As long as man has known God and God has no man both have been disappointed and aggrieved. Before examining if “God is Dead” it maybe helpful to understand that we are not the first individuals or generation to question how a personal and all powerful God could seemingly sit idle as tragedy and evil rains on earth.
Turn to the Book of Job in the Old Testament and read of his plight. An innocent and upstanding man of God crushed by a test of loyalty posed to God by Satan himself. My Christian roots of course lay on a foundation of Jewish tradition. In essence we share the same God – but are torn apart by our lack of knowledge on how to truly live a holy life despite quite strong belief that we hold the most authentic words of God and tradition in our respective religions.
A new translation was published and released last week by Jewish scholar Edward Greenstein. What could be new about a book centuries old and studied and translated by thousands of biblical scholars? You have to buy his book to really grasp the tenuousness of truly understanding the complexity of translated religious text passed down through the centuries, told in different languages, and stored on fragments of paper. Even if were able to ensure the accuracy of every word, comma, and cultural reference – we would still be left with applying the meaning to today’s world.
If anything, Greenstein’s publication of an ancient text and review of old assumptions and definitive meanings celebrates that the living word is truly never beyond exploration and interpretation. The revelation of the text meaning and its application to our moral actions is ever changing despite core elements being beyond malleability. The challenge is knowing the difference. In today’s world we have greatly lost the art of religious and philosophical discourse, that contrary to popular belief, can actually strengthen faith rather than destroy it.
As mentioned in Part I, Nietzsche is famous for his quote God is Dead. I have used him academically to both defend that God is Dead as well as to defend years later that God is alive (and it is religion that needs saving by man). One can see this today as churches seek more lay person involvement, more transparency, and accountability.
The Book of Job presenting an honest and innocent man persecuted by Satan to settle a wager with God. Job enters a conversation with friends and eventually his deity (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and God (referred to in the book as the diety, Eloah, or El as described in Jewish Tradition). Jb’s friends are clinging to salvation theology as Job rallies to hear from God directly. Below is a very thin capture of some ideas exchanged – but a full reading of Job is required to capture Greenstein’s narrative that Job was not a passive recipient of suffering – he was vocal and very much aggrieved at being subject to such suffering. Ho would your friends support you today if you rallied against God? Here is some excerpts to give you a flavor – but far from the dialogue and interchange of reading the material in it’s entirety:
E: “Pray, Listen and Know Yourself”
J: “That Eloah grant what I hope for? That Eloah would comply and crush me! Release his hand and cleave me!”
B: Espouses traditional retribution wisdom – explains J’s suffering has a cause, even if he is not aware of the offenses.
J: “It is all the same. And so I declare: The innocent and the guilty he brings to the same end. While (his) scourge brings death to fools, He laughs at the trials of the spotless.”
“Very few are the days of my lifespan – Look away from me, so I may have a respite. Before I go and do not return, To a land of darkness and deep-shade; A land whose brightness is like pitch-black, Deep-shade and disorder; That shines like pitch-black.”
Z: Can you fathom the depths of Eloah?
J: I am not inferior to you. Do you think I know not that Eloah is greater than I. Do you not know I have learned the same wisdom as you? “He removes language from orators.” He abuses his majestic power. How can we present our grievances? “It is an argument with El I desire.”
E: “Does a sage such windy speech. It will be proven false.”
J: “My spirit has been bruised, my days are on the wane, my grave is ready.” Why does El care?
E: You speak from “The place of one who knows not El.”
J: “I make an outcry – is there no justice.”
Z: There is divine justice. You lack patience and understanding. Where is your humility?
J: Your responses are futile to my situation. I am innocent and blameless and have no recourse.
E: “Your own mouth denounces your crime, As you adopt a devious tongue. Your own mouth condemns you, Not I; Your own lips testify against you.”
J: I seek El always. I tell the truth. I am an honest man. “But east I go, and he is not (there); And west, but I do not discern him. North, in his concealment I do not grasp (him), He cloaks (himself) south, so I do not see (him).
J: “I know you will return me to death, the meeting house of all who lived.”
Reading the book of Job did not necessarily bring me relief that our God is a merciful and just God. It certainly did not “solve” the problem of suffering or “prove” the existence of God. Job’s retorts are cutting with cunning and desperation – yet defiance.
It did however shine on light on the importance of honesty, soul searching, and dialogue with friends, family, and God on the true meaning of life including love and suffering.
How could we look at suffering today without referencing the book of Job?
End of Part II – Is God Dead?