Job and Eschatology

The penultimate verses of Job:

So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.

He had also seven sons and three daughters.

And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch.

and were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job

If one reads this as a mere continuation of events, Job’s whole story collapses into a tale told by an idiot. Children are not the sort of thing that one can replace like cattle or camels, and the narrator would be utterly clueless or just plain wicked to brag about how the Job’s new daughters (born after the others all died tragically) are now the sweetest and prettiest in the kingdom. What could possibly be the message, if we take it this way? Don’t worry about your dead girls, ’cause God can give you prettier ones?

No. The author had something completely different in mind, namely an eschatological account where all evils are reversed, though in a way that now seems at once simple and unthinkable: simple in the sense that we understand that evil must be reversed, overcome, and subordinated to goodness; unthinkable in the sense that this must be an event outside of history.

True, the verses following this one speak of the death of Job, but that is the point. This event is given as the last episode in Job’s life since it is the last episode in it: the one he will live in the eschaton.

The argument from evil is sound if it says that God’s existence is incompatible with evil ultimately. If we could stand at the end of history and see even the slightest and most insignificant evil that were not reversed, subordinated, and overcome, we could conclude with apodictic certainty that God is impossible. But if we now say that he is possible, we are committed to a claim about something we will see at the end of history.

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2 Comments

  1. Aron Wall said,

    October 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    I find it significant that the number of each species of cattle is doubled, but the number of new sons and daughters remains the same. I read the seeming lack of parallelism as a reminder that the former sons and daughters cannot be replaced; so that at the Resurrection Job will have 20 children, also doubling their number. Thus the 10 new children are indeed new, not a substitute for the irreplacable personalities of the old.

    While the restoration of Job’s fortunes is an image of the escaton, surely this functions at the level of allegory, not of the literal meaning of the event. There is nothing about the literal meaning of the event which is impossible in an earthly sense, but the literal meaning just doesn’t sit right with you aesthetically.

    According to Kierkegaard, if Abraham had merely renounced his desire to keep Isaac, he would have been unable to recieve Isaac back with joy, but since he had faith that Isaac would be restored to him, he was able to experience the joy of recovering Isaac. The paradox of the escaton is that it cannot happen on earth, yet real faith believes in it as if it were a concrete earthly thing, not as something merely eternal, but something which could concretely happen in ordinary time tomorrow, because in fact it can, if Christ retruns tomorrow.

    The very crudeness of the compensation to Job foreshadows that there will be a Resurrection of the Flesh, not merely an Immortality of the Soul. Job suffered something which could not be compensated for with an earthly reward, so instead he has a spiritual reward of a theophany revealing his own ignorance. And yet, this transaction is so complete that God can even proceed to bless him with a material reward in addition. It may be an anticlimax to you, but it was not to him.

  2. Carl Johnson said,

    October 22, 2014 at 10:07 am

    This reminds me of the work of Marilyn McCord Adams.


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