And it is with regard to this assertion of the meaninglessness of Job’s suffering that one should insist on the parallel between Job and Christ, on Job’s suffering announcing the Way of the Cross. Christ’s suffering is also meaningless, not an act of meaningful exchange. The difference, of course, is that, in the case of Christ, the gap that separates the suffering desperate man (Job) from God is transposed onto God himself, as His own radical splitting or, rather, self-abandonment. What this means is that one should risk a much more radical than usual reading of Christ’s “Father, why did you forsake me?” than the usual one.
Since we are dealing here not with the gap between man and God, but with the split in God himself, the solution cannot be for God to (re)appear in all his majesty, revealing to Christ the deeper meaning of his suffering (that he was the Innocent sacrificed to redeem humanity). Christ’s “Father, why did you forsake me?” is not a complaint to the omnipotent capricious God-Father whose ways are indecipherable to us, mortal humans, but, rather, a complaint which hints at the impotent God. It is like the child who, after believing in his father’s powerfulness, with a horror discovers that his father cannot help him. (To evoke an example from recent history: at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion, God-the-Father is in a position somewhat similar to that of the Bosnian father, made to witness the gang rape of his own daughter, and to endure the ultimate trauma of her compassionate-reproaching gaze: “Father, why did you forsake me?”…) In short, with this “Father, why did you forsake me?”, it is God-the-Father who effectively dies, revealing his utter impotence, and thereupon raises from the dead in the guise of the Holy Ghost, the collectivity of believers.
Why did Job keep his silence after the boastful appearance of God? Is this ridiculous boasting (the pompous battery of »Were you there when…« rhetorical questions: »Who is this whose ignorant words / Smear my design with darkness? / Were you there when I planned the earth, / Tell me, if you are so wise?«(Job 38:2-5)) not the very mode of appearance of its opposite, to which one can answer by simply saying: »OK, if you can do all this, why did you let me suffer in such a meaningless way?« Do God’s thundering words not render all the more palpable his silence, the absence of an answer? What, then, if this was what Job perceived and what kept him silent: he remained silent neither because he was crushed by God’s overwhelming presence, nor because he wanted thereby to signal his continuous resistance, i.e. the fact that God avoided answering Job’s question, but because, in a gesture of wordless solidarity, he perceived divine impotence. God is neither just nor unjust, but simply impotent. What Job suddenly understood is that it was not him, but God himself who was effectively on trial in Job’s calamities, and he failed the test miserably. Even more pointedly, one is tempted to risk a radical anachronistic reading: Job foresaw God’s own future suffering – »Today it’s me, tomorrow it will be your own son, and there will be no one to intervene for him. What you see in me now is the prefiguration of your own passion!«
So, if we want to keep the Christian experience alive, let us resist the temptation to purge from it all »problematic« passages. They are the very stuff which confers on Christianity the unbearable tensions of a true life.
[Appeared in The Philosophical Salon on December 25th 2017.]
- Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1983, p. 115.