Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Ivory Cubicle | Born to Trouble

The introduction to Job is perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring and puzzling passages in all of literature. The book starts off with a series of catastrophes befalling a faithful man of God, setting him up for a prolonged period of agonizing, despairing soul-searching. We, of course, have a bit of an inside look at the heavenly dialogue that has been going on behind the scene – Satan has strode into heaven, among the sons of God, and entreated him for permission to afflict his servant Job.

Unfortunately, this inside look raises more questions than answers. Why has God permitted Satan to afflict Job? Was it truly necessary for God to have visited evil upon Job, when it could have been prevented? Would not a loving and merciful God seek to eradicate evil as much as possible?

Ecce, Omnia Nova Facio

Scripture is very clear that evil has been a very real part of the world stretching back even before the fall of man. As N.D. Wilson put it, “the fall of man did not introduce evil; it placed us on the wrong side of it.” But now that we're here, we're here. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards,” as Eliphaz later recounts. “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with,” the Teacher says.

Goethe's Faust is one of my favorite works of Western literature. It too begins with the devil, Mephistopheles, entreating the Lord for permission to afflict his servant Faust. But Faust, unlike Job, falls harder, going so far as to sell his soul to the devil. The story of the Faustian barter is not that far from reality. How many times has a soul been lost under the relentless assault of the devil that seemed as if it may have been won had God only stretched out his hand?

I know it's not as ancient or as classic as some, but my favorite creation myth can be found in The Silmarillon, where Illuvatar, singing the world into existence, is contradicted by Melkor, who interweaves notes of his own devising into the harmony. But, though his harmony is disrupted by the voice of Melkor, Illuvatar continues to sing. It reminds me of the Book of Hebrews, which declares that God “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” We exist here today because the Word has gone forth and has continued to go forth, and we remain in existence because God continues to speak.

But then the music ceases, and Illuvatar issues his proclamation – And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

It's a powerful statement, "he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful." A story is being enacted by a great storyteller, though we may not understand it right now, and it's rendered all the more potent by attempts to contradict it. Art requires tension, after all. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem! some have exclaimed. I don't know that I'm quite inclined to join them. For though no theme may be played that has not its uttermost source in God, we stray too far if we laud its corruption or place blame for it at his feet. But God is not the author of evil, he is the author despite evil. Behold, I am making all things new.

That answer, having been cobbled together over the history of Christian philosophy, is not, of course, the ultimate line of defense. Job gets perhaps a more straightforward answer, one which bypasses the question of purpose and will altogether. He gets the awesome power of God in nature and a long, drawn out, multi-chapter response of “who are you to dare question the Lord Almighty?”

It's a legitimate point, perhaps the only legitimate point. Many a grieving soul has dared lower his voice and softly, regretfully whisper, “I just couldn't believe in a God who would...” How repulsive! Even Job, in his defiance, still declares “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him!” We are only permitted to ask questions of God from a bended knee.

And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. After all, Christ, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Those whom he justified, he also glorified, and blessed is he who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

By Nick Barden
Photo from Wikipedia - credit: Gabriel Pollar

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