|Being in the Right||Being Considered Right|
|(1) Claiming to be right;||being in the right;||being considered right|
|(2) Claiming to be right;||being in the wrong;||being considered right|
|(3) Claiming to be right;||being in the right;||being considered wrong|
|(4) Claiming to be right;||being in the wrong;||being considered wrong|
|(5) Renouncing to be right;||being in the right;||being considered right|
|(6) Renouncing to be right;||being in the wrong;||being considered right|
|(7) Renouncing to be right;||being in the right;||being considered wrong|
|(8) Renouncing to be right;||being in the wrong;||being considered wrong.|
|Claiming to be Right||Being in the Right||Being Considered Right|
2. Job against his Friends: A Narrative Comparison
[H]ear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him.(Job 34:10–11)
- All suffering is God-inflicted.
- All God-inflicted suffering is punishment.
- All and only the guilty (sc. those who violated divine law/s) are being punished by God.
- Job suffers.
- Job is guilty.
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return again. Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.(Job 1:21)
It is all one …: he destroys innocent and guilty alike.(Job 9:22)
[O]ne person dies in the fullness of strength, in all possible happiness and ease … Another dies in bitterness of heart, never having tasted happiness. They lie together down in the dust, and the worms soon cover them both.(Job 21:23–26)
[H]e … crushes me … for no reason, wounds and wounds again … If I prove myself upright, his mouth may condemn me; even if I am innocent, he may pronounce me perverse.(Job 9:17–20)12
I take my stand on my uprightness, I shall not stir: in my heart I need not be ashamed of my days.(Job 27:6)
- All suffering is God-inflicted.
- Some God-inflicted suffering is punishment.
- Some, but not all being guilty (sc. those who violated divine law/s) suffer.
- Some, but not all sufferers are guilty.
- Either a God who inflicts suffering upon those not being guilty (sc. the innocent) cannot be a just God or he himself must explain to them the meaning of their suffering.
- I suffer and I am innocent.
- Either God cannot be a just God or he himself must explain to me the meaning of my suffering.
From the external and visible world there comes an old adage: ‘Only one who works gets bread.’ Oddly enough, the adage does not fit the world in which it is most at home, for … here it happens again and again that he who does not work does get bread … even more abundantly than he who works. In the external world, everything … is subject to the law of indifference … It is different in the world of the spirit. Here an eternal divine order prevails. Here it does not rain on both the just and the unjust; here the sun does not shine on both good and evil. Here it holds true that only the one who works gets bread, that only the one who was in anxiety finds rest, that only … the one who draws the knife gets Isaac.(Kierkegaard 1983, p. 27 (my emphasis))
|God Predominantly Appears as||The Type of Retribution Principle Concerned Can be Formulated as Follows||The Principle in Job and his Friends|
|1. Envious||1. No Pw14 and no Pnw15 gets bread.16||1. -17|
|2. Malevolent||2.118 All and only Psnw19 get bread.|
2.2 Only, but not all Psnw get bread.
2.3. All, but not only Psnw get bread.
2.4 Only, but not all Psw20 get bread.
|3. Indifferent||3. Some Psnw and some Psw get bread.||3. Job’s “skeptical view”: cf. Job 9:17.22; 12:23; 21:7–15.23–26; 23:13.|
|4. Rigorous||4. All and only Psw get bread.21||4. The “dogmatical” view of Job’s friends: cf., e.g., Job 34:10f.|
|5. Merciful||5. All, but not only Psw get bread.||5. -|
|6. Generous||6. All Psnw and all Psw get bread.||6. -|
I have a witness in heaven, my defender is there on high.(Job 16:19)
I know that I have a living Defender and that he will rise up last. After my awakening, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom I shall see will take my part: my eyes will be gazing on no stranger.(Job 19:25ff.)24
My words have been frivolous: what can I reply? … I have spoken once, I shall not speak again; I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say.(Job 40:4f.)
You have told me about great works that I cannot understand, about marvels which are beyond me, of which I know nothing … Before, I knew you only by hearsay but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.(Job 42:3–6)26
I burn with anger against you [sc. Eliphaz of Teman] and your two friends, for not having spoken correctly about me as my servant Job has done.(Job 42:7)
3. A Claim Forfeiting Its Own Right: Why Job Got It Wrong
Job is not a hero of faith [sc. like Abraham]; he gives birth to the category of ‘ordeal’ [Prøvelse] with excruciating anguish precisely because he is so developed that he does not possess it in childlike immediacy … This category, ordeal, is not esthetic, ethical, or dogmatic—it is altogether transcendent … and places a person in a purely personal relationship of opposition to God, in a relationship such that he cannot allow himself to be satisfied with any explanation at second hand.
Job … suffers as one who is innocent, humanly speaking; he has no blame, no crime for which to upbraid himself … Yet Job was continually in the wrong with God.
|Claiming to be Right||Being in the Right||Being Considered Right|
4. Conclusions: Why Job’s Paradox Matters for the Rationality Issue
|Justified||Example 1: “That’s Washington D.C.”|
Situation: classroom, pupil responding to teacher’s question about the capital of the U.S.
|Example 3a: “I am in danger of losing my life.”|
Situation: cf. Harold Lloyd, “The Climbing Scene,” in his movie Feet First (1930).33
|Example 3b: “[I am a sinner and] I repent.” (Job 42:6).|
Situation: Job before God, surrendering to him after the latter’s first-hand response.
|Unjustified||Example 2: “Your father is an alcoholic, right?”|
Situation: classroom, teacher compromising a pupil in front of the whole class.34
|Example 4a: “That’s New York.”|
Situation: classroom, pupil responding to teacher’s question about the capital of the U.S.
|Example 4b: “I am in the right [and hence no sinner]” (Job 9:20).|
Situation: Job before God, defending himself and his innocence against the latter and his own friends.
Conflicts of Interest
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We all know the pertinent jokes, as they have become almost idiomatic, cf. the following, pars pro toto: “You find yourself trapped in a locked room with a murderer, a rapist, and a lawyer. Your only hope is a revolver you have, with two bullets left. What do you do? Shoot the lawyer. Twice.” (Cohen 1999, p. 74) Jokes aside, it hardly needs mentioning that no. 4 is (rightly) considered the least, no. 1 the most desirable option—even by lawyers.
Well, almost, for there is at least one exception to the rule: the right to act morally. What is at stake here is a right, the claiming of which no one can legitimately deny or refuse; it is, positively speaking, simply mandatory to lay claim to it and to act accordingly.
From which follows, among other things, that it takes (a) two or more (b) conflicting (c) interests or claims (either within one and the same or more than one person) for a legal and/or moral conflict to arise. If Peter denies Thomas the right to X, whereas Thomas himself does not lay claim to X, then Peter is legally and/or morally disarmed (and presumably also being put to shame): an imminent conflict has been dissolved or avoided, simply because one or more of its constituents (i.e., conflicting claims or interests) are missing.
At least as far as its extended dialogue section (including Job’s final answer to Yahweh) is concerned: cf. Job 3–42:6.
I must admit beforehand that the viability of my reading depends upon a controversial translation of the term nihamti in Job 42:6 as “[and] I repent”; I will return to the issue below.
See also Job 31:6; 27:2–6; 23:3–7; 19:6.16.19ff. Please note that for the sake of simplicity I will largely ignore the—theologically important and far-reaching—difference between option no. (5) and (7) in the following. This difference closely resembles, in any case it can easily be mapped unto the distinction between “forensic” (i.e., 7) and “effective” (i.e., 5) types of justification, both of which are, theologically speaking, supposed to happen sola gratia, yet per fidem (that is in the medium of faith, the first and indispensable expression of which would be sin consciousness).
An anonymous reader of the present article argued that it mis-represents the friends‘ position as “always” one of retributive theology and has suggested instead to consult Newsom (2003) for a more nuanced account. Having done so it appears to me that the critique is justified. However, since my emphasis is on Job it seems to leave my overall argument largely unaffected. Moreover, the book itself (in particular, the dialogue-part) evidently implies that both Job and his friends take their respective views to be radically different: they agree in their mutual disagreement (whether such agreement be justified or not), and this narratologically decisive factor must not be dismissed.
Please note beforehand that the following survey is narrative rather than exegetical; as such it builds upon the assumption that it is both possible and meaningful to look for an overarching unity in a given text, such that the latter is being read as a coherent narrative, even though there may exist considerable historical, literary and/or linguistic tensions, perhaps even inconsistencies in its micro-structure. In Job’s case the various tensions between the poetry of the dialogue section [Job 3–42:6], sandwiched between the two parts of the framework-narrative in prose [Job 1–2 plus 42:7–17], and the latter themselves is certainly the most striking and widely debated example (cf. Clines 1989, pp. xxxiv–xxxvii and lviiff.). I am far from calling into question the fruitfulness of applying exegetical (in particular, historically-critical) methods of understanding a text; in my opinion, however, such application does not prima facie, much less a priori rule out the hermeneutical promise of alternative and complementary, at least supplementary approaches to history and critical exegesis like, for instance, the narrative model pursued here.
Theologically speaking Job would have had no alternative, anyway: one can only complain about God in God’s presence, thus with the latter witnessing (and judging) the complaint.
According to an anonymous reader the present article argues that Job is right to retract his insistence on his own innocence and his corresponding protest against God’s injustice; it does so mistakenly, though, since (also) from a narratological perspective Job is absolutely right in his protest: Job 9:17–20, namely (the passage cited above), is actually a repercussion and confirmation of Job 2:3, where God himself claims to have swallowed Job up “for no reason”. My response is, first, that Job simply does not know of God’s claim (which is made in the prose introduction) and therefore “is right” to retract his rebellion on his own premises—and this also and in particular from a narratological perspective. Second, he is or appears to be right to do so from a theological vantage-point also—in a way to be explained below.
Note that Job 16:19 (to be quoted shortly) does not follow, but actually precede Job 27:6 (quoted before): obviously Job’s demand for and belief in a god witnessing to and confirming his innocence goes hand in hand, both logically and temporally, with his insistence on such innocence.
Pw = person working = person obeying or acting in accordance with the divine law.
Pnw = person not working = person ignoring or consciously transgressing the divine law.
Getting bread = being blessed with good fortune, viz. overall well-being.
Nos. (1), (2), (5) and (6) are left empty here on purpose, not because I want to suggest that there are actually no proponents of the respective views to be found, but, rather, that these views do not fit either Job or his friends.
Please note that 2.1–2.4 are meant to describe a downward scale, 2.1 designating the highest, 2.4 the lowest degree of malevolence in God. It is telling that we intuitively tend to consider any attitude corresponding to 2.2 less malevolent than the one corresponding to 2.1: fairness and justice seem to require that “getting bread” must in some way be linked to “working”, such that a God who appears to comply with that requirement, at least to some degree, must be considered less malevolent than one who does not.
Psnw = persons not working.
Psw = persons working.
So that in turn no Pnw gets bread.
Please note that precisely two conditions, one ontological, one epistemical, must be met en ensemble for any given account to be considered strong: the account insinuates (and rightly so) that (a) there is an unfailing and indissoluble causal link between conduct and fortune, such that the latter does not only follow, but does rather follow from the former; (b) the way, in which both are linked, is and remains either completely unknown or else appears at least counter-intuitive, if not outright absurd or offensive. By contrast, if an account fails to meet one or both requirements I speak of a weak/er type of the retribution principle.
Though still indirectly rather than face to face with Yahweh (cf. the quotations below).
It is telling in this respect that up to the very end (cf. Job 42:7–17) both Job and his friends are kept utterly ignorant about God’s initial arrangement with Satan (cf. Job 1:6–12). As is well known the Septuagint-version of the book has a considerably different ending. A comparison between both would require a separate treatment, though; for an in depth account cf. Geiger et al. (2018).
“I repent” is “the traditional translation” (Clines 2011, p. 1208); other renderings are equally possible, though, since the root nacham, especially in its niph-form, covers a variety of meanings including “to be moved to pity [someone]”, “to console [oneself]”/”to be consoled” or even “to revenge [oneself]” (cf. Gesenius 2013, p. 804f.; Clines 2011, p. 1208f.). Barth and Barth-Frommel (2018) have recently made a case for the second rendering (“to console oneself”) and has based a novel approach to reading the book as a whole on it. Although the translation itself is “well attested” (Clines 2011, p. 1208) throughout the Old Testament, I do not find the reading based on it very promising, much less compelling. Accepting consolation would imply the decision (on Job’s part) “that his period of mourning has come to an end” (ibid.); but that hardly makes sense considering the formulation “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6), which directly follows the term in question: not only does the latter express a “common gesture of sorrow and repentance” (The New Jerusalem Bible 1990, p. 807); it is also an explicit and apparently strategic repercussion of Job 2:8 (“Job took a piece of pot to scrape himself, and went and sat among the ashes”).
In any case both notions should not be conflated, much less so by claiming that truth-conditions can be reduced to assertibility conditions, as some proponents of deflationism hold. Instead of entering into the current debate (cf. Stoljar and Damnjanovic 2010 for a detailed survey), I frankly admit that I take sides with Putnam at this point: “[D]escribing assertibility conditions for ‘This sentence is true’ … does not preempt the question ‘What ist he nature of truth?’ … If a philosopher says … that knowing the assertibility conditions is knowing all there is to know about truth, then … he is denying that there is a property of truth …, not just in the realist sense, but in any sense. But this is to deny that our thoughts and assertions are thoughts and assertions.” (Putnam 1983, p. xv).
Nota bene, in a genuinely religious, not in a purely moral and/or juridical sense.
As an additional argument for my claim that the present reading of Job is (of course not without alternatives, but in any case) genuinely Christian I would like to draw attention to the fact that the former is mentioned only once in the entire New Testament: cf. James 5:11, where “the perseverance of Job” is praised. Sure enough, this almost complete absence from the corpus can be interpreted in different ways; however, in my opinion the most natural explanation is that according to the New Testament there is only one who truly merits the description “innocent sufferer”, Jesus Christ.
The repenting Job is to be rubricked under (7), if and only if one defends a view, according to which God might justify the (repenting) sinner without actually making or rendering him just, much less innocent again. If one holds instead that considering or declaring the sinner just is ipso facto ontologically efficacious no. (5) applies. Cf. footnote 6 above.
Both pairs of parameters (true/false, justified/unjustified) primarily pertain to judgments about beliefs, though in most cases they hold for utterances also.
The example is discussed at greater length in Schulz (2012, pp. 240–43) (cf. also Schulz 2013, p. 294f. for related cases). The point here is that there may be situational circumstances (such as those in Lloyd’s movie-scene), where generating and holding certain beliefs, like the one ascribed to the latter in the matrix, might be justified, even though they are clearly false.
The example is used and explained in Bonhoeffer (1981, p. 390f); it presupposes ex hypothesi that the teacher’s utterance is in fact true; still, it must be deemed unjustified, since for Bonhoeffer it is uttered in a fatally misplaced situational and institutional context (school instead of family). For a more detailed (and partly critical) account of Bonhoeffer’s view cf. Schulz (2000).
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