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On Job (God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent) Paperback – July 1, 1987
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From Library Journal
Here is a theological reflection-cum-commentary on the book of Job by the founder of liberation theology. Seeking fruitful ways to talk about God from the perspective of innocent suffering (a concern grounded in commitment to the poor of Latin America), Gutierrez focuses on two types of language Job discovers: that of prophecy , as he generalizes beyond his own plight to the suffering of others, and that of contemplation , as he responds to the voice in the whirlwind. Extremely well done. EC
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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expected some because of the liberationist perspective. Perhaps I was tired but it took me a while
to get going on this book. One thing that I found interesting coming from a liberationist is that Job
was a good man not only in terms of personal morality but in terms of social justice and even his
treatment of the earth, which is certainly a contemporary theme but has roots throughout the
Scriptures. Throughout the discourses of the friends, Elihu, and God there is the theme of the
limits of theology and discourse about God due to our finite understanding. But where it got more
interesting was Job's final reply. God's speech in the whirlwind was "confounding" but Gutierrez
interprets it more than most as satisfying to Job. He realized that justice as we understand it is
not the highest category for approaching God. He and his friends were absolutely right to apply
the category of justice, but God's grace, his gift and gratuitousness toward creation and the human
person shows the depth of his love in a way that's beyond the categories of justice.
p. 96 of 104-Vision of God (final stage in Job's suit against God) and defense of the poor (a role he
discovered for himself because of his own innocence) are thus combined in the experience of Job as
a man of justice. They are two aspects of a single gift from the Lord and of the single road that leads
to the Lord.
"For the same reason, emphasis on the practice of justice and of solidarity with the poor must never become
an obsession and prevent our seeing that this commitment reveals its value and ultimate meaning only
within the vast and mysterious horizon of God's gratuitous love. Despite reductionist interpretations that
try to deny the fact, this conviction has been part of the theology of liberation from the beginning and
has always fed the spirituality that animates this theology. The theme of the gratuitousness of divine love
is therefore the point of reference for determining the ultimate meaning of the emphasis on the practice of
justice"-see A Theology of Liberation and We Drink From Our Own Wells.
Gutierrez' self-analysis is probably correct for himself, but trickier with, say, L. Boff. When North Americans
and Europeans try to do liberation theology, the spiritual element is sometimes lost in the midst of various
forms of anger. Of course, Gutierrez wants his ideas to resonate in other parts of the world. I'm just saying
that the same sense of balance isn't always there in the social justice Christians. My point in reviewing this
book is that sometimes it is there, so we can't make a broad judgment about any of these groups. I have
personal experience of all these kinds of people. The real liberation theology, in the case of Gutierrez, is better
than that of many of his followers.
To begin with, the book of Job tells the story of God testing Job's faith by allowing Satan to bring Job's life from fortune to misfortune. Job is brought through a number of tribulations, from the loss of his entire family to malignant skin diseases. Job's friends contend that his misery is a direct result of sin in his life. Job argues against his friends and brings his frustration and queries in direct appeal to God - even challenging God. Finally, God enters the narrative in the ending chapters to confront Job. In analysis of this Old Testament book, Gutierrez makes the beginning observation that Job's story, though written with a specific purpose in mind, seems written with "a faith that has been drenched in tears and reddened by blood." What makes this a particularly powerful observation is that it seems readily apparent that such a description can be equally applied to Gutierrez. His words are not like those of meticulous scholars who sacrifice meaning in pursuit of its details, but rather of one who is emotionally and personally invested in the topic he's writing about.
Gutierrez's treatment of Job can be broken down into four prominent themes that carry from beginning to culmination. First is the idea of disinterested faith. Can one, even in the midst of wanton cruelty, abject suffering and every violation of human dignity, still profess faith in God? In other words, is it possible to have a faith that is wholly not contingent upon outward circumstances - no matter their extremity? Job, as Gutierrez points out, is an exemplar of this disinterested faith. Gutierrez supports this theme by referring to Job's steadfast devotion to God, refusing to curse God, no matter his painful circumstances. Though Job's language often has the shade of vituperative despair, he never abandons God in language or action. Of course, this sort of faith amidst suffering directly relates to how we talk about God. This "God-talk" is the second theme. Gutierrez suggests that our language of God is directly influenced by the situation we happen to find ourselves. He specifically develops this theme by looking at how Job's language matures within the progression of his dialogues with his redundantly circuitous friends. Job's speeches are thoughtful yet filled with complaint and a tinge of anger. Job shows us that it is okay to be angry with God so long as we give him our faith. Job becomes abundantly aware, not of solely his own seemingly gratuitous suffering, but of the suffering of others. The language of Job is sharpened between two stones, the belief that he is innocent and the acute awareness that he suffers nonetheless. Gutierrez argues that Job is not seriously contending that he is innocent to the degree of having never sinned, but rather that Job is aware that his suffering far outweighs any such sin. Gutierrez did not expound upon the references that indicate that Job was aware of his sinfulness - innate or otherwise - or why we should agree that Job's claims of innocence were merely reflective of the magnitude of suffering in comparison to the degree of sin. However, upon reading his references, I think the case is firmly in Gutierrez's favor.
The third prominent theme has to do with temporal retribution. Temporal retribution is the idea that all those who are healthy or unwell, affluent or poor, carefree or suffering, are as they are in accordance with their deeds. The fact that Job's life went from healthy affluence to destitute misery was a sure sign of his moral failing. Gutierrez makes the wise assessment that many current Christian paradigms either explicitly or implicitly affirm this harmful doctrine (think prosperity gospel). Job, based on his experience of innocence, ardently disavows this seemingly sound and well established doctrine of temporal retribution. As Job's friends continue to talk in circles, endlessly repeating their tired arguments in favor of temporal retribution, Job slowly shifts from a self-centered defense of his innocence to something greater. Job begins to point out the fundamental error in the doctrine of retribution, the abject suffering of the innocent. Job no longer bases his case on his experiences alone, but rather joins in chorus with all the poor and forsaken of the world. It has been wisely said that "a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument." Gutierrez brings this quote to life in the story of Job - showing that our experiences inform our theology. This theme allows for the fourth theme - God's incomprehensibility - to percolate until coming to full boil in ending chapters. Gutierrez allows his readers to struggle with the tension of the third theme. If God does not operate under a methodology of temporal retribution, how does he operate? Why does he allow essentially good people to suffer so unjustly? God's appearance at the end of the story, as Gutierrez contends, was precisely to answer this question. God conveyed to Job that his ways are fundamentally incomprehensible to human beings. Our inability to see answers is not indicative of there being no answers. We must have faith that God has our best interests in mind - bringing us right back to disinterested faith. Gutierrez is right, the best way to understand God's justice is to steer clear of, "...the temptation of imprisoning God in a narrow conception of justice (91)."
The concluding remarks is where Gutierrez brings the firm connection between the story of Job and current Latin-American suffering. The massacres at Auschwitz have relevant bearing on how we do theology, but there are those who still suffer grave injustices and wallow alone in weakness, unable to bring their voice to a crescendo loud enough to reach our ears. People of Latin-America are wounded, stripped of their rights, tortured and abandoned on the wayside of a road we tend to avoid. And when finally approached, one must not be scandalized upon hearing their bitter complaints against the God in which their faith remains. They have right to voice these words and maybe they will say as Job said, "I spoke without understanding marvels that are beyond my grasp." Either way, we have a responsibility to adjust the sensitivity of our hearts, rendering them attune to the suffering of the innocent. How many people suffer, not because of the action of the malevolent, but because of the inaction of Christ's followers. Gutierrez notes that just as Job's friends were at their best when silent, so we must avoid becoming "sorry comforters" and instead involve ourselves in suffering and bear the "mystery of the cross amid that suffering (103)."
It must first be admitted that my initial assumptions about this book turned out to be completely false. I thought that Gutierrez's agenda regarding Latin-American peoples would hamper the scholarship and be used to manipulate the text. Gutierrez's agenda, however, only made him more acutely aware of the subtle yet important nuances in the story of Job. What stood out most in Gutierrez's commentary was his apparent familiarity with current philosophical discussions on the problem of evil. Gutierrez is no doubt familiar with the oft-repeated logical problem of evil (think J.L. Mackie). Gutierrez surreptitiously sneaks the wrench into that argument by contending that an "all-powerful God is also a `weak' God (77)," insofar as God's power is limited by human freedom. For those familiar with the philosophy on this subject, it is hard not to see this as reminiscent of the great Christian philosopher (notoriously responsible for refuting the logical problem of evil), Alvin Plantinga's claim that, "there are things even an omnipotent God cannot do." Gutierrez's language betrays his familiarity with other variations of the problem of evil - most notably the evidential versions. This can be clearly seen in his constant reference to God's gratuitous love. William Rowe and other prominent atheistic philosophers are wont to suggest that since gratuitous evil probably exists, it is also probable that theism is false. Gutierrez's use of gratuitous love seems like somewhat of a backlash to this strand of criticism. Nevertheless, this sort of love-language felt a little gratuitous itself - inasmuch as the text does not seem to warrant its use. We can certainly infer this gratuitous love based on other sections of the bible, but the story of Job, in my opinion, is not a confirmation of this inference. This is one area where it seemed Gutierrez was pandering more to a particular theology than partaking in serious scholarship.
On the other hand, Gutierrez's fourth theme - the incomprehensibility of God - does ultimately eliminate the tension between God's goodness and the suffering of the innocent. Not only does it show that as humans we have no supra-divine standard of Good by which we may judge God's actions, but it shows that our perceptions of evil may be false at any given moment. Take for example a man who slowly awakes to find a woman cutting into his stomach. The man will rightly fuss that such an action is evil! But say he finds out that the woman is a doctor who is trying to remove a malignant mass that will ultimately kill him. Will he not then realize that what he perceived to be evil was not evil at all? This is the problem of our limited perspective and our inability to comprehend the actions of God.
But Gutierrez's familiarity with these philosophical problems grows ever more apparent. Gutierrez reminds us in his book that there is pedagogical value in suffering. This is redolent of another important philosophical treatise, namely John Hicks's idea of soul-building. John Hick has pointed out the errant presupposition held by many propagators of the problem of evil. They assume, like David Hume, that the purpose of an omni-excellent God is to create a "hedonistic paradise." Hick's analogy of their thinking is a human with a caged pet. In any respect that the animal's cage falls short of the veterinarian's ideal, then it is immediately attributed to a lack of benevolence, limited means, or both. David Hume talks of an architect that builds a home and if the economy of the home led to any discomfort or misfortune (e.g. noise, darkness, fatigue or etc.) then we would not hesitate to blame the architect. But Gutierrez, like John Hick, knows that God's purpose is not to give us whatever we want, but rather to give us the means to build ourselves up towards Christlikness. Gutierrez was able to take one of the oldest books in the Bible (Gutierrez obviously disagrees with many scholars who believe it is the oldest book as he sees the author as borrowing material) and show how it has prophetically refuted even the newest arguments from the problem of evil.
Most importantly, however, Gutierrez shows us that though we are great at remembering the atrocities of the past, from the crusades to the holocaust, we are poor at identifying them while they occur. I hope this message will not be lost. I will no longer read Job and think about his solving the problem of evil, but rather his identifying the real problem: innocent people suffer while others idly pass by. Jesus' face is with the poor and weak, yet here I am amidst the healthy, sheltered and rich. Something needs to change.
Having never read a commentary on Job, I found this work quite interesting. Being approximately one hundred pages, the work was engaging, informative and readable. The aformentioned emphases, are concerned with Theodicy, how to rectify all of creation's suffering with the existence of God, and Gutierrez desires to inform others of the suffering of the innocent and how to foster meainingful dialogue and action between their experience and faith. The work offers no concrete answers in regards to suffering, rather it emphasizes the mystery of suffering, even God's sufering. Job is truly a mysterious work with various meanings, but Gutierrez "On Job" reveals a human heart's attempt to reconcile innocent suffering and disinterested religion with the existence of the divine. For anyone interested in Liberation Theology, it is a good introduction to Liberation Theology's core concerns and values. Also, if you are simply interested in Job, it is a good accessable work which holds your attention and perhaps may give you some new and alternative ways of thinking about Job. It is not a must read, but is certainly a good one.