Why Did Job Repent?

1,

“Dear Jamie:

I think I have finally understood what you mean by passion. I used to think it was commitment and the mystery of commitment, because all commitment, by necessity, is blind or at least very very short sighted. In my life, commitment has always felt like a calling: ‘This thing I must do’ — seems to come from outside demanding a response one way or the other. So I thought that was passion, a willingness to give up one’s self to this calling, blind — on faith, as it were. But now I see that it is also what follows after: Submission. Submission to the consequences of commitment made blind, because if you could see, you would never commit in the first place! The fine Italian hand of God I think!

So the understanding I have come to is that passion is a short term thing: Yes I will! Or No I won’t!, and a long term thing where this will/won’t is disciplined or not against circumstance set in motion by choice. So passion is choosing and choosing and choosing like a sailing skiff, constantly tightening against some kind of wind to keep the momentum, no matter what the weather is like or who agrees or disagrees, and passion is the hope which is sometimes all that is left that the wind you chose is a good wind, and passion is the despair that well no you probably chose a bad wind — because who can know the wind?

Love,
Anita”

2,

Dear Anita,

What you say about ‘commitment’ and ‘submission to its aftermath’ is true. The wind in your example is the Spirit. Hence the savage and inevitable highs and lows of staying with passion.. Dispassion, balance, a medium place of ‘cool, calm, collected’, is simply not the experience of the person who is sailing by that wind… Spirit, which is Mystery, is all the passionate have to inspire, guide, prod, ‘bring them through’, the trackless and dangerous wilds of existence..

It was Aubrey Baillie — talking about ‘situated action’ — who first alerted me to the fact that “all actions have unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences.” But we cannot see the consequences of our commitment for another and more radical reason: the world-process is unfinished, still open-ended, still all to play for. The deep dark abyss where no knowledge, even ‘enlightenment’, can penetrate is the risky and dangerous existential matrix of the world process where it is all still unfinished, not yet done, incomplete, and no human can know how it will turn out, because God will simply not disclose that. No buddha knows. No prophet knows. No visionary seer knows. No mystic knows. Christ does not know, according to his own words in the Gospels, because only God knows. You have to dive in and give it your all, with no guarantees how it will go, how it will turn out. No spiritual light can penetrate the existential dark because this is where it still could go either way, this is where it still is on edge, and we do not know and are not given to know what our contribution to it will or will not do. All we know is, we are indeed called/summoned to do it.. And since redemption is for all, over the whole span of history, God’s promise is not to redeem any individual or group in their finite space or time– thus one’s own existence could be entirely wrecked and redemption still perfectly on course! That is why ‘there is no hope’; we must go to a place beyond ‘hope in life’; death is, therefore, crucial to getting there.

This means there is a further dimension to the submission inherent to passion, a more fundamental ‘amen’ in it. This more radical surrender to God is in the peculiar story of Job. Job is one of the paradigm ‘sufferers’ of the ‘Daemonic’ in the Jewish Bible. There are three primal figures in Judaism ‘wounded by the Daemonic’ in different but fundamental ways — Abraham, Jacob, Job – who because of this wounding founded the true meaning of Judaism. Abraham has to be willing to give up the thing in his whole life most precious, good, and miraculous, for God; he loses the straight and solid ground of reason and morality, and is plunged down into the mystery of sacrifice where only faith in God’s personal promise can uphold the human heart. Jacob, starting off as a devious trickster and archetypal mother’s boy, fights the angel of God all night, to win a blessing, and finally prevails, though the blessing he seeks is only granted with an injury that will trouble him the rest of his life; yet through this battle he establishes the integrity of the honest contention between God and humanity. Job’s story demonstrates something further= Job makes a final acceptance of the irrationality of God, and the absurdity of existence. This acceptance takes the form of a radical and fundamental repentance.

3,

In Job’s story, which Jews up to the time of the holocaust hardly noted or liturgically celebrated, Satan is depicted exactly as William Blake describes him — the Adversary in the sense of the Accuser, the Witness for the Prosecution. Satan challenges not only humanity but really God– the challenge is to God’s faith in humanity, and by extension, it is a ‘judgement’ on, a negative condemnation of, God’s entire ‘project’ with human beings. Satan says to God, ‘let me test the innocent and righteous Job, and he will prove a fair weather friend, a cupboard love believer.’ Satan here is not the tempter to evil ways, but the Judge and Jury determined to prove to God that human beings are smaller than God’s faith in and venture with them requires. Satan always sees the worst, and has his own agenda for wanting to bring humanity to its worst, to prove something to God.

Hence Satan is not just the Accuser of humanity, but is the Accuser of God’s trust in humanity.

Now, what is interesting is that when the Daemonic sufferings come, and the wife counsels existential despair — ‘curse God and die’ — three righteous Jews turn up to debate with Job the meaning of his afflictions. All think Job must have done something wrong– for in this primitive phase of Judaism, God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. In effect, the three Jews remonstrating with Job take up the Satanic Accusatory position, insisting to Job he must have secret sins he never looked at– in order to keep going their belief in reward and punishment. They cannot get off this doctrinal idea, and have no way to cope with innocent suffering, blameless suffering, suffering for which there is no moral explanation in terms of God being just: repaying good with good and repaying bad with bad. It would seem that these three Jewish judges represented to ancient Judaism three different interpretations it held concerning ‘reward and punishment.’ Each stream believed in God adhering to strict justice, but the 3 positions all nuanced it differently. Probably these 3 interpretations survive in Judaism down to this day– though since the holocaust any idea of God’s strict justice is hard to maintain. The rabbi Lionel Blue said to me of the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi death camps, “we knew we were bad, but not that bad.”

The crucial point is that Job stubbornly sticks to his innocence, sticks to his righteousness, but refuses to despair finally, throwing it all back at God as ‘making no sense’, nor will he enter the blame/judgement universe the 3 Jewish religious persons are totally sunk in; he does not judge God, nor does he judge himself. He sticks to the fact there is a mystery, a paradox, an ambiguity. That is what he still holds on to and throws at God– ‘why’? Yet he won’t blame God, or blame himself, to get off the hook of this lived koan. He insists it is a koan, but that is a way of not trivializing his suffering, of not pretending it can be explained away. He agrees with the wife that it does not add up, morally or philosophically; yet by refusing to blame, judge, condemn God, he still trusts in God in some very stretched but firm way. He addresses God and looks to an answer. He may not be, in Kierkegaard’s terms, ready to assent to the Absurd, and leap into it, but he stays in it. If he played the game of blame, judgement, condemnation, the 3 ‘religious’ people are playing, he could not stay in the tension.

Bernard Shaw accused God of one-up-manship in his providing of a Reply [not an Answer]= ‘where were you when I made the heaven and earth?’ But Job is grateful and content that God comes to him person to person, and speaks to him, and his accusers. In this climax of the story, God is not pulling a stunt of one-up-manship on Job, but telling Job that God is responsible for all creation, and thus there is no way the creature can second guess how it is that the Creator holds it all in his hand, and even more arduous, redeems it all. This is all God will tell Job, it is not an Answer to satisfy the moralist or the philosopher, but it is a Reply. By refusing to answer the creature, the Creator says to him, you will have to trust me. This trust is trust in the personal God, who offers ‘person to person’ promises, and asks of us in doing this, trust my word.

Job repents at this moment. He says something like the following: before he had heard about God, from afar, but now he sees something of God face to face, and he accepts it, and by accepting, repents of the limitation of his previous ‘righteousness.’

I wonder if anyone stuck in reward and punishment, and using it as Satan does as a basis to blame, judge, condemn, could ever understand this repentance of Job?

What is he repenting for in fact?

God knows.

God tells the 3 Jewish ‘comforters’ that they were all wrong — each of the 3 positions is wrong — and Job was right in all he said to them in the midst of his pain and doubt and torment. Job had been right both to insist on his righteousness, and also to repent. That is the paradox of this mysterious story, but God affirms it, and won’t make it add up neatly for the moralistically inclined. And in fact, God is so angry with the 3 judgemental Jews he tells them they can only get on a good footing with God again if Job offers sacrifices for them: by Job’s forgiveness of their moral narrowness, and moral cruelty, will God re-embrace them.

At this point, the claim put forward by so many Christians, that Job is a prefigurement of Christ — the ultimate innocent suffering — seems to hit the nail on the head. Still, this still does not illumine why Job repented. All through the story the 3 Jewish judges — who are revealed as ‘self-righteous’ as far as God is concerned — urge Job to repent, but had he listened to them, he would have repented for the wrong thing= his real repentance would have been undermined and distorted. It would have turned into a sort of neurotic guilt: ‘I am suffering, therefore I must have done something wrong; this is God punishing me for what I did wrong, so I better repent of it, if I want to stop suffering.’ Job hurts in suffering, as we all do, but he refuses any easy way out of this Daemonic wounding– neither the existential route of suicide rooted in despair, nor the route of moralistic guilt. By embracing the paradox of undeserved suffering — a paradox as much a pain to his spirit, as to his body and soul — Job comes to a different level entirely, the level where he and God can meet over the whole issue of suffering, deserved and undeserved, and a mysterious link between Job and God can be forged. The strict justice scenario the 3 Jewish judges are stuck in precludes the repentance that gets the human heart onto this darker, stranger, abysmal place with God.

What can such repentance really consist in? It is existential, and profound. It is not moral, and trite. It accepts the ‘not adding up-ness’ of existence.

4,

We ‘repent’ of our subtle demand that God take care of ‘me’ [and mine], which means we always put our take on God and restrict God’s freedom.

The deepest repentance is the creature’s ‘letting go’ of God– letting God remain in darkness and do what he needs to do, as the only Heart ever to apprehend the Big Picture. We get mere snippets of it through mysticism, vision, flashes of insight or even more slowly gained understanding.. Faith is trusting what God is and does off our radar.. Off the table.. Out of the box.. God acts through Reversal, inversion, turning everything upside down and inside out.. We want to scale down God to fit our want/view, but God will not accept this. Even righteousness is not something that can limit God’s love. God’s love exceeds all attempts to measure it in our human terms: Job gives up all human measuring, he repents of having ‘put this measurement on God’, and he accepts that God is beyond it, and his trust in God is to let God be free to do what he must do, no matter what it costs Job personally.

The creature accepts to be in the hands of the Creator: not only accepting the uncrossable gap between them, but also continuing to trust this God who is off any and all scales of human evaluation as the guide and inspiration for the deeper and greater risks of passion.

If Job only accepted God’s transcendence, this moment would not have power. To let the ultimate Other be ‘other’ to you, yet to continue relying on the Otherness in its presence to and immanence in your existential life, needs faith. It is the very personalness of God — his dispositions, which can neither be understood nor predicted — that is so hard to bear in our personalness. De-personalising, or im-personalising, the whole thing would take the torment, angst, troubledness of spirit, out of it all, but then so too would the passion go.. Passion is also remaining in the suspense, bearing the unrelieved tension, but using that tension as the bow that shoots the arrow.

5,

By this repentance that lets go of God, lets God be free, yet still remains bound to God in trust and faith, the passion driving the human heart goes to a different, deeper level. This different, deeper level took the Jews who passed through its gateless gate to the bigger Judaism that finally produced Christ; but the Jews who never passed through this ‘eye of the needle’ created, out of their existential failure truly to repent of what most separates God and the human, the smaller Judaism, the Judaism of a narrow interpretation of law that progressively lost the poetry and prophecy pointing toward the Messianic resolution of Israel’s long and arduous struggle with the Daemonic God.

This remains the stumbling point to this day: we still have those who turn the Daemonic into something moralistically demonic; they are like the 3 judges who accused Job, manifesting the spirit of the Satanic Accuser; yet we also have those who, in Job’s spirit, can cease to sin and still make the journey into the existential depth that climaxes with repentance toward God. These are in the Messianic spirit. In those still confusing the necessity for ‘existential consequences of action’ with Satanic reward and punishment, Satan wins his argument with God.

There is so much about love, and the Daemonic driving force serving its supreme aim of redemption, we don’t know and cannot know. We have to let God hold it all and accomplish it all, as he determines, not as we wish. This doesn’t mean God will do it for us; it means until we come to this moment of submission, which for Job is repentance, we would not be able to accept God’s will and use our passion to work with it. Job becomes the gateway for leaving beliefs ‘about’ God behind, and plunging existentially into the fathomless reality of God’s actual will, and by trust and faith in it, uncovering its mission in the world and its summons, or call, of us to that mission. To ‘do’ something for redemption, we must go on leaning on, relying on, throwing ourselves into the Abyss of, this Great Mystery.

6,

Job loses everything good, but something different, and profounder, is restored to him afterward. What is this restoration?

Job’s story tells us that to go deeper in heart, and emerge greater in heart, we will have to lose the good that is ontological — a flowering of being, the ‘life more abundant’ that is joyful, plentiful, and fruitful — and lose the good that is ethical — an uprightness of action, the ‘good intention’ that is manifest in the virtues of sincerity, generosity, openness.

This loss has to be understood outside its own terms of reference; it cannot be understood ontologically or ethically. There is nothing lacking in the flowering of being, nor anything lacking in the uprightness of action. Sin is not the issue. It is perfectly true that sin routinely restricts the fullness of our aliveness, and undermines the integrity of our standing. None the less, losing such fullness and losing such uprightness — symbolically the wife and husband of a marriage inherent to goodness — is not punishment for sin. Job’s loss is existential, and can only be understood existentially. The Jewish Scripture crucially reveals that Job was not a Jew; he was a pagan who had reached a wholly genuine spiritual condition of goodness of soul and of heart, yet he becomes one of the pillars of Judaism when he accepts the terrible fate in which God allows this goodness to be ripped to shreds, because there is something beyond the trials and terrors of its loss that is more radical in heart. A new land on which the heart stands, acts, and makes sacrifice, is at stake. But getting to this new heart is horrendous. To be a Jew it is not enough to be born to the tribes of Israel and Judea; it really means to accept, however complainingly and resistingly along the way, to undergo this horrendous journey from an old heart that is perfectly good to a new heart that is vast enough to contain the heart of God.

If we want and choose love where it goes deeper than the good, and will rise again greater than the good, then we will let our heart be broken.

There are layers to our heartbreak over God. One underlying layer is anger, our anger with God in regard to the things he allows to happen to us, and to everyone, in this wicked world; these are things that outrage, offend, disgust, our sense of what is right, just, fair. This anger with God sets him and us in contention. Few people are honest enough to admit their contention with God, their absolute resistance to God’s Way of redeeming the world. It is not good enough. It is too vulnerable. It is too costly. It is too heavy a weight to carry. It is a suffering too piercing to bear. None of us can bear it. We scream our heart rooted No at God, every day, every second, until the heart really breaks. Then we know a silence only disturbed by tears.

Beneath the anger at God, we are hurt by God. This is the real issue. The hurt over God is like a dry well in the burning desert. We can drown in our tears, and so there is in the sorrowing a truer grieving and a more phoney exit into self-pity and self-pity projected onto others we imagine as hard done by just like us. Thus, moralism can creep into this level as well. Never the less, hurt is what underlies our anger, and can change its violent protest into a profound grieving. Blessed are those who mourn..

What is this hurt that breaks our heart, more fundamentally than anger?

Christ experiences it on the Cross as God abandoning us. You can moralise God’s abandonment if you are in sin, but what if you are not in sin, but living and doing in the good? What then?

The God of the heartbreak, as an old Celtic Irish prayer calls him, abandons us even in our goodness of being and action, and this is what hurts the heart to the very quick.

It must be put into existential terms. Everything you loved and put your heart into has become a pile of dust. The ultimate cut to the human heart is God saying to our whole existence, our life and doing, our caring, our effort for what is good, ‘nothing doing.’ The really horrendous blow to the heart is when God, through what happens in the world during this existence, pronounces unequivocally to us that all we wanted, and all we were prepared to give and to do, for the good, is ‘not going to happen.’ A wall stands before the heart, and we crash into its immoveable rock face, which declares to us, ‘no deal.’ Our innocent service of God is thrown back into our face, as if we were so fundamentally useless, that God cannot even be bothered to punish us. He just abandons us wholly.

It is all taken away, and you look out on a bleak landscape littered with your unredeemed tears and your unredeemable blood. It has all come to this, and this is no good, nothing is any good, and if you rage against the implacable fate that holds you in its iron grip, nothing changes. This is the real meaning of depression which people do not comprehend. Check mate. Stale mate. It is all over.

Mourning opens a different route through this territory of heart.

What happens next is not a matter for words, but has to be experienced. This is what happened to Job after endless eons in which the black pain lay heavy on his heart, a rock pinning him down, under whose enormity he could not move; and this is what happened to Christ as he was nailed to the Cross, and Descended into Death and Hell.

7,

Christ took it to the absolute extreme maximum, to include all of us. He embraced, and uttered, our heartbreak, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, and then he submitted to its exacting sword cut, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Christ accepted the death in our heartbreak, Christ plumbed the depth in our heartbreak. He let die all the hope in life rooted in goodness, and brought a new hope beyond the old hope, a hopeless hope, a hope only born beyond the real destruction of all reasonable hope, all yearning hope, all hope in all in life that is ‘already meaningful’ and invites us to tap into it.

What is this hope that is not hope as we understand it, and hope in it?

In the depth, where death claims everything which had been good, a new love is born, the love that will not relent, the love irrational, fierce and tender, full of tears for what has to be lost, but on fire with what emerges, like a phoenix from the ashes, in the aftermath.

In the new land of heart, the heart walks a stranger path, and undergoes the unbearable and the unendurable, but it comes through.

This, at any rate, is what God’s gamble with Satan is betting on.