Job's Problem

As Morning Prayer works through Job in these weeks, I am brought back to the remarkable commentary by Robert D. Sacks, tutor emeritus at St. John's College in Santa Fe. (This commentary is available online in various places in various parts, and once there was a printing of it.)

Recently I was in Santa Fe and I got to visit Mr. Sacks in his home. He showed me an advance copy of the 2nd edition of his commentary. It is said to be extensively revised, and is to come out in October from Green Lion Press (or more specifically, Kafir Yaroq Books, an imprint of Green Lion). I recommend looking for it. It is both modestly priced and bound, thus (in my view) superior to the previous printed volume (which was expensive) and the online articles (because I continue having a prejudice in favor of printed volumes).

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If you're wondering about that "Mr." in the previous paragraph: At St. John's, all faculty have the same rank, "tutor," and they are all called "Mr." or "Ms." (or sometimes "Mrs." or "Miss"). The books are recognized as the real teachers; the faculty is not to "profess" but to be tutors. It is to my mind a remarkably clear understanding of what goes on in real teaching.

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For the record, I have never objected to being called "Mr. Austin."

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If you want to see a concretization of the problem of Job, compare two verses. At 4:19: we humans "dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth." And at 5:8: "I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause." Both of these verses are spoken by Eliphaz, the first of Job's comforters to speak, and they are in his first speech. For Eliphaz, it seems, there is no problem committing his own cause to God even though God sets up us humans in situations that crush us like moths. For Job, there is a problem.

Both men acknowledge two facts. God lets terrible things happen to human beings. And we must commit ourselves to God. For Eliphaz, this is seemingly an easy thing to do. Job does not deny that both facts are facts. But he does deny that it is easy to hold them together.

As I've said, it's the greatest book of the Bible.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."