Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Job in China

These last weeks have been quite Job-ful (the next too, details anon). After the undergraduate discussion came our faculty seminar, and then on Sunday a friend of mine presented his understanding of the Book of Job to a GLBT Christian group here. My friend's take, while making clever use (see below) of Socrates (苏格拉底 sugeladi!), came to the conventional conclusion that 我们需要学会:神能,在祂凡事都能,当我们信心动摇的时候,要把焦点重新放回到神的身上,留心看祂奇妙的创造,不要跟神争论 What we need to learn is: in God all things are possible, at times when our faith is shaken, we should put the focus back on God, behold his amazing creations, not argue with God.

When it came to choosing a passage for reading together he chose chapter 38, the start of the theophany. I was fresh from our seminar, which didn't touch on the divine speeches much at all - I'd emphasized that most of the book is taken up with the exchanges between Job and his friends, which, readers too quickly gloss over as insignificant. But the ensuing discussion didn't really engage the friends much, either. The force of the story of a man tested and then rewarded for his endurance (with or without explanation, depending how you read it) proved hard to resist. As I mentioned, it seemed that the Chinese church is more likely to see Job as representing a community enduring persecution rather than an individual suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
So, to protest or not to protest? A Chinese professor on Friday told of a Protestant church in Sichuan which appeals to Job in vindication of its own protest (against what she didn't say), as well as of a letter of encouragement from a cardinal to the Catholic bishop of Shanghai, who's been under house arrest for two years, citing (what do you know!) Job 38. A graduate student just returned from study in Germany said she was most taken by Job's "speaking from the bitterness of his soul" (23:1). But the Job in my friend's exposition on Sunday doesn't argue - except with his friends. As the summary of the story above says:

6. Then disaster suddenly befell Job, he lost his fortune and his children, and endured a serious skin disease. Three of his friends heard the news, they came to see him and an argument/debate 辩论 between them and Job ensued; then God in a whirlwind answered Job's questions, and humble Job and fell down before God and confessed his ignorance.

Would he say the friends made Job's ignorance clearer to him, or helped him articulate the questions God answers? I doubt it: his concern is pastoral, and the friends are just part of the set-up. It is from Job's encounter with God that we should learn. It's a little like something one of the Chinese Christian students who came Friday said, something which has stayed with me. Responding to the concern that Job's children are killed, and die without ever learning why, she said: Job is the main witness in the story, not the children. But this doesn't mean they are just props for Job's story. They might have their own book.

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