Subtitle: Or, at the least, I think I believe
Sub-subtitle: Or, at the most, I believe I know
Job. The biblical, archetypical noble sufferer. His children murdered by nomadic raiders. His wealth lost to great natural calamity and grand theft. His health ruined by loathsome physical ailments.
His wife bids that he vent his rage, urging him to “curse God and die!”
Counselors console him with words of the unwavering certainty of God’s providence: Divine punishment always is the consequence of sin. Therefore, they demand that Job forsake his stubborn profession of innocence, his Promethean defiance of God’s righteous judgment, confess his sin, and plead for mercy.
Job beset by unbearable suffering and insufferable friends, cries out:
I know that my Vindicator lives,
who, at the last, will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
I marvel at this expression of faith. No word of wishful thinking. No heartfelt, though futile declaration of one’s desire in the face of uncontrollable calamity. Rather an expression of the conviction, the confidence that what is not yet one day may be.
The Book of Job was written around the late 6th century B.C.E. Nevertheless, I see it and Job as a paradigm of postmodern faith; a model of assurance for today. I believe this having glanced retrospectively at 2000 years of Christian theological development and reflecting on a thumbnail sketch of faith and faith’s opposite.
Generally, for the greatest part of Christian history, the opposite of faith was understood to be doubt. In faith, one believed in God’s existence, the benevolence of God’s providence, and the Church’s creedal articulations of these truths or, in doubt, one questioned and disbelieved.
From the Age of the Enlightenment, between the close of the 17th and through the 18th centuries, and then through the modern era, marked by the elevation of human reason (that capacity to perceive and to know, that power to probe mystery in the search for truth) and the rejection of the uniform and unthinking acceptance of church dogma, the opposite of faith was understood to be fear. In faith, one searched for a deepening revelation of truth, come and cost what may or, in fear, one refused to question and remained confined in a self-constructed prison of superstition and spiritual stagnation.
From the late modern era to our current postmodern era, with the rise of pluralism and the unavoidable competition and conflict among belief systems, it seems to me that the opposite of faith is certainty. In faith, one searches for a deepening revelation of truth hand-in-hand with a risk-taking high spirit of adventure and a deep and humble sense of life’s ambiguity or, in certainty, one seeks the assurance of having the answers.
Job, for me, was one who boldly faced, never denying his circumstances. He knew and named his pain and anger. He refused to settle for simple answers of cosmic cause-and-effect or self-assured declarations of doctrinal simplicities that masked dishonest uncertainty. He dared to question, to test his vision of God in his quest for meaning. He acknowledged life’s inherent ambiguity, thus, that there was much he did not know, could not know. He dared to stand still, indeed, dared still to stand in the face of divine mystery.
Therefore, Job, for me, is a model of postmodern faith; a faith for the living of these days.
© 2021 PRA
Illustration: Job (1880), Léon Bonnat (1833-1922)