The Word that Defeats Death

A Man Named Job/7 - The redeemer of the poor serves both the brother and the God of the living

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 26/04/2015

logo GiobbeMy last desire will be for you, who hold my whole life in your name: mother. I am at peace and I am innocent. Never be ashamed for the reason why I'm dying, rather, say that your child did not fear and that he died for freedom and now I forgive everyone, bye Mum, Dad, Stefano, Alberto, bye to all, everything is ready, I am at peace. Farewell Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum ...

(Letters from the death row of the resistance fighters, Domenico, 29 years old)."

Many faiths have been reborn from the supportive context of fraternity that were able to accompany the man shouting towards a sky that appears to be blank or hostile all through his experience of the dark. But around the desperate people sitting on piles of manure in the world, the gossip and persecution of non-supportive “friends” are no less frequent. They do not see that the truth is often hidden in the silence of faith and the “fights” with God, and they want to fill the empty sky of others by their empty words. And so the lament of Job continues to resound in our lands: “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?” (Job 19,2).

Even in his second dialogue-accusation Bildad the Shuhite reaffirms his theses with increased aggressiveness, making it sound perfect like all theorems without flesh and blood. You, Job, cannot change the world's order. The righteous one lives and is rewarded, the wicked one perishes and suffers: “shall the earth be forsaken for you, or the rock be removed out of its place?” (18,4). He describes the fate of the wicked and the sinner in detail, and it coincides perfectly with the situation Job is in. With just one, albeit radical difference: Job is a righteous man.

But the great, crazy and wonderful hypothesis of Job returns with increasing power and conviction: “know then that God has put me in the wrong and closed his net about me.” (19,6). Job too, like Bildad, believes in the divine order of the world, and to escape atheism, he takes God so seriously as to debit him for the misfortune he is going through. And he shouts out for help: “Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice.” (19,7)

"Violence" (hamas) was a scream, a scream, with a specific legal value. When a person in extreme difficulty shouted ‘Justice!’, they created an obligation of help in the other - something like the ship sending out an SOS obliging those receiving it to intervene in its help. But God remains silent even about the extreme SOS of Job, because he himself is the author of violence. God – as for Job - has heard the cry and is not doing anything. Unlike in the case of many lamentations in and outside the Bible, the God of Job is not deaf, but his enemy: “He has kindled his wrath against me and counts me as his adversary.” (19,11). To whom should he cry out then? What remains is the hope in his friends: “Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!” (19,21). Left alone in the world, Job has prayed the earth (16,18), and now he prays friends. His prayer is fully earthen, which becomes a last appeal to the solidarity of men under a hostile, closed sky. It is a prayer that resembles the one that the condemned man addresses his captors, reminding them of their common human condition. It is the appeal to fraternity as a last resort.
Many instances of human solidarity are born and reborn from horizontal prayers, from desperate cries for help received by companions, when the sky seems closed, or when the “lawyers” of God manage to convince us that their obvious and academic answers were really the ones by Elohim. Even when it seems the only one, the cry to the other person is almost always the second one, which is launched by the poor when the first cry upwards remains unanswered. These instances of fraternity that come from knowing how to receive the screams of pain cannot be the enemy of God, even when the people involved cannot pronounce his name and do not recognize his voice. The enemy of prayer is not the other, supportive person, but the narcissism of the one who speaks only with himself, with the idols or with the goods. Even a prayer in search of a friend can be a sublime prayer and human solidarity that comes from God's silence can be more real and spiritual than prayers to the trivial god of the adulators of God and therefore the enemies of Job.

Job's cry for human compassion remains unanswered, too. Even his friends are silent. But his extreme quest for justice continues, opening up another sky for us: “Oh, that my words were now written! Oh, that they were printed in a book...” (19,23). Job's wish is that his words should be engraved “with an iron pen and lead” (19,24), into the rock so they do not die with him. He wants to leave his testament as his last message - there is an immense love for humanity in all his drama. The rock mentioned is the Bible. Here, too, we can find the mystery of the word: while Job uttered that cry – “Oh, that my words were now written!” - his words were really being written, so that we could receive them. At this point a key process throughout the book of Job is revealed to us: the friends capable of pietas to whom Job calls for solidarity are us, the readers, recipients of his song, who can receive his SOS today and respond to it. Every unheard cry that has been kept in the Bible - including the great cry of Golgotha - is addressed us. The Bible is not just a great collection of psalms, divine truths and prayers, and it is not only a story of God to men. Above of all of these, the Bible is a great story of man - to man, under an inhabited sky. The Bible is a humanism inviting us to try to respond to the women and men when the answers of YHWH are not there. All the Scripture is an SOS sent out to our humanity, a call to us to become truly human, to receive the cry for justice by the man named Job and all his brothers and sisters who continue to cry out throughout history, who have enriched his first song and are calling out for our pity. For biblical humanism God's answers are not enough, as he is often silent to make room for our responsibility. If Elohim had not been silent for most of the book, we would not have had the great questions of Job, and his cry yearning for justice would not have embraced and reached all the despair of the earth, as a means of saving it. God must know how to keep quiet if he wants responsible people who are capable of non-trivial questions.

But the Bible is not the only treasure chest guarding the last messages of the real human. Much literature has been and is still born as a testament - perhaps all great literature is born like that. Many last words and many cries towards heaven and people were written in search of brotherhood inside the stories of fratricide. Many of these words have been lost, but there are many others that we have been able to collect and cherish. The concentration camps, prisons, deaths in solitude were all piles of manure also capable of generating wonderful flowers. Thousands of poems, diaries, letters from the front, music, songs, art and even the stones have joined in and kept up the cry of the beggar Job. When a man on the death row entrusts his last message to paper so that it can reach someone, his hope is alive. So even a letter or a poem can make that last moment of hope last forever. They make hope eternal and do not let it die - death can be defeated even by our words.

At the height of these cry-prayers of Job, an unexpected and wonderful, a authentic song of hope flourishes: “For I know that my Redeemer [goel] liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (19,25). It is about a hope that comes like a rainbow while the storm is still raging. That is how real hope always comes: it is not the result of our virtue or merit, but all and only grace, charis, gift. And it always surprises us, leaving us breathless - and if it doesn't surprise us and is announced well ahead, then it is either small or vain hope.

Who is the redeemer, the goel that Job wants, yearns for and calls to from the bottom of his desperate hope? We do not know. But perhaps it is another God, a God who is more real than the one he feels to be more of an enemy. It is the hope inside the despair that resurrects faith, because it calls it to transcend itself, to become what it is not yet. And as he is hoping for goel, the redeemer of the innocent poor, he sees him already approaching on the horizon. In the dark nights of faith, of every faith, one always starts again from hope, by re-learning to hope, and re-learning it many times (the hope-gift comes shining like a rainbow, and like a rainbow it also fades).

We do not know what kind of goel Job hopes for. But we know that it is not enough for Job to be redeemed in Paradise, because he does not know it. The God of these biblical books is the God of the living, not the dead. No biblical humanism can be a authentic if it postpones the redemption of innocent victims to the eschaton, or the afterlife. The goel in whom Job is hoping must arrive and stand up on the dust of our human condition of living beings. The promised land is our land. Every promise of redemption of the victims that does not become a concrete commitment to free them here and now ends up being inhumanity and deceitful hope. Job wants to see his goel arrive in the dust of his dunghill, to see him with his own eyes: “whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold” (19,27).

The goel is not an idol if he is able to get down to the dust of the victims, if we can come across him in our street, if we can catch a glimpse of him in the men and women of our city who are able to listen to Job's cry and respond to it. Too many poor people have never seen the goel arrive to their piles of manure, and are still waiting. And Job continues to call to the earth, to people, to Elohim. For them. For us.


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