Sunday, February 09, 2014

But for the Grace

I gave a talk about the Book of Job and my own book at Grace Church (Episcopal) in Manhattan this morning. I planned to cover roughly the same terrain as my talk two weeks ago at St. Michael's, but of course it went its own way. Where the emphasis a fortnight ago was on the way the complicated congeries which is the biblical text forces us to "make a book of Job" even as it resists even our best efforts, this time I kept returning to the value of staging the story, which forces you to decide what words are addressed to whom and also reminds you that Job was perhaps never alone. Perhaps because of this stress on the social dimension, I spoke more eloquently about Job's friends - how they represented his earlier life, values and indeed self (which is why their failure to recognize him precipitated him into such an existential crisis), and how the restoration of the friendships is the frame and foundation for Job's renewed life at the book's end.

There was a nice discussion but at the end of it I was also asked one of the two questions I've been dreading. No, not the question about my qualifications as a Hebraist and Biblical scholar. The other one: what business I have writing this book. That's not quite how it was asked but close. Could I say something about my own view of the nature of suffering in the Book of Job and beyond and its relationship to suffering in my own life. I gave the only answer I could, which was that I do not come at this out of a deep experience of suffering or loss (see my way of making that point in the book at right). I have learned from the Book of Job not to pretend otherwise, certainly not to think that I have vicariously experienced the wrenching and perhaps exalting effects of affliction through working with this book and its interpreters. I have encountered people, past and present, who have learned powerful things from adversity, but I wasn't sure I wanted to learn those things. (Don't give me children and then take them away, I said, a bit maudlin.) In any case, we should perhaps be exploring if there are ways of learning those things without such pain. I'm not sure I like the way that sounded - a little glib, a little unserious - but I suppose that's the point. I wasn't pretending to an authority I don't think I have, or that I think doesn't matter. Did I sound callow? Perhaps it's because I am. I'm willing to face that, for what it's worth. The questioner didn't look satisfied and I felt exposed and a little deflated: a good thing.

No comments: