Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week Five: What is theodicy and how does it relate to the book of Job?

            Theodicy is the collision of God’s justice and the world’s injustice. Questions of theodicy ask how injustice could possibly exist in the presence of an all-powerful, just God (Brenneman 9/23/10). Theodicy is a new term for me and certainly not a common word, but the questions of theodicy are much more common than the word itself! In fact, I cannot think of a single person I know who has not asked the question, “How could a good God allow such bad things to happen to good people?” This is the central struggle of theodicy, whether or not these individuals realize they are asking a question of theodicy.
            Theodicy relates to the book of Job because the book of Job is essentially an argument with questions of theodicy at its core. The dialogues in Job are mostly exilic writings (Brenneman/Perdue-Job outline), and Perdue explains that during the exile “myth had to be reexamined for metaphors that would render a new metanarrative for the sages in exile” (79). Essentially, in the midst of the horrific, traumatic Babylonian exile, the sages and the other Judahites were forced to examine their current situation through the lens of the previous sapiential theology. The traditional sapiential theology was based on the (retributive) justice, providence, and sovereignty of Yahweh, who created and maintained the cosmos. The horrors of the exile forced the people to reexamine this theology. As a result, some individuals chose to uphold the traditional theology, explaining the exile with a theory of retributive justice. These individuals chose to believe that Judah somehow deserved this punishment, and the exile was simply God doing God’s job of punishing the unrighteous. However, as the people reexamined their theology and sought a metanarrative to suit their current situation (Perdue 79), some people were not content with the traditional explanation of retributive justice that landed Judah in exile. These individuals argued that God’s justice is not retributive, meaning that Judah found itself in exile not because of God’s justice, but because of God’s injustice. In the exilic dialogues of Job, these two conflicting theological viewpoints are displayed in a debate between Job and Job’s friends.
            In the dialogues, Job’s friends represent the traditional sapiential perspective, much like the sages of Proverbs (Brenneman 9/23/10). Job’s friends argue that Job, who represents the people of Judah in exile, is suffering because of sin and unrighteousness. Though Job continually expresses his innocence, his friends insist that God is giving him what he deserves in the form of retributive justice. Jobs friends, representing the retributive justice response to questions of theodicy, do not question God’s justice or sovereignty; rather, they assert that Job’s suffering is proof of both God’s justice and sovereignty. On the other hand, Job’s perspective in the dialogues represents the radical view of justice. Job argues that he is righteous yet suffering, and this is a direct attack on God’s justice. For Job, and for the radical school of wisdom, the suffering of righteous individuals means one of two things: 1) God is sovereign and unjust, or 2) God is not sovereign and this situation is out of God’s control. Both of the radical answers to questions of theodicy are direct attacks on God and direct attacks on the traditional sapiential theology. Throughout the book of Job, these two theological understandings collide in a debate that is only resolved at the end of the book as God restores Job and thus restores Godself and God’s justice (Perdue 127).
            Overall, the book of Job filled with deep questions surrounding the issue of theodicy is a fascinating glimpse into the theological atmosphere before, during, and after the exile. For me personally, studying Job and its vastly different perspectives on justice has been exciting and life-giving. It disappoints me that the retributive understanding of justice eventually wins out, but the book of Job provides a framework for God’s people to ask and explore questions of God’s justice, and that is certainly a step in the right direction.

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