Monday, August 07, 2006

Is There No End to My Hypocrisy?

One big thing I’ve been harping on throughout my journey through Genesis is the need to resist constant allegorizing of the Bible into personal applications. Now, don’t get me wrong: the devotional reading of scripture is a perfectly valid and time-honored tradition. I am not condemning it outright. However, when this is the primary (or indeed the only) way we read the Bible, we risk missing out on the larger story it is trying to tell us. Our first question should always be “what is God up to?”, and only then will we be able to ask “how do we fit in?”.

So, with all that said, isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for me to approach the book of Job with the question “what do I do with the difficult parts of scripture” on my mind?

I guess, in a way, I am guilty as charged. But, in my defense, reading Job as part of the larger story is rather difficult. At what part of the story should we put it? When was it written? During the time of the patriarchs? During the kingdom of Israel? During the exile, or the post-exilic period?

The time that makes the most sense to my half-educated mind is post-exile. Job deals with the idea of the suffering of a righteous man. Almost the entire Old Testament associates suffering with God’s judgment of his people for their unfaithfulness and idolatry. It is only after the exile that they (as a people) are afflicted despite or even because of their faithfulness to the Lord. Plus, from what I’ve heard, the name Satan is a Persian influence. Job is one of only three books in the Old Testament that refers to Satan by name. If my guess is right, then we should read Job as an epic poem written by Jews grappling with the same issues that Job himself faces in the story. If God is as faithful (as we know him to be) and if we have rejected our idolatry (as we know ourselves to have done), than why are the pagans ruling over us?

Anyway, this is all fairly controversial: I’m just guessing as best I can. Regardless, right now I am taking it on its own terms, out of its historical context (because the historical context itself is arguable), to try to see what the poem has to say. Then (hopefully with fear and trembling) I will reflect on how it could be construed to speak to my own difficulties with some passages of the Bible.