Reflection 65: God Consciousness

February 16, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)


The biblical Book of Job is the story of a “devout and prosperous man” suffering physical misery from unknown causes. He attributes his suffering to God punishing him unjustly. Job’s friends say that God would never punish an innocent man; therefore, Job must be wicked. Job insists on his piety and innocence. In the end, God puts in an appearance as the omnipotent creator and judge of the universe, and proceeds to scoff at Job’s puny understanding in comparison to his own wisdom, and Job’s physical weakness in comparison to the mighty crocodile, God’s chief of beasts.


What could Job answer to that? Awed by God’s argument and physical presence, he admits he is out of his depth, comes to despise himself, and duly repents.


The rhetorical structure of this tale is similar to a court of law in which Job is the injured plaintiff, his “friends” witness against him, and God plays the role of presiding judge. From the outset, Job appears set up to score a moral point for the court itself rather than receive justice. The suffering at the heart of his quarrel with God is judged to be irrelevant. The outcome is rigged in favor of religious instruction: Without complaint, accept suffering as the will of God the Almighty!


God’s argument consists chiefly of listing his powers and accomplishments. Job’s suffering is beside the point. Job can’t perform any of the feats God lists in his resume, therefore the plight of this no-account human before him is of no interest to one who has far weightier responsibilities.


The irony being that God, we know now, has none of the knowledge or powers he claims for himself. The Almighty comes off as haughty and pretentious, whereas Job leaves no doubt that his suffering is real and unbearable (quotes from The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition, 1976):


My body is infested with worms,

and scabs cover my skin (Job 7.5).


My brothers hold aloof from me,

my friends are utterly estranged from me;

my kinsmen and intimates fall away,

my retainers have forgotten me;

my slave-girls treat me as a stranger,

I have become an alien in their eyes,

I summon my slave, but he does not answer,

though I entreat him as a favor.

My breath is noisome to my wife,

and I stink in the nostrils of my own family.

Mere children despise me

and, when I rise, turn their backs on me;

my intimate companions loathe me,

and those whom I love have turned against me.

My bones stick out through my skin,

and I gnaw my under-lip with my teeth (Job 19.13-20).


Job’s friends say or infer that he is being punished because he is wicked. Eliphaz the Temanite says, for instance:


For consider, what innocent man has ever perished?

Where have you seen the upright destroyed?

          This I know, that those who plough mischief and

sow trouble

          reap as they have sown;

          they perish at the blast of God

          and are shriveled by the breath of his nostrils

(Job 4.7-9).


And later adds:


Do not think that [God] reproves you because

you are pious,

          that on this count he brings you to trial.

No: it is because you are a very wicked man,

          and your depravity passes all bounds (Job 22.4-5).


To this slander, Job responds:


I swear by God, who has denied me justice,

          and by the Almighty, who has filled me with bitterness:

          so long as there is any life left in me

          and God’s breath is in my nostrils,

          no untrue word shall pass my lips

          and my tongue shall utter no falsehood.

          God forbid that I should allow you to be right;

          till death, I will not abandon my claim to innocence

(Job 26.2-5).


          Let God weigh me in the scales of justice,

          and he will know that I am innocent! (Job 31.6.)


In the end, out of the whirlwind, God confronts Job:


Who is this whose ignorant words

          cloud my design in darkness?

          Brace yourself and stand up like a man;

          I will ask questions, and you shall answer.

          Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?

(Job 38.2-4.)


In all your life have you ever called up the dawn

          or shown the morning its place? (Job 38.12.)


          Have you descended to the springs of the sea

          or walked in the unfathomable deep?

          Have the gates of death been revealed to you?

          Have you ever seen the door-keepers of the

place of darkness?

          Have you comprehended the vast expanse of

the world?

          Come, tell me all this, if you know.

          Which is the way to the home of light

          and where does darkness dwell? (Job 38.16-19.)


Has the rain a father?

          Who sired the drops of dew?

          Whose womb gave birth to the ice,

          and who was the mother of the frost from heaven,

          which lays a stony cover over the waters

          and freezes the expanse of ocean?

          Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades

          or loose Orion’s belt? (Job 38.28-31.)


          If you bid lightning speed on its way,

          will it say to you, ‘I am ready’? (Job 38.35.)


And so on. God assails Job with items of received wisdom 2,500 years old. This is fable, not history. This is mythology—man putting words in God’s mouth to achieve a certain effect. This is theater, not theology. The men who wrote and edited these words are long dead. Their life situations and perspectives cannot be imagined today, much less understood. Their consciousness at the time bore slight resemblance to the story of Job as we can interpret it. Modern consciousness has evolved to fit us to a different world than that of the fifth or sixth century B.C.E. And to a different concept of God, which must now contend with the Big Bang, evolution, and all that has been learned about human nature, the Earth, and its universe in the meantime.


A great deal of poetry is to be found in the Bible, along with wisdom, drama, history, and other matters of interest. But the framework that holds it together—the concept of God—is flawed in accounting for consciousness at the time it was written in terms that were to the advantage of a particular group having a vested interest in how God was portrayed. Which is, none other than the priestly profession, intent in those days on assuring its own power, influence, and wealth by spreading God fear and consciousness through the land. Their livelihood depended on overreaching themselves. People who made a living from God were not neutral in portraying the deeds, sayings, and attributes by which he was made known to others.


No matter how eloquent the rhetoric, no one can rightfully claim that such writings were aimed at conveying a higher sense of the truth. Job, for instance, was hoodwinked, both by his friends and his God. On the basis of its own internal evidence, this story makes little sense. No matter how strongly someone wants to believe such events actually happened, the proper genre for this piece is historical fiction. It was fiction when written; it remains fiction today.


Consciousness flows with the ages. It has come a long way in 2,500 years. In some minds, at least. In others, it has traveled a lesser journey. The mindset that claims such writings as the Book of Job reveal eternal truths in literal language—such mindsets exist at a more primitive stage of development than can grasp or grapple with what is happening in today’s world. Spiritual truth, poetic truth—these are apologies for consciousness having advanced beyond its lowly beginnings. That Bush 43 could pander to a constituency taking biblical writings as a guide to proper behavior in the 21st century speaks a terrifying truth: that consciousness has atrophied in a significant portion of the American mind. That wishful thinking replaces wisdom for those who fear the future, and so look backward to a past dressed in the familiar words and cadences of bygone eras. Beware all truths advanced as eternal.


Novelty is the essence of consciousness, not sameness. To live in the past is to prefer dead times to living. If we are not on the leading edge of our own consciousness, we are relying on less than our full potential deserves or requires. If we insist on clinging to past stages of consciousness, Earth will move on without us, leaving us pondering the likes of Job, looking for insights and wisdom in outmoded speeches written for effect in times that once were, but are lost to us now.


If you wake up as the same person you were yesterday, you can be neither fully conscious nor alive. I find that a very scary thought. If we live not on the edge, where are we situated? That is the question of the ages. If we are anywhere but in the foremost rank, we are probably not where we claim to be.







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