Beware of the Adulators of God

A Man Named Job/5 - The false love of those who defend the Lord to praise themselves

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/04/2015

logo Giobbe"Let's go from here. Let's ask for all this sickness to pass. Whom shall we ask? The vineyard that is ̀all
a burst of new leaves,
the acacia branch with its thorns, the ivy and the grass
empress sisters that are
a lying mantle and a powerful throne"

(excerpt from the poem Ai miei maestri immensi - To My Immense Masters by Mariangela Gualtieri)

There are many economists, philosophers and intellectuals who build theories to legitimize misery in the world, about which we are told that it is a result of the laziness of the poor, and may be something coded in their genes. Job and his great pleas for explanations are marginalized, they are not listened to, but ridiculed, and the one who tries to defend the truth of the poor and their reasons is surrounded by thousands of the 'friends of Job' that condemn and mock him. The false friends of Job are not extinct, and they are always with us with their ideologies, to humiliate, despise and condemn the poor.

The third friend Zophar's accusation is clear and merciless: Job is a fake innocent, a bragger who hides his sins under a curtain of words: Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said: “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?” (11,1-2). Job responds: “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you.” (11,1-3). Job wants different and new answers from God, he does not need those of the wisdom consumer theologians: “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty” (13,2-3). He wants to hear the version of events directly from God. He does not want to hear the professional defenders, he wants to hear the voice of the accused.

To celebrate the infinite and unfathomable wisdom of God, Zophar attacks, condemns and humiliates the man, Job. Job, however, remains on the side of the earth and is totally in solidarity with humanity (with Adam, the earthen one). He does not praise God against man, he is not an adulator. However yesterday and today, there has always been a legion of the adulators of God like Zophar and Job's other friends who defend God to praise themselves, without really loving either God or men.

To defend God, these three friends offend man and deny what's evidence (they knew Job and they knew that he was righteous). Their theology is that of the cold theorems, praising God to praise itself. It is an ideology, and thus idolatry. However, every non-ideological theology is first of all humanism, it speaks well of man to God before speaking well of God to man. Divine truth, goodness and beauty cannot be defended against human truth, beauty and goodness. And he who does it denies what's human, the earth and God.

The concrete and incarnate experience of the righteous Job who is unjustly struck by misfortune is the first fact of reality from which Zophar started his argument. But, like all false prophets and false wise men, he defends God who does not need it to save himself and his own theological “truth”. The dialogues between Job and his friends are therefore a critique of the type of religion that is the enemy of man (and God), of the ideologies, philosophies and religion reduced to ethics.

Job denounces all moralists who do not look at the world from the pile of manure and become aggressive like Zophar. It is impressive, if one looks at history and the present, to see the huge group of theologians, philosophers and moralists who have used and still use (their idea of) God to build a pyramid only to able to place themselves on top, next to or even above God (as his architects and builders). Job is then the true theologian, the one who asks God to “wake up” in order to be at level with the suffering of the world.

From the meditation of these chapters in the Book of Job we find out then that the man named Job is a symbol of many things, all of them decisive. First, it reveals some essential dimensions of the mystery of truth. The victims, the poor have a privileged path to wisdom, they can access a truer truth. When you reach the extreme human condition, where all the bridges fell behind you and looking ahead you do not glimpse the promised land any more, you can search only the truth for truth - and we often find it, too, or rather, we find ourselves immersed in it. It is this truth, perhaps only this truth that allows those who 'own' it (or, better, those in whom it dwells) not to use it to their own advantage, not to consume it; like when, having discovered a rare mountain flower, instead of picking it to scent and embellish our home, we leave it in the meadow for everyone to see and enjoy. It is this gratuitousness that makes the truth, all truth, humble, chaste, pure and precious. Agape.

Job is also an excellent icon of biblical faith: a continuous and incessant demand for truth, that if it wants to be authentic, if it wants to be love it must be shouted out with Job, while sitting on the piles of manure of the world, never ceasing to feel brothers and sisters of everyone and everything.

But Job is also a paradigm of those who have received a true vocation - whether it is religious, secular or artistic. When you walk following a good voice that is calling you (from outside and from inside), there inevitably comes the stage of Job: you find yourself sitting on your and the city's garbage, and an absolute need for truth is born about your own story, about God and life, that can no longer be contented with small truths and simple answers. Having given everything, you can and must ask for everything. And with Job we understand that the answers to our questions of truth are not for ourselves, but for all, and a friendship is born with men, women and nature which is not the fruit of the virtues, but only and completely gift.

Afterall, the cosmic song of Job is really wonderful. In his condition of the poor and disinterested lover of truth, Job experiences the unity and communion with the entire creation in his own wounded flesh. He includes animals, the earth, the plants and the straw in his song; he understands them, loves them and feels one with them: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.” (12,7-8) Seen from the dunghill everything becomes alive, everything speaks, everything prays. But in order to see this life and this prayer that is the deepest of the universe one needs to love the truth for itself. This is the way, the only way to get to see a cosmic brotherhood, and from the pain of the world there springs and flourishes a communion with the grass, the finch, the rock, the star, the wild ass, the old man who passes away in a hospital bed. You learn to see and contemplate the innocence and the truth of the animals and of all non-human life - only men are capable of being false, flatterers and idolaters, animals or plants are not. In the real world of Job there is a more fundamental truth of the cosmos: rocks, water, trees, roots and leaves compose a single song of the earth taking the shape of words in the bleeding but life-filled throat of Job. The fragility of the ephemeral human condition makes Job feel even more like a creature. The death of man is more desperate than that of the tree (which after being cut can still hope to start sprouting and renewing again: 14,7), it is actually the poor sister of the death of the river and the lake that dry because of the lack of water (14,11). All creation is vulnerable and ephemeral (the mountain may come down with a landslide, the rock may be eroded by water: 14,19-20); like everything, like us.

This cosmic vulnerability, however, this kind of universal pain for the unexplained suffering of animals, plants and the earth, gives Job a more solid basis for his argument with God: he becomes the real and extreme spokesman of the earth and asks God to give reason to a world he created where there is too much suffering for no reason.

We are facing an amazing reciprocity between Job and nature: the earth gives him further evidence and more strength for his trial with God, and Job gives voice to nature, demanding explanations from the Eternal Being also on behalf of the rocks, animals and trees. The demanding of justice and truth that rises every day by plants, animals and men is rather powerful if we listen to it.

The presence of Job or someone wearing his mask well in the drama of life is essential for every person, community, society or people who do not want to fall into the ideologies and then in the regimes that are always built on the basis of the type of reasoning the 'friends of Job' practiced, using high ideals and God himself to oppress the poor and justify such oppressions.

The real brothers of Job, however are those (very few) poets and artists who, because of their vocation and charisma, are not afraid to persevere in asking questions about the truth of life, without stopping in front of the almost invincible temptation to try and find consolations that are other than the consolation of truth. If we never meet Job or a poet like him in life who is in love with the naked truth (for example the poet Leopardi), we cannot get rid of the ideologies, and we get enslaved by some idol providing simple answers to our simple questions.

We are living in a deep poverty of big questions. We are quickly getting used to the dialogues of the talk shows, and so we have forgotten that we grew up by asking thousands of “why”-s from our parents, and that the way to become adults and old is if we can get back to the big 'why' of children. God will speak to us again when, with and like Job, we will know how to ask questions to him that are able to “wake him up”.

 

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