On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (Anglais) Broché – 21 mai 1987
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Gutiérrez helps us to understand how difficult it is to talk about God when the innocent suffer and how empty theology sounds when it refuses to speak from the harsh realities of life. Gutiérrez incorporates the works of various scholars, priests, playwrights, teachers, theologians and Latin American poets to help readers understand his approach to the topic. Gutiérrez thoroughly analyzes the deep messages to be found in the Book of Job and concludes by challenging Christians to use the insights found in its text to contemplate God's gratuitousness and live in accordance with its demands as we seek to help the plight of the innocent sufferers in the world.
Gutiérrez believes that Job's suffering has made him more conscious of other innocent sufferers. Gutiérrez also insists that God's justice can only be understood in the light of God's gratuitousness. He insists that the world turns on God's gratuitousness, not the theory of retribution. Gutiérrez also insists that those who suffer and talk (or complain) about God with honesty may actually be more pleasing to God than those who, like Job's friends, worship and obey God out of self-interested hope of reward or fear of punishment. Gutiérrez insists that abstract talk of God and his love is not profitable unless it speaks from an honest and deep consideration of the most desperate of human conditions and a deep contemplation of the plan, justice and gratuitousness of God.
From the outset, Gutiérrez informs readers that his approach is rooted in his experience with the social injustices he has witnessed in Latin America and that his goal is to find in the Book of Job insights, answers and approaches that will help us to "speak well of God" in the face of the harsh realities of life. I think that Gutiérrez has succeeded in his goal.
I commend Gutiérrez for taking on the challenge of one of the Bible's most difficult texts, especially one that deals with the hardest of human questions: Why do the innocent suffer? Amazingly, Gutiérrez has taken on the challenge and provides readers with a brief,1 detailed, clear, thorough and concise book. I also commend Gutiérrez on his extensive research and his knowledge of the many points of interpretation which theologians have long debated in regards to the Book of Job. Gutiérrez also shows courage in his opposition to many of these traditional interpretations.
Since reading this book, I have learned that the self-interested religion of Job's friends is not true faith, but is instead a subtle form of idolatry in which God becomes a predictable toy controlled by human behavior. Gutiérrez helped me to see the humanity of the author of the Book of Job and how God worked through the author to create a work of art that manages to ask the hard questions about God, faith and the harsh realities of life. Gutiérrez has helped me to see the Book of Job as a work of art that does not settle for quick and easy answers about the universal human experience but instead raises uncomfortable questions that, when asked, may open people's hearts for deeper experiences with the true God. Gutiérrez has convinced me of the importance of honest prayer and contemplation of God and that to truly understand God's justice one must understand God's gratuitousness.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has questioned God's goodness in the face of human suffering. I would also recommend this book to bible study teachers (it would make for great study and discussion), seminary students, pastors, ministers, pastoral counselors, social workers, and those who seek justice for "the least of these."
To begin with, the book of Job tells the story of God testing Job's faith by allowing Satan to bring Job's life from fortune to misfortune. Job is brought through a number of tribulations, from the loss of his entire family to malignant skin diseases. Job's friends contend that his misery is a direct result of sin in his life. Job argues against his friends and brings his frustration and queries in direct appeal to God - even challenging God. Finally, God enters the narrative in the ending chapters to confront Job. In analysis of this Old Testament book, Gutierrez makes the beginning observation that Job's story, though written with a specific purpose in mind, seems written with "a faith that has been drenched in tears and reddened by blood." What makes this a particularly powerful observation is that it seems readily apparent that such a description can be equally applied to Gutierrez. His words are not like those of meticulous scholars who sacrifice meaning in pursuit of its details, but rather of one who is emotionally and personally invested in the topic he's writing about.
Gutierrez's treatment of Job can be broken down into four prominent themes that carry from beginning to culmination. First is the idea of disinterested faith. Can one, even in the midst of wanton cruelty, abject suffering and every violation of human dignity, still profess faith in God? In other words, is it possible to have a faith that is wholly not contingent upon outward circumstances - no matter their extremity? Job, as Gutierrez points out, is an exemplar of this disinterested faith. Gutierrez supports this theme by referring to Job's steadfast devotion to God, refusing to curse God, no matter his painful circumstances. Though Job's language often has the shade of vituperative despair, he never abandons God in language or action. Of course, this sort of faith amidst suffering directly relates to how we talk about God. This "God-talk" is the second theme. Gutierrez suggests that our language of God is directly influenced by the situation we happen to find ourselves. He specifically develops this theme by looking at how Job's language matures within the progression of his dialogues with his redundantly circuitous friends. Job's speeches are thoughtful yet filled with complaint and a tinge of anger. Job shows us that it is okay to be angry with God so long as we give him our faith. Job becomes abundantly aware, not of solely his own seemingly gratuitous suffering, but of the suffering of others. The language of Job is sharpened between two stones, the belief that he is innocent and the acute awareness that he suffers nonetheless. Gutierrez argues that Job is not seriously contending that he is innocent to the degree of having never sinned, but rather that Job is aware that his suffering far outweighs any such sin. Gutierrez did not expound upon the references that indicate that Job was aware of his sinfulness - innate or otherwise - or why we should agree that Job's claims of innocence were merely reflective of the magnitude of suffering in comparison to the degree of sin. However, upon reading his references, I think the case is firmly in Gutierrez's favor.
The third prominent theme has to do with temporal retribution. Temporal retribution is the idea that all those who are healthy or unwell, affluent or poor, carefree or suffering, are as they are in accordance with their deeds. The fact that Job's life went from healthy affluence to destitute misery was a sure sign of his moral failing. Gutierrez makes the wise assessment that many current Christian paradigms either explicitly or implicitly affirm this harmful doctrine (think prosperity gospel). Job, based on his experience of innocence, ardently disavows this seemingly sound and well established doctrine of temporal retribution. As Job's friends continue to talk in circles, endlessly repeating their tired arguments in favor of temporal retribution, Job slowly shifts from a self-centered defense of his innocence to something greater. Job begins to point out the fundamental error in the doctrine of retribution, the abject suffering of the innocent. Job no longer bases his case on his experiences alone, but rather joins in chorus with all the poor and forsaken of the world. It has been wisely said that "a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument." Gutierrez brings this quote to life in the story of Job - showing that our experiences inform our theology. This theme allows for the fourth theme - God's incomprehensibility - to percolate until coming to full boil in ending chapters. Gutierrez allows his readers to struggle with the tension of the third theme. If God does not operate under a methodology of temporal retribution, how does he operate? Why does he allow essentially good people to suffer so unjustly? God's appearance at the end of the story, as Gutierrez contends, was precisely to answer this question. God conveyed to Job that his ways are fundamentally incomprehensible to human beings. Our inability to see answers is not indicative of there being no answers. We must have faith that God has our best interests in mind - bringing us right back to disinterested faith. Gutierrez is right, the best way to understand God's justice is to steer clear of, "...the temptation of imprisoning God in a narrow conception of justice (91)."
The concluding remarks is where Gutierrez brings the firm connection between the story of Job and current Latin-American suffering. The massacres at Auschwitz have relevant bearing on how we do theology, but there are those who still suffer grave injustices and wallow alone in weakness, unable to bring their voice to a crescendo loud enough to reach our ears. People of Latin-America are wounded, stripped of their rights, tortured and abandoned on the wayside of a road we tend to avoid. And when finally approached, one must not be scandalized upon hearing their bitter complaints against the God in which their faith remains. They have right to voice these words and maybe they will say as Job said, "I spoke without understanding marvels that are beyond my grasp." Either way, we have a responsibility to adjust the sensitivity of our hearts, rendering them attune to the suffering of the innocent. How many people suffer, not because of the action of the malevolent, but because of the inaction of Christ's followers. Gutierrez notes that just as Job's friends were at their best when silent, so we must avoid becoming "sorry comforters" and instead involve ourselves in suffering and bear the "mystery of the cross amid that suffering (103)."
It must first be admitted that my initial assumptions about this book turned out to be completely false. I thought that Gutierrez's agenda regarding Latin-American peoples would hamper the scholarship and be used to manipulate the text. Gutierrez's agenda, however, only made him more acutely aware of the subtle yet important nuances in the story of Job. What stood out most in Gutierrez's commentary was his apparent familiarity with current philosophical discussions on the problem of evil. Gutierrez is no doubt familiar with the oft-repeated logical problem of evil (think J.L. Mackie). Gutierrez surreptitiously sneaks the wrench into that argument by contending that an "all-powerful God is also a `weak' God (77)," insofar as God's power is limited by human freedom. For those familiar with the philosophy on this subject, it is hard not to see this as reminiscent of the great Christian philosopher (notoriously responsible for refuting the logical problem of evil), Alvin Plantinga's claim that, "there are things even an omnipotent God cannot do." Gutierrez's language betrays his familiarity with other variations of the problem of evil - most notably the evidential versions. This can be clearly seen in his constant reference to God's gratuitous love. William Rowe and other prominent atheistic philosophers are wont to suggest that since gratuitous evil probably exists, it is also probable that theism is false. Gutierrez's use of gratuitous love seems like somewhat of a backlash to this strand of criticism. Nevertheless, this sort of love-language felt a little gratuitous itself - inasmuch as the text does not seem to warrant its use. We can certainly infer this gratuitous love based on other sections of the bible, but the story of Job, in my opinion, is not a confirmation of this inference. This is one area where it seemed Gutierrez was pandering more to a particular theology than partaking in serious scholarship.
On the other hand, Gutierrez's fourth theme - the incomprehensibility of God - does ultimately eliminate the tension between God's goodness and the suffering of the innocent. Not only does it show that as humans we have no supra-divine standard of Good by which we may judge God's actions, but it shows that our perceptions of evil may be false at any given moment. Take for example a man who slowly awakes to find a woman cutting into his stomach. The man will rightly fuss that such an action is evil! But say he finds out that the woman is a doctor who is trying to remove a malignant mass that will ultimately kill him. Will he not then realize that what he perceived to be evil was not evil at all? This is the problem of our limited perspective and our inability to comprehend the actions of God.
But Gutierrez's familiarity with these philosophical problems grows ever more apparent. Gutierrez reminds us in his book that there is pedagogical value in suffering. This is redolent of another important philosophical treatise, namely John Hicks's idea of soul-building. John Hick has pointed out the errant presupposition held by many propagators of the problem of evil. They assume, like David Hume, that the purpose of an omni-excellent God is to create a "hedonistic paradise." Hick's analogy of their thinking is a human with a caged pet. In any respect that the animal's cage falls short of the veterinarian's ideal, then it is immediately attributed to a lack of benevolence, limited means, or both. David Hume talks of an architect that builds a home and if the economy of the home led to any discomfort or misfortune (e.g. noise, darkness, fatigue or etc.) then we would not hesitate to blame the architect. But Gutierrez, like John Hick, knows that God's purpose is not to give us whatever we want, but rather to give us the means to build ourselves up towards Christlikness. Gutierrez was able to take one of the oldest books in the Bible (Gutierrez obviously disagrees with many scholars who believe it is the oldest book as he sees the author as borrowing material) and show how it has prophetically refuted even the newest arguments from the problem of evil.
Most importantly, however, Gutierrez shows us that though we are great at remembering the atrocities of the past, from the crusades to the holocaust, we are poor at identifying them while they occur. I hope this message will not be lost. I will no longer read Job and think about his solving the problem of evil, but rather his identifying the real problem: innocent people suffer while others idly pass by. Jesus' face is with the poor and weak, yet here I am amidst the healthy, sheltered and rich. Something needs to change.
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