Now just past halfway through the bible, I'm tempted to say the message of the book is "There is no god." Except for explicitly supernatural things like parting the Red Sea, one could as well substitute luck for God. God says he'll reward the righteous and those who follow him, but then King Saul's punished for not fulfilling a genocide and sacrificing animals in an improper fashion, even though he intended those sacrifices to honour God. And there are several instances where God empowered the enemies of Israel to teach a lesson to a king or citizen who did something wrong. So no matter what happens, you can take it as evidence of God's will. If a heathen is doing well, it's because God's empowered him to teach his disobedient flock a lesson. If the follower of God is doing poorly, it's because God was testing him. Even the deaths of Job's children were just a test and at the end of the Book of Job he gets the exact same number of sons and daughters as those that Satan killed. And we're clearly meant to take those kids to be fit recompense which leads me to another observation about the bible in general--individual identity is meaningless. Everyone is judged only by whether they follow the Lord or not. And who can really say who's doing that?
I think back to the eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards and his impressively grim and obsessive sermons make a lot of sense. But there's plenty of impressive grim in the bible itself--the Book of Job is definitely my favourite so far. It would be just for the description of Leviathan alone, the influence of which is clear on Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Melville.
. . .
[God speaking to Job]8 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more.
9 Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?
10 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?
11 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.
12 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion.
13 Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle?
14 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about.
15 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal.
16 One is so near to another, that no air can come between them.
17 They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.
18 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.
20 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.
21 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.
22 In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.
23 The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.
24 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.
25 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.
26 The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.
27 He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.
28 The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.
29 Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.
30 Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire.
31 He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.
33 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.
34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.
But the bulk of the Book of Job is a real meditation in the kind of psychology implied by all the preceding books, even though I've read that Job is thought to be older than most of the books that precede it. God promises reward to those who follow him and yet demands worship regardless. Job struggles with the fact that he's being punished even though he hasn't done anything wrong, but the very fact that he's complaining is wrong. As God makes abundantly clear at the end, one should follow God not because God promises reward but because God said so. If God rewards you, follow God; if God injures you, follow God and say thanks. This actually reminded me of Buddhism. The Buddhist statement that "life is suffering" agrees with the Book of Job if one takes God and Satan to be metaphors for life itself. Which, again, sort of makes the existence of God irrelevant. Unless it's not! There's that neurosis again.
I was reminded, too, of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Dancy character and her following missions given by an angel. One could take the angel as Dancy's hallucination or as an actual angel and just like the bible it almost doesn't matter. So Caitlin taps into a very fundamental human compulsion, at least in humans influenced by the Hebrew Bible. And so does the Book of Job--it considers the possible existence of altruism and the intrinsic value of suffering. Also like Buddhism, it encourages the dissolution of identity--Job asks his would be advisers if his life means anything. If his good works and piety aren't met with acknowledgement by God, then:
Job 10:18 Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!
Job's folly is that he presumes value in individual human lives, he misses the point completely until the end when he gets his replacement kids.
Twitter Sonnet #717
Times captioned by places trade pink skate boards.
Upside down beans reveal the fourth question.
Tree toned television shorts spit frost hordes.
Gelatin wasn't the last clear bastion.
Retained magicians find new capes to wear.
Standing furniture claims the slip covers.
Heaven's feathers smother the gummy bear.
Improved eyelid veins move zip-line lovers.
Tropical calliper palanquins crash.
Forceps accept subjects of lifted stuff.
Camouflage ordains the hidden hip sash.
Rulers will always call the squiggly bluff.
Toothbrush crowbar balance beams betray us.
The dancers damaged nothing on the bus.
top image one of William Blake's illustrations for the Book of Job.