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J. K. Gayle

Another great post. You make us want to read and reread so many things. (Once upon a time, one of my children's Christian elementary schools banned Maurice Sendak's book. So we own two copies and read them regularly, now for its wild anthropodicy).


I have also been thinking of these questions, and how I have no answer to questions and challenges (my own or other people's) in the area of theodicy. I don't even know how to say the word, let alone this new one that gets thrown in the mix--anthropodicy.

But when I think about the questions, I keep coming back to the book of Job. I know some people have turned away from their faith because of this book. For me, Job gives voice to the questions and anguish in my heart, and I find myself able to choose trust every time I see again that I can confidently and honestly continue to cry out to God as Job did.

Also, nobody gave expression to my feelings towards numerous counselors and friends like Job did. During some of those miserable times when I was accused regarding the causes of my troubles and had no defense, Job's responses, so accurately expressing my feelings, but much wittier than I could come up with, could make me laugh (and precious little could do that at that time).

I love the confident trust implied in Job's crying out against and to God. That is the kind of trust I continue to choose. I love the ironies and surprise of God responding directly to Job and not to all the friends who defended God and accused Job on God's behalf. And it might sound crazy, but I love it that God responded directly to Job, and that even though he didn't exactly answer Job's questions, he did reveal himself to Job, and it was good. Sometimes I think my trust looks crazy. Many times I'm aware how indefensible it is and how little it makes sense against logic. But if I'm crazy for still clinging to God, I keep realizing that I don't mind being crazy like Job. Well, I'd rather not have to find a way through suffering at all or think about what all this suffering means about God or not, but since I keep finding myself there in suffering, getting through it like bold, crazy Job is, to me, the most hopeful of my options. And I don't say that with a resigned sigh.



it's always nice to run across someone else who appreciates Where the Wild Things Are. It would be fun to do a series on children's books, wouldn't it?



you appreciate the book of Job, I think, in the way it was intended to be appreciated: as an aid to faith rather than a call to abandon faith.

It's obvious, really, but the need people feel to foist upon great literature their own agenda has usually had the upper hand in the history of interpretation.

scott gray

oh, john, i don't foist my agenda on job. i respond viscerally and nauseously to it. when i first read job, with the same feeling of nausea, i was twelve. god's reputation hasn't improved with repeated readings...



please explain why. I'm sure you have your reasons. What are they?

scott gray

this story is about a god who betrays a loyal follower on a dare from his quality control department. then gives not even a 'wait till you're older you'll understand' answer, but something worse--'you'll never understand. and there's nothing you can do about it.' with a loving father like that, who needs neighborhood bullies and mean-spirited relatives?

john, i had to give up any belief in such a god. god has to be something other than this cruel bastard.

but i like mcgrath's pantheism/panentheism. and his link to experimental theology's teilhard #3 post was astonishing.

and it doesn't take any god-belief at all to see deep value in the jesus teachings.

somewhere, i wrote that these discussions are best had by two people working side by side on a habitat for humanity building site. the doxy issues are moot, compared to the praxy issues. same goes for this discussion. theodicy discussions are of no consequence if we don't set them aside to give succor and relief to the suffering.

well, you asked.




John, I'd love to take the compliment, but I'm afraid I'm as guilty as the next person (if guilt is the right word, even) in foisting myself on what I read (I hesitate to use the word agenda, because I hope I don't do that, but I inevitably am going to read whatever I read from my own viewpoint and receive from it what makes sense to me and where I'm at. I'm not totally sure it can be helped.

Having said that, and not on the main point, I second the idea of a series on children's books. Rarely has anyone captured the heart of beauty and friendship for me like Arnold Lobel does in his Frog and Toad books. And Owl at Home and Eric Carle's Sloth explain my personality in such simple terms that I wonder how it is that I manage to confuse so many people. And Ferdinand. Dear, controversial Ferdinand, who I understand so well. I'm sure I overlay my own agenda on what I take from those books (Ferdinand has sure had his share of agendas foisted on him through the years, banned again and again...) But, still, they speak to me deeply about things I may never know if the author actually intended them to speak of. I read lots and lots of heavy books, but still keep coming back to these and others again. So, yes, I'd be fascinated to read a blog series on children's books (by the way, while looking up the title of Eric Carle's book on the sloth, I was surprised to see one of the sites that came up was selling it in Hebrew. Reading children's books is a favorite language learning delight of mine.)

Alan Lenzi

The definition of wisdom in 28:28 seems to be ironic since it is the very kind of wisdom Job had at the beginning of the book . . . and look where it got him! (I think M. Fox makes this point, somewhere.) So there's no formula, just keep trusting in Yahweh no matter what.

The book didn't factor into my loss of faith at all. But looking back at it now, I think the book silences criticism of god that may arise from one's experience. No matter what happens, the book says, Yahweh is in control and humans must submit to him. Whatever else the book was/is or does for its readers, I think it is a brilliant attempt to insulate Yahwistic religion against criticism and keep insiders in.



I really like your answer, every part of it. With respect to the God of the narrative frame, you hit on an aspect of the biblical perception of God - that God is beyond good and evil so far as we can see, as well as being the guarantor of the moral order of the universe - that most believers are in denial about.

What distinguishes biblical religion from Buddhism, for example, which is so aware of the amorality of the universe that it refuses to personalize or "humanize" either its Alpha or Omega, is biblical religion's ability to keep its experience of a numinous God - fearsome, unpredictable, and inscrutable - in tension with its experience of God as one who blesses and keeps his promises.

But, though reject a God of the biblical kind, you go about living your life according to high moral standards. You do not believe that in so doing you are acting in harmony with the inner structure of all that is.

But wait, maybe you do: I'm not sure what version of panentheism you find agreeable. How does your version of panentheism account for the amoral aspects of reality?

Regardless, I would love to work on an HH build with you. I like the story I heard from someone in the Focolare movement. A priest and theologian gives a wonderful talk at a retreat and afterwards chats up some participants as they wash the dishes after the dinner. He engages in theological discussion but is not getting much response. "Pippo," the priest then asks, "what's your take on the doctrine of Purgatory?" "Haven't thought about it a whole lot, Father," said Pippo, "but one thing I do know. If you don't roll up your sleeves and help us wash the dishes, I'm sure that's where you're going."



your hermeneutical humility is disarming. You are right, of course, about our amazing ability to hear nothing but the drone of our own voice, though we still try, justifiably I think, to hear an author's voice and communicate with her or him, almost as we would in conversation, even if in face-to-face conversation as well, we risk hearing only the overlay of our hopes and fears.

The books you mention are all dear to me, and so are many others. It would indeed make a nice blogathon if a half dozen people or more agreed to participate.



I didn't know that Fox - one of my teachers, as you probably know - thinks 28:28 is ironic. That strikes me as unlikely, but I'd love to examine his arguments.

The way I see it, Job at the beginning of the book appears to us as a transparent person, upright and faithful, with perhaps an edge of fear manifested in his intense religious scrupolosity (1:5).

His suffering, however, makes him fearless before God and his fellow man. I don't point this out to suggest that Job's suffering is therefore warranted. But still, a maturation takes place.

On the other hand, though I think Job does fear God and shun evil from about chapter 24 on - I explain why in my introduction - his submission to God's will in 40:3 and 42:2-6 is not transparent. Job comes to have a depth dimension to him, acquired through the hard knocks of experience, which means that his words, even to God, contain the abyss within them. He isn't transparent anymore.

And yet Job's words are accepted by God. I will say flat out; if I thought that were not the case, if I thought otherwise, I could not be a believer.

And you are right, all discourse in the Bible, because it is (also) human, comes wrapped in fear of losing the very thing of which it speaks.

But that is true of all human discourse. I imagine you are self-aware enough to know that your speech, too, is wrapped in fear of falling into self-contradiction, of having hard-won certainties (certainties only in the subjective sense, since we all need them, but only probabilities in the scientific sense, as Duane Smith can show better than I; perhaps he is listening in) dissipate into a cloud of unknowing. That, at least, is a dimension of my experience.

Sam Norton

If there was a proposal to do some theology on children's books, I'd want to join in. I'd probably choose the 'Little Bear' sequence.

Carl W. Conrad

More a note of appreciation for a splendid formulation on this topic that I had ceased thinking could be addressed honestly or helpfully: almost everything I've ever read about theodicy is drivel and much of what I've read about Job is inadequate -- this perspective makes far better sense of the book of Job as a whole. But the injection of Dostoyevsky into the discussion is central, I think: that's where the dialogue about the meaning of Job begins to get serious. Thanks for what you've written here.



that makes three of us. Let's see if a few more people volunteer.



I concur: theodicy is, at least most of the time, so much drivel. I think the author of the book of Job ridicules it most effectively via the Elihu speeches, though they are, from a literary point of view, an afterthought.

Elihu, it seems to me, comes across as a sincere but pompous posterior. To my, probably jaundiced eye, so do most God-defenders.

Alan Lenzi

I found the reference in Fox's writing that started pushing me to see 28:28 as ironic (Proverbs, 69 [AB 18A]). Fox in fact does not say that wisdom is ironic; I mis-attributed that to him. But it is his following comment that made me start to think of wisdom in 1:1 and 28:28 as creating an ironic tension in the book. Fox says: "Job 28:28 does identify wisdom and the fear of God, but this is a polemical redefinition of human wisdom, which submerges it in piety." Piety. The very kind that Job displays in 1:1. That quote got me to thinking. . . .

I think it was Habel (Job, 392-393) who pointed out for me (though the idea is probably not original to him) that
28:28/1:1 bracket the first part of the book to show the traditional wisdom answers inadequate and thereby to move the narrative ahead to the book's conclusion. That's when I think I started to see the verse as a kind of irony.

By "ironic" I simply mean to say that Job, according to 1:1 and 28:28 has wisdom = piety. But despite him already practicing what 28:28 "reveals," his wisdom does him little good. He still suffers; he still lacks understanding. Like the assertions of the rest of ch. 28 concerning wisdom (i.e. that it is inaccessible and mysterious), Job's "wisdom as piety" does little to illumine the darkness that surrounds his life. The book therefore pushes one to the only position possible, which the book discloses in the theophany: fideism. Just trust Yahweh. It's all very mysterious. You may not get the answers you want, but just trust. For Job at least, he has a very profound experience that can give support to this demand of blind trust; he WAS IN YAHWEH'S ACTUAL PRESENCE. But for the reader, unadulterated fideism is the order of the book and there is no theophany for them to help buttress their requisite blind faith. By identifying with Job's (fictitious) experience, the reader is to have the theophanic experience vicariously. The literary context reshapes the reader's existential context. In this way the book is a very clever attempt to instill a blind trust in Yahweh and silence any and all criticism (even while giving vent to one's emotions, as Job does in the book--it's almost therapeutic for a reader in that way!). I think the book is truly brilliant, but also completely unsatisfactory to me.

You say, "And yet Job's words are accepted by God. I will say flat out; if I thought that were not the case, if I thought otherwise, I could not be a believer." But there's no reason to think they were accepted by Yahweh unless you totally buy into the fiction the book commends!

scott gray


thanks for an interesting ride…

i began my questions to sam in his atheist post #18. primarily, the theodicy questions were posed in response to sharing, exploring, appreciating, and reconciling differing points of view between theists and atheists. but theodicy is such a charged issue, that my first choice of engagement (sharing viewpoints) was overlooked by sam entirely in the meme.

i was corresponding with eclexia about dialog between people holding differing viewpoints (since she and i often do), and one of the points that came up as to why do it, is the idea that dialog at its best is about passwords. it’s about the right word, spoken or written, that acts as a key (pass-word as ‘key-spoken,’ or ‘key-written’) to unlock an awareness, an ‘aha’ moment, in one’s dialog partner. and it’s especially a treasured dialog when the other person, in response to a new understanding, pops out with a password that makes you go ‘aha’ as well. those are the very best conversations. not about conversion, necessarily, but about new understanding, new appreciation for the point of view of another.

wisdom literature acts the same way, at its best. in one’s encounter with the text, one is given a password to an ‘aha’ moment, to a new understanding, to a new room, as it were. sometimes, the room is spacious and magnificent, and full of fabulously interesting things. sometimes, it opens to a familiar room, but from a different door. sometimes it opens on an empty room of little or no consequence.

and sometimes it opens on hell—- a room of mud, and filth, bad odors, where one is constantly on one’s guard for pain, and leaving one with a sense of horror. the book of job, when i read it as a child, was just such a password. and it still is-- to a room of horror—- betrayal, cavalier cruelty, unapologetic pain infliction, and all for self-aggrandizement. it was the same feeling i had watching ‘the cell’ (a horror movie made in 2000).

so is job wisdom literature for me? oh, yes. but it’s not a source of anything but a password into a room where i don't really intend to spend any time. and the result, for me, was a shift in my understanding about the nature of god.

i don’t know what the nature of god is, hence i’m an agnostic. but i do know what the nature of god isn’t, and that’s the god of job. and because so much of the hebrew and christian scriptures are about this understanding of god, much of it is of no value to me as i ask ‘what is the nature of god,’ except to constantly remind me of what god isn’t. from my point of view, i’m not angry at this god, because this god doesn’t exist. it is a construct, and when i study scripture, i am mostly able to put things in a ‘construct’ perspective and context regarding this god, and look for other wisdom in the texts.

the questions i asked sam about theodicy are asked in good faith, in the light of sharing viewpoints. i know, there are the debunking folks who ask the same questions for other reasons. how the questions are perceived says a lot about the receiver, too. to an atheist, the questions are meaningless, because they are about an entity or construct that doesn’t really exist. to a theist, they are tough to answer, and theists are often suspicious of the asker’s motives, and some fear that the wrestle may lead to a password into the same room i found, which is a scary thing. but to an agnostic who asks in good faith, they are about figuring out what god is, by first talking about what god isn’t. the responses that resonate best with me as passwords are those of jim mcgrath, and oddly enough, iyov, even though his story is about a sideways topic (as i responded to him/her in the comments section). i’m very sorry that the questions, of the theodicy issues, or the view points regarding ‘what is the nature of god’ can’t be taken up with such great thinkers as i’ve met here, without the immense baggage we all bring to it (myself most especially included). somehow it seems that more of us should be able to provide the passwords to each other to unlock new rooms of understanding.

which brings to my last thought here. i have no need for god-as-salvation, or god-as-author-of-moral-and-ethical-framework, but i find great delight in the idea of god-as-password. which is what jesus is, of course. and somehow, for those of us who value his teachings, whether theist, agnostic, or atheist, we should feel called (or something) to imitate this portion of his presence to one another as well—- as passwords to new rooms filled with fabulous new empathies and understandings.

thanks for letting me think out loud.





thanks for commenting further on the point, and I think you are on to something. That Job is the model of a pious man is argued by Fox ("Job the Pious" in ZAW 117 [2005] 351-366). There is a lot of truth to that.

Yet it is not just the book of Job, but biblical literature in general, that accepts dark and accusatory words toward God by pious sufferers. The book of Psalms includes more than a few examples. In the case of others, a guilt-filled death-wish comes to the fore (Elijah); for others, their actions speak louder than words (Jonah). My point is that Christianity, perhaps also as you experienced it, does not associate cracking under pressure and demeaning God with words as acceptable behavior for a believer. But they are, or at least they come with the territory, according to the Bible.



Your thoughts are winsome and beautiful. Of course I think you
cut God and Jesus down to a size you find non-threatening, but we all do that, just in different ways.

It's always a pleasure conversing with you.

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    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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