I have journeyed through many topics along the way toward this concluding essay on suffering. Among the ideas were these: the many meanings of what we call religion, perspectives from neuroscience and the working of the brain, current research in the field of ethnology from which we glimpsed comparisons between human beings and other animals in expressions of empathy, the role of violence in our society and the suffering it brings, pictures of deep human suffering portrayed in the arts, comparative religion, mythology, the way a text may be studied critically to arrive at its complex meaning for the reader, insights from depth psychology -- especially the work of C.G.Jung -- that throw light on the interaction of dynamics from the conscious and unconscious in human suffering, and the emerging claims of recent studies in parapsychology that open the windows for vistas of human experiences that challenge and astound us.
Further, as a way of attempting to contain these subjects within a frame that holds not only our attention but also our empathy, I have continued to place before us two images of suffering and attempts at consolation. The first image is that of Job, known especially by those of us in the west through the book in the Hebrew Bible by that name, Job, a story of a person who loses everything and questions what suffering means when it appears to be so unjust.
The second image is that of a mother who hears her child crying late at night, rushes into the nursery, and attempts to console the crying baby with the words, "It's alright." I asked, what does the mother mean when she says those words? What is IT? What is the underlying, unconscious information or belief or faith that leads the mother to make such a profound pronouncement? Of course, the mother attempts to comfort the child, but "it" is more. IT is more! And I will come back to what I believe is taking place within the mother and the infant as well as what likely is occurring between the mother and her baby.
But first, I return to Job. For it is here where we see a drama that has fascinated persons of many ethnicities, religions, and cultures throughout the ages. The story of Job is an archetypal one, a mythopoeic narrative, a universal, timeless rendering of the solitary individual who has suffered great and tragic loss -- who has faced the impermanence of life which brings the inevitable terrors of aging, disease, loss of loved ones and cherished objects, violence, death, and meaninglessness. It is significant that the book of Job's suffering does not end in despair, defeat, bitterness or fatalism. Even though on the surface, as I suggested in an earlier writing (November 2012), we can dismiss the story easily as a tragedy concerning an innocent man who was betrayed by his deity and dismissed with no display of compassion, I think a deeper reading leads to another conclusion.
This conclusion is based upon the background material as I understand it, drawing from many sources (see the references in previous blogs) and my close reading of the text.
1. The story of Job is likely based on a folk tale.
2. The story as it appears to us is a composite, a stitching together of many parts from the hands
of various writers, but consolidated by a single author that I take to be someone whose voice,
theology, and attitude are expressed by the character bearing the name Elihu (verses 33-37),
resulting in the canonical text we have today, appearing sometime during the sixth to fifth
3. The text may be divided into five sections:
I. Prologue -- Chapters 1-2
II. Dialogue with Three Friends -- Chapters 3-31
III. Confrontation of Elihu -- Chapters 32-37
IV. The Vision of Yahweh -- Chapters 38-42
V. The Epilogue -- Chapter 42:7-17
4. The names of the deity change throughout the text, representing fragments of the story that likely
arose in differing geographical locales. The names are Yahweh, El, Eloah, Elohim, Shaddai, and
‛Aliz. The various names are not used interchangeably but separately and consistently within a
specific section. For example, Yahweh is used within the Prologue and Epilogue, as well as
The Vision of Yahweh, but not in the Dialogue.
5. The themes of the text circle around Job's suffering and the prevailing view that such suffering
could only be understood as the result of sin, which Job denied.
6. However, the young Elihu breaks with tradition by pointing to Job's piety, born out of the fear of
a vengeful, judgmental, legalistic deity, and taking form within Job's life as a deeply felt sense of
self-righteousness. It is this pride that Elihu believes to be the failure of Job.
7. From that perspective, I have suggested that Elihu broke with the old tradition and ushered in a
new consciousness and a new God-image.
8. Elihu thus prepares for the climatic fourth section of the book, the vision of Yahweh.
9. I take the vision of Yahweh speaking out of a whirlwind to be a dream -- what the native
Americans refer to as a "Big Dream," an archetypal dream that brings a revelation from the very
depths of the human soul, propelled by the numinous power of the God-Within.
Here, now, I go back to the text and listen to these emotion-packed words of Yahweh:
Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning
or sent the dawn to its post,
to grasp the earth by its edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
She turns it as red as a clay seal,
she tints it as though it were a dress,
stealing the light from evil-doers
and breaking the arm raised to strike.
Have you been right down to the sources of the sea
and walked about at the bottom of the Abyss?
Have you been shown the gates of Death,
have you seen the janitors of the Shadow dark as death?
Have you an inkling of the extent of the earth?
Tell me about it if you have!
Which is the way to the home of the Light,
and where does Darkness live?
You could then show them the way to their proper places,
you could put them on the path home again!
If you do know, you must have been born when they were,
you must be very old by now! (38:12-21)
These words are of indescribable beauty but also of irony, and of terrifying awe. To be confronted with this awe-some description of the natural world, its infinite space, and its containment of the very core experiences that terrify us -- darkness, the Abyss, and Death -- in a vision of the night while we sleep, this is the archetypal experiences of a numinous vision.
I am using numinosity to describe "a psychic revelation of deity producing religious awe and ecstasy." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary) It is at this point in the text of Job that the tone changes. In fact, the God-image changes. This portrayal of Yahweh is nothing like the bumbling old deity who is outwitted by Satan in the Prologue. Nor is he the vindictive, moralistic, law-giving, judgmental, persecuting deity of the Epilogue. This God-image says nothing about sin and sacrifice, law and judgment, guilt and punishment.
This Yahweh who speaks out of the whirlwind describes the awesome majesty of Being. The whole speech is a hymn to Being as manifest in the wonders of creation, including Light and Darkness, Life and Death, Good and Evil -- for example, in the images of Behemoth (a monster on the earth) and Leviathan (a monster of primeval chaos believed still to be in the ocean), both of which are agents of chaos and destruction, forces of evil, contained within Yahweh's creation. (See The New Jerusalem Bible for commentary.) Are we to think then that evil itself is located within the God-image? Unlike Carl Jung's view (Jung, 1956) which focuses on the binary nature of God as having a light side and a dark side, good and evil, which I take to be an undue emphasis on the dark side of the deity, this image of Yahweh in the vision of the whirlwind differs. Good and evil exist within this God-image, but Yahweh transcends those opposites. This image of Yahweh appears as an encompassing symbol, what philosophy would call not pantheism but panentheism in which the God-image contains the finite world but is in infinitely more.
In religious thought, this God-image may be referred to as the Ground of Being from which creation comes. (Tillich, p. 172) Carl Jung differs with this understanding of the God-image. Drawing from the earlier thought of the Pythagoreans, Herodotus, Nicholas of Cusa, and Hegel, Jung understood God as the "coincidence of opposites." While this idea helps to explain the creative tension between the conflicting dynamics of the conscious and the unconscious, it fails to account adequately for the Ground which contains the opposites and from which they arise.
But while I regard Jung as mistaken about the nature of the God-image, I consider him to be profoundly on the mark in his description of our human experience of the numinous. Such an encounter of that which is wholly Other in Power, Majesty, Awe, and Mystery may change a life forever, as it did in the attitude of Job. (42:6) Job understands that his cultic acts of pious sacrifice count little in the eyes of this deity. A first reading, as I suggested in my earlier blog, may see Job as simply cowering before a thoughtless, malevolent deity. However, a closer reading suggests that Job has himself changed. Now it is not simply the moral code that commands Job's allegiance.
This is the true nature of religion. Jung puts it this way:
Jung and Tillich both describe religion not with the elements of organized religion: a holy book, a moral code, a cosmology, a set of ritualistic practices, a community organized around authoritative figures, and a founding iconic figure. Those are aspects that may or may not spring forth out of an encounter with the numinous as portrayed above. But religion simply as human activity around rituals that have lost their reason for existing, in blind obedience to symbols that have lost their meaning, this religion may serve the needs of providing human contact and support on the most basic of levels. But such religion does not confront the ego driven by its anxiety, emptiness, meaninglessness, or power-seeking attempts at stimulation and self-aggrandizement.
In other words, the voice in the whirlwind lays out no prescription for religious practice. It represents a Presence that infuses the soul with awe and transforms the human spirit. This is the beginning of reverence, meaning, healing, courage, and love; it is the Presence that comes to us in our greatest darkness and helps us understand and bear our suffering. For, how are we to bear the sufferings such as those of Job? How are we to bear the unbearable loss of loved ones? How are we to face our finitude and the knowledge of life's impermanence? How are we to find the courage to face the day with what Joseph Campbell referred to as "the joyful participation in the sorrows of the world" while we build our skyscrapers, explore outer space, feed the hungry, develop medicines to cure the sick, ensure that the arts thrive, repair our ravaged earth, and celebrate the every-day beauty of the small things? How are we to bear facing the innocent faces of our children, knowing the suffering that awaits them, if we do not also know of something Other?