Monday, February 28, 2011

The Melting Pot (I)

Question About Job

As I laid out earlier in my post titled ‘On Formats,’ I will be using this section of my blog to address questions posed to me by readers, or writing about other miscellaneous subjects. It so happens that I received a question from an anonymous reader regarding the book of Job. I was debating whether or not to address the question, since it comes anonymously and I’m not sure of the spirit the question was asked with. I decided to address the question in this post, because it allows to write on a very important subject.

The question is as follows:

Since you mention Job. I have always found that this passage.. Job 3:16-19...refers to abortion...leaning toward the pro-choice side. Basically meaning that it is better to be aborted than to live a life that is unhappy or filled with negative actions. 

What are your thoughts?

"Or why was I not as a hidden untimely birth, as infants that never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master. Job 3:16-19"
When we approach the Word of God, it’s very important that we remain sensitive to what the Lord is trying to teach us, and to refrain from imposing our views onto the His holy book. The Bible has been used as a text to support all kinds of wrong thinking. Take, for example, the KKK. This hate-filled, racist group claim that the Bible is their authoritative source for truth. They claim that the curse of Ham is definitive proof that black people are inferior to white. My grandfather uses an obscure passage in the book of Isaiah to claim that people who smoke go to hell. There is a cult group here in Korea that claims God is a woman. They make this claim due to the fact that the Hebrew word used for God in the book of Genesis is feminine in form.

The Bible teaches none of these things. The curse of Ham doesn’t result in the superiority of the white man. The verse in Isaiah doesn’t even speak about smoking tobacco. God is clearly revealed as a Father in the Word of God, but not only that He is also revealed as husband, master and other male roles. Jesus Christ was clearly a man. When we read the Bible, we need to remember that it is a book. As such, it is meant to be read as a book. We are not to infuse every word with some kind of special, hidden meaning. We don’t take things that are stated and hold them up as proofs to views that we want to hold. We are called to bend our will and our understanding to God’s; not vice-versa. The reason that all of those examples are wrong extrapolations of what the Word of God actually says is really for two reasons.

First of all we need to take into account what the Bible says as a whole. This is summed up by the phrase ‘let Scripture interpret Scripture.’ If we think a particular verse of Scripture is making a statement that doesn’t agree with the rest of what Scripture says, our understanding of the passage is probably flawed. We need to dig a little deeper and discover what the text means. Take for example, the book of Ecclesiastes. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read Solomon’s reflections on life. Multiple times in this book he says ‘all is vanity.’ The Bible clearly teaches that their is a purpose and meaning to life, and so we wouldn’t take these verses and make the assertion that the Bible teaches life is meaningless. The purpose of the book of Ecclesiastes is to show that life without God is meaningless. At the end of the book, Solomon states this explicitly, and the rest of the book suddenly makes sense. We need to take into account what the Bible as a whole teaches and not just rip out one verse to argue for a viewpoint.

Secondly we need to, as I mentioned earlier, read the Bible as a book. We need to take into account the type of literature each book is and we need to allow the parts of each individual book to be interpreted from the context of that particular book. Taking the example we gave of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gave his answer to the meaning of life at the end of his book. The earlier parts of the book are very bleak and without hope; the kinds of things you may read about in a book written by an atheist. The ending of the book serves to put the whole book into context. The earlier parts are the foundation for what Solomon is claiming. I use the book of Ecclesiastes because it is similar to the book of Job. The book of Job contains many statements about reality. At the end of the book, however, we see God’s response to all that has been said earlier. God effectively quiets Job and Job ends up repenting from his earlier statements in dust and ashes.

Taking into account the type of literature that the book of Job is, then, will help us to accurately interpret the book. The book itself is not a didactic book. That is to say, it is not a book meant to teach doctrine. Each statement in Job is not a direct teaching. Instead, the book falls into the category of poetry, and as such contains quite a bit of narrative. That is to say that the book contains a lot of historical record of what people said. A lot of the Bible is actually written in the narrative without commentary about what is right or wrong. Take Genesis 34 for example. This chapter relates the story of how Jacob’s sons brutally slaughtered an entire city of people. There’s no commentary about whether or not what they did is right or wrong. Jacob complains about the anticipated consequences to himself, but there is no statement as to whether they were in the right or in the wrong.

This is what we have in Job. The verses that are cited are a prime example of misinterpretation. In the context of the book itself, this passage is simply relating the sorrow of Job. He was so sorrowful that he wished he were never born, that his mother had miscarried. There is no commentary here as to whether his feelings are right or wrong. The fact that God silenced him later in the book and Job then repented of his earlier statements could be used to say that these statements by Job were sinful. That’s more than I'd like to to say about the passage, though, at least for the purposes of this article. The important thing to remember is that in its context, this passage has no bearing on the abortion issue. The purpose and tenor of the passage is to relate the deep suffering that Job was undergoing. To add anything more to it would be committing a gross error of misinterpretation.

Thank you for your question, and I hope you found my answer helpful (although poorly written). If anyone has any questions they'd like me to address in a blog, feel free to leave a comment for me. Please tell me who you are though!

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