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The Book of Job in the Trump Era

Suffering and self-examination may make us more human and godly

There are times in our lives when just about all of us feel that we resemble Job.

We wonder why we have to suffer so much, why we have to suffer at all.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, we realize that there are few, if any, among us, who suffer the way that Job does.

Hailed by God as being “perfect” and “upright,” Job is an exemplary individual.  There is “none like him on the Earth.”

Just as Job exceeds us in his ethical behavior, he also is subjected to far more anguish, far more pain than we are ever likely to experience

He loses his possessions, his friends, his health, and, perhaps, worst of all, he is stripped of the impeccable reputation he once had.

Many surround Job and spit at him.  They mock him to his face.  They lie about him behind his back.

One might ask:  What has Job done to earn such abuse?

Indeed, Job himself asks such a question more than once in the course of the Book of Job.

Which gets us to the issue of irony, a feature of humanity and literature that cannot be erased from the planet, no matter how hard censors or useful idiots may try.

The most creative definition of irony that I have read is this: God laughs at we mortals from His spot up high in the heavens.

Of course, there are some humans, who have no irony detector and who may not even understand such a concept, even if they awakened at their own lodgings to find their blond bouffant contaminated with bedbugs.

Thus, not one of us knew whether to laugh or cry when Donald Trump referred not long ago to his being the “chosen one.”

Whether we laughed or cried, we all knew that God was laughing at us.

But that does not mean that God approves of the solipsist-in-chief’s designation of himself as the messiah.

As we all might recall, God can be a jealous God, an angry God, a vengeful God.

He is not likely to take any joy from Trump’s pathetic need to view himself as a deity.  Nor would God be pleased if evangelicals planted or reinforced such an idea in the empty void of Trump’s rotting cortex.

No, to invoke a formulation that God used in speaking to Satan, has anyone of us “considered” that God was willing to chastise even Job, that most perfect and upright man, for his failure to recognize that God’s punishments may serve a more beautiful purpose?

Yes, God was willing to chastise and allow for the punishment of Job because God works in mysterious ways.

And those ways cannot be fully understood by a mortal, even one as perfect and upright as Job.

One needs the wisdom of Elihu, the youth who both critiques and speaks up in defense of Job, to recognize that Job should not be blamed for the calamities that befall him.

Job should not be blamed for the slaughter of his cattle and other property, the boils that fissure and sting his body, the albatross that follows him wherever he goes, and the ostracism of all who know him, including his three best friends.

My wife, Barbara, has characterized Job’s frenemies as a kind of Greek chorus.

She is onto something there in that the Book of Job, said to be one of the oldest books of the Bible, was likely written at the time of some of the Greek tragedies. 

And Job might be said to have a fatal flaw, one that is more painfully ironic that that of most tragic heroes.

What is Job’s fatal flaw?

Though he does not inveigh against God, Job pities and curses himself.

At the outset of his troubles, Job does console himself to an extent when he recognizes that the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh.

But, as God doubles down on his bet with Satan, as the plagues that afflict Job increase in severity, Job wallows in self-pity.

He stops recognizing, in the words of Bob Dylan, that, “in the fury of the moment, I could see the master’s hand, in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.”

Dylan, with his masterly understanding of satire, as well as irony, once poked fun at comparisons between him and the messiah, when he wailed on one of his early songs, “You know they refused Jesus too, and he said, ‘Well, you’re not Him.’”

Job may lack the humor of Bob Dylan, but that does not mean that Job is not godly.

One might consider that the name, Job, or Yov in Hebrew, is quite similar to God’s name, Jehovah or Yahweh.

The similarity in the language is not simply a coincidence.

Those who specialize in close readings of the Zohar and those blessed with a sublime imagination have long understood that there are recondite mysteries in the Torah, as well as in the entire Bible.

And some of those mysteries can be intuited by those who have a gift for and an appreciation of language.

To give us all a sense of the primacy of language in our world, there are Kabbalists, who hold that the universe, not just the Bible, was created by the very Hebrew letters or pictographs that open the Book of Genesis.

If language, when spoken or written by an artist, by a prophet, can be sacred, it is also true that language can be profane, can be hideous and can appeal to our basest and least holy characteristics.

In the case of Job, he may rue the day that he was ever born, but his very name, which almost sounds like a shortened version of God’s, should signal to us that Job has the potential, as we all do, to atone, to learn from his mistakes and to reconfigure his life, to give it more meaning.

The debate as to whether suffering is a critical part of life is a debate that will not end. 

No one should have to suffer like Job, who has committed no ills against anyone.  And yet Job’s suffering and his much-touted patience remind us that we are unlikely to gain wisdom without suffering, without self-examination and without the endurance to keep on keepin’ on.

To get back to the calamities that beset Job, the worst of them, as I wrote earlier, may be the lies or the rumors propagated against him.

We have all experienced the pain of such lies, when people, who don’t know us or who don’t know us well, believe poisonous rumors.

Such rumors originate with disciples of Satan, or Iago, who proclaims in Othello, “I am not what I am.”

If Iago, like Satan, represents the anti-God, the anti-Yahweh, the anti-Christ, we should all be comforted in realizing that the sophisticated among us consider the source of hateful rumors when they hear them. 

My experience in dealing with Iagos, or disciples of Satan, is that, while they initially try to cover up their evil, they later brag about their destructive acts.  Indeed, they openly boast of how they have destroyed people’s lives, reputations, careers.

But they do not succeed as often as they would like, because there are powerful forces of good that rally in favor of the truly honorable among us, like Job, people who have been defamed, people who have been victimized by evil, people who have in fact been singled out because they are so perfect and upright, so blessed with love, imagination and honor.

So, how does the Book of Job end?  And what can we expect from our Trumpian moment?

Job’s three best friends, who have imputed evil to Job, who have betrayed him with their jealousy and lies, lose their property and more at the end of the book, while Job’s success is restored and indeed doubled by God.

Job is rewarded by God because he admits to his failings, submits to a tongue-lashing from God, and recognizes that there is no limit to the works of God, works that we, as mere mortals, can never completely perceive.

As for Donald Trump, one might ask where he fits into the Book of Job.

He is certainly not like Job in any sense. 

While Job is nonviolent, Trump is violent in words, thoughts and deeds, and he has never admitted to a single failing in his life.

Trump would not submit to a tongue-lashing from anyone, not even God, or so he thinks.

And Trump thinks that those of us who admit to our mistakes, who try to learn from our failures, who wish to heal our spirits through love and discipline, are “suckers!”

In Trump’s world, to admit to a mistake, to say you are sorry, to try to atone for a failure, is to be “weak,” one of the more widely used of his “best words.”

I wonder what Trump thinks of former U.S. Senate candidate, Jason Kander, who is a hero not only because of his service in Afghanistan, but also because of his decision to drop out of the mayoral race in Kansas City so as to address his PTSD, major depression and suicidal ideation.

What is Kander doing now?

He is helping other veterans get housing and social services, and in doing so openly, he is helping to de-stigmatize mental illness, a series of disorders that are more likely to afflict the warriors and prophets among us than the draft dodgers.

Of course, Trump has convinced himself, aided by his dwindling legions of sycophants, that he represents a paradigm shift in every aspect of life. 

In Trump’s mind, he is a rule-breaker, a game-changer, a unique force in history, kind of like that other “chosen one,” whose initials were J.C.

If Trump has been chosen by anyone, it is by Satan.  As Nina Turner said on CNN back in June, Trump is the “spawn of” the devil.

While Job is the subject of a cosmic bet between God and Satan, a bet that God wins, Trump, a lackey of Satan, has already lost his bet.

Fewer and fewer people believe Trump’s lies any longer. 

And more and more Americans, including farmers, auto workers and investors, as well as minorities and immigrants, now recognize that they have been duped and harmed by the recklessness, incompetence, greed and corruption of the solipsist-in-chief.

Maybe, we, as a nation, are all nearing the end of the Book of Job.

We have all been like the title character in that we have all been victimized by Trump, a stand-in for Satan.

While some voters were tricked in 2016, we are all starting to see through every con perpetrated by Trump, whom we have all come to realize is a pathological liar.

Trump may still think he is going to get away with his global con and with the evil he spews every day.

He is forgetting that irony rules the world and that God sees through every evil thought, every evil word, every evil deed.

As Elihu points out in the Book of Job, “There is no darkness, nor the shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” 

Trump is the consummate worker of iniquity.

He lacks the memorable wit of Satan, who, when asked, “whence comest thou?,” says, “From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it.”

Our peripatetic commander-in-chief, even if lacking wit, parrots Satan in that Trump has accumulated quite a few frequent flier miles to his own properties around the globe.

And even if Trump walks with an awkward gait and lacks the elegance of, say, Barack Obama, the Donald has hobbled up and down more than a few staircases “to and fro” the tarmac.

In the end, Trump will not escape his fate.

Whether he is consumed with fire or hisses on his belly, Trump will be chosen for a perfectly apt contrapasso.

He will be chosen by God for that role.

So, maybe Trump was right. 

He will be the chosen one, in that regard.

And I write those words without any irony.

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