22 May 2008

Sorrow and Delight

Yesterday in my course on Romantic Backgrounds we read the Book of Job.  I've always been interested in this book of the Bible, for a number of different reasons.  At first, I was preoccupied by it because it seemed to me to set up an unfair situation, a situation that I later saw not as simply unfair but as a difficult question to answer:  does faith need testing?  When I first read the Book I would have said no; later I would have said, I can see why it might, since untested faith has never questioned its reasons or really understood itself in the way tested faith has.  Now I would say, I'm not sure. And I noticed this time that although Job doesn't lose faith, he doesn't exactly keep it, either.  So the question of whether faith should be tested or not is slightly irrelevant.  

More recently I have liked Job primarily because it tells the story of a good person arbitrarily persecuted.  On House this Monday House pointed out that life is random, and Job seems to me the greatest pessimistic exemplar of this, especially if you remove the stuff added by the Pious Emender.  So I suppose I like Job because it both jibes with and encourages my pessimistic view of life.

(I should say here, though, that thinking about House afterward I wondered why nobody ever points out that life is randomly good as well as randomly bad.  That is, sometimes awful things happen, it's true, but sometimes wonderful things happen, too.  I don't want to talk about deserving or not deserving, but it's certainly true that while there have been many awful things I didn't expect, there have also been quite a few good things I didn't expect.  But I think we don't think of good things as happening randomly because we have a kind of ingrained conviction that good things come from hard work and determination -- that is, people seem to believe that only hard work and determination will win you anything, but you can still lose something despite hard work and determination.  Which is an odd and unfair equation, if you think about it. ANYway, it did seem to me that perhaps a bit more space should be given to the randomness of good things.)

Reading the Book of Job this time, however, I was struck by the accuracy of the lamentations. Deep-mired in troubles, Job cries out, "Wherefore is light given unto him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul...?  For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters....Oh, that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together!  For now it would be heavier than the sands of the sea:  therefore my words are swallowed up....What is my strength, that I should hope?  and what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?"  (3.20-6.11).  I found myself arrested by the demonstration this offers of the fact that, apparently, the experience of pain has not changed:  people ask the same questions and rend the same garments even after the passage of millenia.  But I did also feel, if not a sense of kinship with, a sense of gratitude to Job.  This expression of what deep grief feels like is not one I could ever have managed, and it is just right, perfectly accurate.  It is just like that.

Having said that, I would also like to say that this afternoon as I was taking off my t-shirt to get in bed for a nap I thought that there is perhaps no more pleasurable feeling than the feeling of disrobing to get into a white-sheeted bed in the middle of a sunny afternoon.

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