Friday, June 12, 2015

The damnation and salvation of Job

In many ways, the experiences of Job in his sufferings resemble those of the damned in Gehenna or otherwise experiencing God's judgment. Consider some of Job's statements about his lot.

Like Judas (Mt 26.24), he seems to suggest that it would have been better had he never been born:

Why did I not die at birth,
  come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
  or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
  I would be asleep; then I would be at rest (3.11-3).

He wants to die but is unable (cf. Rev 6.15-6):

Why is light given to one in misery,
  and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
  and dig for it more than for hidden treasures (3.20-1).

His state is one of continual distress (cf. Rom 2.9, Rev 14.11):

I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
  I have no rest; but trouble comes (3.26).

Job is convinced that there will be no escape from his situation:

Remember that my life is a breath;
  my eye will never again see good.
The eye that beholds me will see me no more;
  while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone (7.7-8).

He would rather die than go on living:

I loath my life; I would not live forever.
  Let me alone, for my days are a breath (7.16).

He refuses to accept that he has done anything wrong, but rather seeks to justify himself:

If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
  Why have you made me your target?
  Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my transgression,
  and take away my iniquity? (7.20-1)

Much like that Eastern Orthodox tradition, the presence of God is repugnant to him:

Will you not look away from me for a while,
  let me alone until I swallow my spittle? (7.19)

Just as Jerry Walls suggests people in hell might do, he questions God's justice and goodness while affirming his own righteousness:

How then can I answer him, 
  choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
  I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. 
if I summoned him and he answered me,
  I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.
For he crushes me with a tempest,
  and multiplies my wounds without cause;
he will not let me get my breath,
  but fills me with bitterness. . . . 

Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me;
  though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. . . . 

It is all one; therefore I say,
  he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
  he mocks at the calamity of the innocent (9.14-8, 20, 22-3).

Interestingly, too, Job points to God's status as his creator to suggest the wrong in what is happening:

Your hands fashioned and made me;
  and now you turn and destroy me (10.8).

In many ways, then, Job's situation is very much the experience of the damned, at least as many theologians and traditions describe it. Yet we know that Job is restored to God in the end, after God's revelation to him in the whirlwind. He repents in sackcloth and ashes (42.6), recognizing that no purpose of God can thwarted (42.2). Likewise, God is even willing to forgive Job's mistaken friends after he prays for them (42.7-8).

Job's story can be quite helpful to the universalist. It shows how an experience of hell can be simultaneously finite, unbearable, and yet the damned person is saved at the end of it. Job's realization is that God's providential purpose is impossible to thwart, that what God wants to come about will in the end be realized. If we know that God's purpose is the salvation and unity of all creation (cf. Eph 1.9-10; 1 Tim 2.4), then we can be confident that he will accomplish this.