Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person

I've tried to read the The Book of Job (you know, the one from the Bible) before. It starts off with a couple of chapters that are both understandable and pretty riveting. And then things get less understandable. A lot less understandable. After a few chapters , I've lost sight of who's trying to convince who of what, and why. When I saw Harold Kushner of Bad Things Happen To Good People fame, tackled the text I was hoping he could guide me through the book.

It turned out to be a wise choice on my part.

The first thing Kushner explains is that there's textual evidence that the Book of Job consists of two independent parts. The first two, and last chapter comprise a simple fable. One that's ancient, and easy to understand. The middle 39 chapters or so, however, comprise a complex poem which may be among the most difficult texts in the bible to understand.

Well that explains my difficulty, doesn't it?

Kushner then proceeds to walk the reader through the 39 chapters of poetry, pulling from different sources, explanations and examples to make it as understandable as possible. And he manages to succeed; I walked away with q coherent view of how the Book of Job can be understood.

Kushner's book, however, is more than just a user's manual to the Book of Job. In many respects, it builds on the philosophy that he originally describes in When Bad Things Happen To Good People. And just what is that philosophy? Well, consider the following three statements:

  1. G-d is all powerful
  2. G-d is all just
  3. G-d is all good

Now, suppose something terrible happens to you, like in Kushner's case, the loss of a child. How do you make the above statements make sense? If you suppose (1) and (2) are true, then how can the loss of a child be considered good? And if you suppose (1) and (3) are true, how can you suppose that a child dying is just? Instead, Kushner outlines a philosophy where (2) and (3) are true, and that (1) isn't. That is, G-d is not all powerful. Crazy, I know. In the above example, he might say that G-d is good and just, but he wasn't responsible for killing your child - cancer, a drunk driver, or whoever else was. When I first heard this philosophy I didn't buy it for a second. But after reading When Bad Things Happen to Good People and now his take on the Book of Job, I'm more and more convinced that Kushner is really on to something.

Another way to look at it: if you're someone who looks at arguments against G-d like this one, and think, "Hmmmm, there are some really solid points there" - then you might find Kushner's philosophy especially sensible.

Regardless of what you believe, this book is an absolute winner. It was a true joy to untangle such a mysterious text.

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