Saturday, February 26, 2005

Book Review

Here is my review of the book: On Job: God Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent by Gustavo Gutierrez
I. Summary of Basic Argument
Gustavo Gutierrez, renowned for being in essence the father of liberation theology and a native and advocate of the poor in Latin America especially Peru, writes a basic treatise on the book of Job which is insightful and yet does not manage to use Job as a soapbox for any largely political aims or agenda, save for a scant few pages at the very end of the book. Largely, the critique of Job is one of a positive nature, much unlike many commentaries I read in doing research for the Job paper due earlier in the quarter.
A majority of the commentary and argument of the book focuses not so much expounding on the meanings of the reply God gives from the whirlwind. A majority of it sets up interesting definitions of the theologies espoused by the various characters in the book of Job, mainly including Job's wife, Job's friends, and Job himself. The first brief chapter sets up the divine wager between God and the satan character. Gutierrez argues that the real crisis for Job is that the suffering causes his view of God's divine world to be chaotic, lacking the divine order or presence. Job is not so much a blasphemer, wanting to blame God for causing what has happened.
Gutierrez argues that two major shifts occur in Job's ongoing theodicy. Being influenced by his friends' theology of retribution who say if God is just He blesses the righteous and punishes the evil, the first shift for Job is to broaden his understanding of suffering, not just of one individual, but a broader question of the plight of the whole poor and downtrodden. The second shift occurs after the conversations with the whirlwind that Job begins to see the “the world of justice must be located within the broad but demanding horizon of freedom that is formed but the gratuitousness of God's love (Gutierrez 16).”
Job is torn, according to Gutierrez, between the theory of retribution and his own understanding that makes him feel that he is innocent. Gutierrez frames all this through such a lens as looking at the poor from Job's perspective. Ultimately, Job comes to the realization that he is convinced of his own innocent and therefore God cannot be just. Gutierrez argues that Job is still fearful of God and demands a trial to explain His justice at work in the world where the poor and innocent are oppressed.
The analysis of Gutierrez ends on a very positive note. A lot of contemporary commentaries see God's response to Job as either the divine smart alleck or complete obfuscation. Gutierrez, however, defines God's purpose as having its gratuitousness in creative love. “The main idea...in the beginning was the gratuitousness of divine love: it-not retribution- is the hinge on which the world turns (Gutierrez 72).”To this author, though the initial rejection of Job's anthropocentric view of creation is almost sarcastically rejected...“Job, like the ostrich, may have lacked wisdom...but is still pleasing to God the creator (74).” God's answer is not irrelevant but forces Job to accept the divine mercy.
Personal Reflections
Having done the exegesis paper on Job, I found this commentary to be a valuable resource. Since that was not really where I wanted to go with my analysis of Job, I was a little hesitant to pick it up and read it because Gutierrez is world renowned for his work in liberation theology. But I was actually quite surprised when I finished reading it that the analysis of the job text actually had very little liberation theology in it, other than a very broad lens of Job and the Poor.
I suppose I was expecting the commentary to be more, if I may use the word, “preachy” which it really was not at all. In fact, I recall on a few pages at the very end of the text where Gutierrez actually makes specific reference to any contemporary politics and situation on the Latin American poor. That is not to say that Gutierrez completely minimized any conversation of the poor, for certainly his commentary, with its very title of “Suffering of the Innocent,” quite clearly suggests that the author wanted to tackle Job on that level, but the analysis was not an “in your face” political invective that a lot of liberation theologies tend to espouse.
The most interesting analysis that I found helpful was Gutierrez's parsing out of the idea of the theology of “retribution.” I found it helpful to look at the backdrop of what Job was really facing from the theology of his friends. Gutierrez argues, and I think quite correctly, that contrary to a lot of other commentaries, that Job's friends were not theological morons or simplistic. They in fact had a very defined theology, which in fact was a theology that many people in post modern America would not find antiquated or even disagreeable. That is to say a theology of divine retribution, that God blesses the good and punishes the wicked. Such a theology is not really defensible in light of oppression of the weak and poor, but it is a comfortable theology that most people, if they were God, would try to employ in the world.
Gutierrez does not just stop at that analysis though; he nuances that with the real dilemma of Job. Job likewise is not simplistic. He does not fully buy the divine retribution of his friends, nor does he succumb to his wife's theology of curse God and be done with it. An excellent point that I think Gutierrez makes is that even when Job calls on God for a fair trial, as it were, Job never stops fearing God. I think that analysis is crucial to understanding the book of Job as a whole. Modern minds want to over analyze the book and try to find some way to make it into some sort of huge systematic theology. When doing this from this particular lens, we realize the book comes up short, and we fall into the very trap that got Job to begin with. We miss the point of the book altogether.
Gutierrez's much more positive interpretation of the response from the whirlwind I think is more helpful in understanding the meaning of the story, at least to me. God's answer is not self-absorbed or irrelevant, but in fact has a specific purpose of forcing Job to acknowledge the divine mercy, even if Job cannot understand it. On a personal theodicy level, I found that most helpful. I, like a lot of people, want to have God balance the equation of oppression. We see X (the bad) happen, and we expect God to do Y (one possible good outcome) to fix it so that X=Y. In essence, oppression and justice factor out to zero and all is right with the world because we have a nice balanced theological equation. In reality, the true equation for the universe is X=(AB...YZ)^infinite power.
I think Gutierrez explained Job the best of all the commentaries I have read. Thinking about the questions that Job presents was especially difficult for me, having seen so much violence in my life. The divine plan for the universe is infinitely more than we can imagine. Justice alone is not the final say about how we are to speak to or about God, as Gutierrez explains. God's answer is not merely a smart alleck answer nor is it irrelevant or malevolent. It was done in love, to show Job both how small he was, but also to show Job that even through all of this, he was still beloved by a power so great Job could not even fathom.

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