reader is privy to the exchange between God and Satan in the prologue and thus is aware that Job is mistakenly ascribing all causal power to himself to precipitate his circumstances. Job presumes that he himself must have occasioned everything that befalls him when he may merely be the accidental maleficiary of a line of divine causation that he encountered. If a farmer is plowing a field and his plow turns up buried treasure, it is not supposed that the farmer’s decision to plow the field was causally responsible for the treasure being buried there. Instead, the farmer’s decision is part of a discrete causal sequence while it is assumed that there was a separate causal chain responsible for the treasure being buried there. Thus, the farmer’s discovery of the treasure was an accidental convergence of two formerly discrete chains of causation. Job and his friends together make a mistake akin to the person who believes that the farmer’s decision to plow his field was responsible for the treasure being buried there. Thus they can only conclude that Job occasioned his own suffering through sin, or that God is spiteful and arbitrary. In any case, Job is always the locus of concern and they find themselves incapable of discovering any purpose in his suffering other than retribution for a hypothetical trespass.
Elihu represents the conversion or metanoia of Job’s soul such that he ceases to speculate about the meaning of his situation or to doubt whether he deserves it or not. Instead, Job seeks a manner to accept it and thereby transform it. Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane provide the archetypal image of this new orientation: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Elihu prefigures Jesus in his injunction to refrain from theorising about God’s motives and rather seek to align oneself with God’s will. Suffering may serve to shock a man from his complacency and render him receptive to wisdom which his own self-pity had otherwise closed him from. In this way, a man may turn material adversity to the advantage of his soul. In Elihu’s words:
He delivereth the afflicted by their affliction, And openeth their ear in oppression. (36:15)
He then rebukes Job for having deafened himself to wisdom by having obsessed himself with moral scorekeeping:
But thou art full of the judgment of the wicked: Judgment and justice take hold on thee. (36:17)
In one sense we might read Elihu’s answer to Job as just one more speech among the eight speeches that his three friends have already offered. At the same time, however, Elihu seems to articulate the precise change that Job must necessarily undergo to cast off his cocoon of isolation. Elihu awakens Job to the manner in which his own psychological orientation had closed him off from the world and from God.
In this way, Elihu does not have to be seen as anything other than Job in his newly transformed state reflecting on the prior condition from which he just emerged. This view has the advantage that it accounts for Elihu’s spontaneous appearance in chapter 32 without speculating about plotlines extrinsic to the text. The character of Elihu is the virgin birth of “new man” from the soul that finally allowed itself to be fructified by wisdom. And this rebirth is the condition for encounter with the divine and not merely concepts of it: “no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) God is always there for us, only we are not there for him. And we remain absent to him until Christ has been born in us and we cease to live in our old selves and begin to live in Christ “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Thus, God’s appearance in the whirlwind after Elihu’s speech is not accidental to the logic of the narrative but rather an expression of this logic.
 Goethe captures something of this conception in Faust Part I:
Ich bin ein Teil von jener Kraft,
die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.
“I am part of that power which
would do forever evil and which does eternal good.”
(J. W. von Goethe, Faust. Translated by A. S. Byatt. Penguin Classics, 2005. (p. 70).)
 “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Originally appeared on VoegelinViewRead More