Theology Friday

I just finished reading the book of Job. Again. I swear, it is so amazing. Here’s what G.K. Chesterton had to say about it:

The Jews were unpopular … [but] … They had one of the colossal corner-stones of the world: the Book of Job. It obviously stands over against the Iliad and the Greek tragedies; and even more than they it was an early meeting and parting of poetry and philosophy in the morning of the world. … But this mighty monotheistic poem remained unremarked by the whole world of antiquity … It is a sign of the way in which the Jews stood apart and kept their tradition unshaken and unshared, that they should have kept a thing like the Book of Job out of the whole intellectual world of antiquity. It is as if the Egyptians had modestly concealed the Great Pyramid.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, chapter IV: ‘God and Comparative Religion’

Job is Not Just About One Thing

So what makes the book of Job so great? There are so many things, and there is so much going on in it. This makes it kind of difficult to follow, especially on a first reading, especially if you are looking for one overarching theme that is easily discovered. Everybody has their say in Job, and the reader just kind of has to go along for the ride.

And, continuing with the perhaps rather inappropriate metaphor of a long, twisty water-slide, everybody talks about the big waterfall at the end, but maybe this time you almost drowned in the innocent-looking swirly pool, or you thought you were going to tip off when going around that one curve right at the top. Different parts of the book of Job jump-scare you on each separate ride through it.

So what jump-scared me this time?

On Being Gaslighted

Being gaslighted puts people in a terrible spot really. It might not bother a sociopath, because such a person does not have any self-doubt, any respect for the opinions of others, or any sense that it is wise to consider the possibility that we may be wrong. But for a person with a modicum of humility and self-awareness, the natural response to being gaslighted is to turn the spotlight inward and ask yourself, “Am I in fact wrong?”

Then, when careful examination assures you that you are not mistaken, yet the gaslighter is still insisting that you are, you have to betray one of two moral values. You have to either stand up for your own perspective, thus betraying the principle of humble and prudent self-doubt, or you have to betray the idea of truth. The longer the gaslighting goes on, the more frustrating this pinch becomes.

As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,

the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul,

as long as I have life within me,

the breath of God in my nostrils,

my lips will not speak wickedness,

and my tongue will utter no deceit.

I will never admit that you are in the right;

till I die, I will not deny my integrity.

I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it;

my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.

Job 27:2 – 6

Now, despite the words “righteousness” and “conscience” here, I do not think that Job is making an arrogant claim to be currently sinless and never going to sin as long as he lives. In other verses, he has shown that he is aware he is sinful. For example, in 13:26 he addresses God, “You write down bitter things against me and make me inherit the sins of my youth.” In 14:16 – 17 he says, “Surely then You will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.” He is aware that “no one living can be righteous before God,” and he portrays God as watching him every moment, waiting for him to make a misstep (10:13 – 14), which is technically within God’s rights but, as Job points out, no one can withstand.

In other passages, Job indicates that if his friends were to rightly point out something that he had done wrong, he would submit to it. But what he’s not willing to do is allow them to accuse him of a bunch of things he knows he has not done: oppressing the poor, living a careless, selfish life, defying God, etc., etc. This has not been Job’s lifestyle, and he knows it.

So I think that when Job uses the word integrity in the passage above, he is talking about epistemology. He will not deny his integrity by “admitting they are right,” not because he’s an arrogant blowhard who won’t take correction, but because he has done self-examination — a lot of it — and the things they are saying are just not true. It might be easier in some ways to just go ahead and “admit” to all the things his friends are accusing him of, but that would be to throw out his entire epistemology, which includes the assumption that certain things are true, and that Job is capable of perceiving and remembering them. Giving up the epistemological point that truth is discoverable and that Job is not delusional, would be to betray his integrity. I believe that in the lines below, he is using “righteousness” and “conscience” as synonyms for “integrity” in the sense of epistemological integrity. I believe that in the lines above, when he says he will “speak no wickedness” and “utter no deceit,” he is saying he will not give up on his idea of the truth being a real thing and his own mind being a reliable guide to it, which he would be doing if he were to agree with all that his friends have been saying about him.

Obviously, admitting you are wrong is not a betrayal of the value of truth in every case. In many cases, valuing truth can lead us to admit we are wrong. But Job has examined their claims for 24 chapters now, and he has realized he is being gaslighted. He even realizes that, following their logic, his not being an evil oppressor creates a logical inconsistency with the idea that God is just. He is willing to take the puzzle rather than deny what he knows to be true. He is also not worried about looking like an arrogant blowhard. They have already called him that and worse. He’s just not willing to give up this last shred of dignity, that he knows what his lifestyle has been like and it has not been one of habitual wickedness.

I’ll let you make your own applications of all of this. The words of Jen are ended.

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