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Faithful to the God of the "Not Yet"

A Man Named Job/10 - Those who accept the wrong type of logic and words will not be saved

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/05/2015

logo Giobbe...on Judgment Day, God will have to account to mankind for all the suffering he has allowed.

Ermanno Olmi, Centochiodi (One Hundred Nails)

One day a sparrow ended up in a big, bright house and flew in there free and happy. At one point, someone closed the window from which he had entered, and all the other windows of the house. Beyond its transparent glass the bird could see the sky: it kept trying to reach it but only beat its head on the closed windows. The little bird tried several times, until it saw, on the opposite side, a door into a corridor that was dark, very dark. Desperate, it realized that if there was a way out for its return to the sky that could only be through the darkness, beyond the dark door. And so it dashed down towards the black stairs. It was hit by many corners, got hurt, broke the tip of a wing, but did not stop to continue sinking, did not let itself be won by the fear of darkness and pain. Finally, at the bottom of the great darkness, it glimpsed a light: it was the same light he had come from.

We have reached the end of the dialogues between Job and the "friends". Imprisoned in their ethical and ideological theologies, they fail to see Job the real man and continue to blame and condemn his ghost, drawn perfectly in order to confirm their theories. Job was not satisfied with the perfect answers to easy and trivial questions; he wanted someone to take his difficult and desperate questions seriously, even if without answering them. But above all he cannot accept an idea of God who humiliates and belittles human beings to assert his own greatness, denying their truth and innocence, as Bildad insists: “Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (25,5-6). And Job answered to him: “How you have helped him who has no power! How you have saved the arm that has no strength! How you have counselled him who has no wisdom, and plentifully declared sound knowledge! With whose help have you uttered words, and whose breath has come out from you?" (26,1-4). It is as if Job asked Bildad: whom did you speak to actually, when you said you were speaking to me? Caught by their ideology, Bildad and his friends had gradually lost Job along the way; and the dialogues had become monologues: while talking to him, they no longer had crossed eyes of the victim, and they were only talking about Job and not to Job. There is a powerful demand by Job at the end of the "dialogue", because he charges his friends of the grave deed of felony, which is perhaps the most serious such instant in biblical humanism: they had betrayed the word. Like sorcerers, idolaters, and soothsayers had manipulated the words by emptying them of their truth.

For every person who speaks, especially when they speak and write publicly, there must come a moment when they should ask themselves: 'whom am I actually talking to? for whom am I actually writing? and what place does truth take in my words?' To feel the urgency of the honesty of words is a milestone in the lives of those who speak and write, and therefore almost in everybody's life; because it is always tempting to use and exploit words and strip them of the humble and difficult truth, silencing the only true “spirit” and worship the false and deadly spirits of the idols. It is a decisive step, though it is one that may never come. The honest reading of Job is a great help to bring out the possibility of this stage. But if this decisive moment does not arrive, or when it is placed in front of the crossroads we choose to give voice to the wrong spirit, the word loses its creative and effective power and becomes formal exercise, a technique to use to our own advantage. The word we use but do not respect is always abused word, because it loses its most profound and true nature: gratuitousness, that is at stake in the bet between

Elohim and Satan, with whom the book opens and whom it shapes entirely.
It is in this “economy” of the word and the words that we understand, in all its scandalous power, the oath of Job, one of the masterpieces of the book: And Job again took up his discourse, and said: “As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (...) my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. Let my enemy be as the wicked, and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous.” (27,1-7). Job can now make this oath because he has kept the truth of his words so far. Only those who are faithful to words can ask everything.

This type of oath was a solemn confession of innocence that was pronounced only on some very serious occasions. When the accused made this oath of innocence, the trial was suspended and the defendant was remitted directly to the judgment of God (Deuteronomy 17,17-19), knowing that they had to face death penalty if God was refuting their innocence. The wonderful and desperate madness of Job is the paradox that continues to push to its own extreme consequences. He pronounces his extreme oath in the name of God, but calls him “As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter”. He asks to be freed from all the lawyers, freed from all human judges, to finally get justice from the God who is denying it to him, because in his great cause Elohim is not the impartial judge of last resort, but his opponent: “Let my enemy be as the wicked, and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous” (27,7). From this paradox, we cannot find a way out, and if we were to get out of it we would lose the most revolutionary and liberating dimension of the Book of Job. If Job is the image and the voice of the innocent victims of history, and if God is the good and right one of the Covenant, the paradox of Job has no solution, and any theology that is friendly to man and to the truth must find their place inside the paradox of Job, without groping shortcuts (of which, unfortunately, the earth is full).

In the development of his drama Job is telling us something very important: the first gratuitousness is that of the word. To suspend or relieve his suffering he could have manipulated and disrespected the truth of his word, and following the advice of his friends ask for a false mercy. Had he done so, Satan would have won his bet.

The gratuitousness of life, the heart, the soul is always the gratuitousness of the word. If you lose contact with the truth of the word and words you lose touch with the truth of life, and so everything becomes instrumental, utilitarian, "economic", just as the theologies of Job's friends that are false because they are lacking gratuitousness. And so, when we try to call things, others or even ourselves by name, what comes back to us is only a silent echo.

Here a horizon of great significance opens up to us. We understand, for example, why many people lost their lives when, under torture (just like and more than Job) they refused to say certain words (to renounce their faith, betray a friend) that would have saved them but betrayed something greater and sacred: their truth within the truth kept by the words used. YHWH-Elohim is a voice, only a voice that cannot be seen, and all his strength is in his word. Therefore, the truth of faith and life depends entirely on the truth of the words of God and the truth of human words. The Covenant is a meeting of human and divine words, and if it wants to be real and not only idolatrous magical ritual, it has a radical need of gratuitousness in both parties of the contract.

Our age has to make a huge, sometimes invincible effort to understand the Bible and other great words in the world because we have lost contact with the truth and gratuitousness of our human words. In a world of chit-chat even the words of the Bible are associated to the endless "zero" of our betrayed words. And we no longer understand the poets, who become the new Jobs on this earth of empty words used without gratuitousness and are tortured by "friends" and an "economic" ideology dominating our time: “He claps its hands at him and hisses at him from its place” (27,23). Where a disregard for the truth of the words reigns, false poets thrive that hijack words for profit, and make them die.

Job could pronounce this solemn oath on the basis of two faiths. Faithfulness-faith in the living God who one day will have to reveal something of himself that does not appear yet, and faithfulness-faith to the true voice that speaks inside, his ruah, in that spirit-breath that tells him that he is innocent. It is within his sincere and true conscience that he senses the possibility of the revelation of a God whom he does not see yet: it means that Job is waiting for the Messiah, and so are we. The promised land can begin inside his heart that "has no shame" about himself. There is no night in which we really die as long as we manage not to be ashamed of our heart.

If we are able to keep believing in the possibility of a "living God" after the concentration camps, after the death of our children and that of little children, it is because there have been and there are people on this earth who, like Job, have continued to look for different faces of God anchored in the truth of their own consciousness, because they felt inhabited by the "God of the not yet". However, only the extreme loyalty to the gratuitousness of our words can make us capable of seeing a sky that is higher and truer.


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