Sunday, September 21, 2014

Of monsters, minions and men

I've been perusing the book of Job and it's filled with interesting and surprising discoveries for a biblical semi-literate like me. For example, there's a definite hierarchy established in the book based upon who talks to whom. In our world we conceive of ourselves as standing between God above us in Heaven and that rat bastard Satan below us in hell. We're closer to God because we're on His team and after all, everyone says He 'loves' us. So 'yay' us, 'boo' Satan. And we conceive of Satan trying to 'tempt' us from below and us asking God to help us tell the squirrely red devil to buzz off but we always assume that YHWH isn't comparing notes about us with the Devil incarnate, much less teaming with him to maximize our suffering.

And that would be wrong because when you take a peek at the Book of Job you find God and Satan working hand and....claw to do some rather...well anyway let me tell you the whole story: In the Book of Job Satan and God are reviewing Job and his family - imagine it's Mayday in the Old Soviet Union and the Politburo are all lined up in their parkas in the snow on the wall of the Kremlin: The General Secretary - that would be God - on down. And there next to God, in a particularly commie red suit with all the Hero of the Satanist Union medals is Satan, one of the 'bigs' taking a gander at the 'best of the best' of God's people scuttling by. Job's not up there, he's down in Red Square with the rest of the scuttlers. In fact no 'child of God' is there at all, they're the ant like figures marching anonymously by the thousands and millions and billions by the Great Leader Himself and I guess the dear leader in the cherry tights next to him. Hmm.

And Satan is making snide remarks about God's people being 'bought' and if they weren't how they wouldn't be marching in line but instead would be shouting rude slogans and flipping God the bird. And God just takes it - stuff that He wouldn't take from you or me without giving us a good hard smite. Even an anti-semsmite, which everyone knows ever since Samson invented it, is the worst kind of smite of all. (Which is why tough luggage is called Samsonite because it smote even Samson's anti-semsmites.)

So Satan's snide, unsmited remarks get under God's skin (I'm not sure God has skin per se but whatever keeps whatever God is from spilling out over whatever God isn't, Satan got under that). And that's kind of weird when you think of it - not whether God has skin, although that's weird - but why would a created creature like Satan who God has already deposed, fired, stripped of his rank, evicted, incarcerated and for all I know disembowled and defenestrated be standing (well if he'd been D-Ded, hunched over) with the Politburo on Godday getting under His non-skin-skin? I mean I guess it goes without saying that whatever God has for skin is notoriously thin - that's why there's all the smiting for everything from making cow jewelry, to being Egyptian management in a labor dispute, to touching the wrong doohickey at the wrong time on the Ark thingy, to a little harmless tax fraud. God is notoriously cranky about almost anything that concerns him. Tick him off and he goes to pieces faster than a collapsing Jenga tower. And smites - boy does he smite.

Well I guess we'll never know why Satan got to hang out with God and the rest of the Politburo at the top of the Kremlin with the open bar and bottomless caviar bucket while God's most faithful servant was freezing his loyal nuts off in what passes for a Moscow spring day. Because the very next thing that God does after Satan razzes him about Job's loyalty being bought and paid for is that God says "hokay, I'll prove it: whack Job's family, his business, his slaves, chattel, cattle and rattles for that matter, waste 'em all and Job will still march on Godday without flipping me off"

Which is even weirder than all the other weird stuff. Because if there's one thing that Satan likes to do it's kill, rape, infect, cast aspersions, bowdlerize, insult, tease, mock, irritate and mildly vex God's people. It's what he lives for (does he? I mean live? Do angels live or do they exist and what's the diff? And if I tell Satan to get a life does that hurt his feelings? Or does he just go kill someone?). So why would God give Satan his 'heart's' desire given that Satan is supposed to be anti-God and all, isn't God supposed to be punishing Satan? Instead he seems to be underwriting Satan's brutal torture of God's top servant, Job. And not only that, it's God's idea. Which if you're Job, has got to burn. But not as brightly as the houses of his kids and his barns and every other asset or fixture that he had because Satan absolutely wasted JobCorp, down to the ground.

Then Job's wife comes up to him. Now isn't that just like Satan - given the mandate to waste JobCorp to the ground, the one thing he spares is Job's wife so that she can rag on him 24x7 about how he screwed up and didn't fireproof the barns and the kids and how she told him he should have gotten more insurance and that now that the servants were dead he was just going to have to make his own dinner because if he thought that she was going to do all this work just because everyone had been burnt up by the Devil he had another thing coming and anyway why didn't he just flip God the bird and get it over with so she could go back and marry that Chiropodist like her mom wanted, not Mr. "I'm so tight with God" and so on and so forth. Satan truly is a rat turd, isn't he?

So the next Godday comes around and all the muckety mucks file up onto the Kremlin roof in the brisk Muscovite breeze. Satan is looking particularly natty that day in a cranberry colored cape and tights combo that he nicked from the Archbishop of Canterbury, you know, the one that got sent to hell for saying Jesus was just this guy with a swell personality (okay, so it could have been any of them, don't be so literal). And the ants go marching by so to speak and everyone's craning to see Job and whether he's going to win the bet for Satan and everyone's a bit aflutter about the whole thing because it's not very often that anyone gambles with the infinite God who sees and knows everything. I mean have you ever tried to draw to an inside straight when Big Guy is sitting across from you? You lose every time. So this was quite the unusual occasion and as Job rounded the corner leading a couple dozen singed crippled cattle and chattels (Satan made a note to torture his burn crew for inefficiency) we noticed that Job's face was blubbery and barely in control but that his hands were resolutely in his pockets a fact that Satan tried to make light of with a crude pocket pool joke but everyone could tell that God had won and were patting the big Guy on the back. Well, not really, because to touch him is to die a rather horrible death, but you know what I mean.

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So as Job strides awkwardly into the sunset hands firmly trousered, God turns to Satan with a big grin.# This not being Satan's first rodeo, the pink poltergeist deadpans: "sure, Job can take the death of his kids and corporation - who cares about all that stuff, it's just a hassle, but let him start getting it in the shorts, with scabies, rabies, cankers on his wanker, shingles on his dingles and so on and he'll most definitely flip you off next Godday." And believe it or not, God buys Satan's line of hooey again. If I could get ten minutes alone with Our Lord, I'm sure I could sell him on a Whole Life policy - the premium would be infinite. Particularly when you remember that God is immortal which judging from the gap jawed credulous reaction that God gave to Satan's BS He won't consider until after He signs the paper work.

He'd probably just send the premium notices to Job for payment and if you recall, Job is seriously broke and as Satan spoke was already breaking out in an untold number of different rashes and painful conditions. Fortunately with trousered hands, he was able to discreetly deal with the discomfort while still on the parade route. But when he got home, or more accurately hovel, he yanked his hands out of his pockets and did a full body scratch, screaming: "Zits? You kill my kids and now you give me zits? Satan you bastard!".

Job had friends, like he had a wife. And just about as useful to a broke bezitted wreck scratching his itching and weeping sores in the ashes of his suburban Susa split level. They were very respectful, quietly coming up:

"Job? Job? JOB!"

"Wha?'s you, Sol"

"Yeah, how're ya doin' buddy?"

Job is having a hard time talking on account of all of the sores on the inside and outside of his mouth so he motions Sol to come closer.

"I'm habbing a widdle har dime dawking"

"Having a bit of talking trouble are you Job?

"Des. Ids beddy hard do dalk wid all dese sores"

"So I see, so I see, say Job I wanted to...."

"I don dink God likes me mush annymore"

"Well you see that's what I want...."

"Cause he led dad Sadan guy kill my kids and gib me sores and wreck my bidness, whid sucks, de basdard!"

"Who God or...."

"Sadan, sadan is the basdard, tho God led him basdard me, why did God led Sadan basdard me, Sol?"

"Well isn't it obvious, Job? You must have done something really bad."

"I cand dink whud I did, my wif said dad I did a bunch of bad dings to her bud i don dink God dinks dose are bad dings. What bad dings did I do do God, Sol? Why wond he dell me? I ask him in prar and he dond dell me anyding ad all. Why dond he dell me noding, Sol?"

"Well you must have done something wrong, Job, because God wouldn't screw with you just to win a bet with Satan or something. He only does stuff like this to people for the best of reasons. Maybe you should just flip him the bird next Godday. I mean anything's better than this."

"No, Sol, I didnd do anyding wrong so I dond wand do give God de bird. God gave me lods of good dings and so now he gives me evil dings so I need to take the evil wid de good."

I note this passage because Job makes a very strange point (and Yes I know that it was his wife and not Sol he was talking to and that Sol is just a composite of his friends, my you are being miss Suzy Sunday School today aren't you?) that the God that gave him 'good' things is also justified in bringing him 'evil' things and I guess bringing Satan around for Sabbath dinner definitely falls into the evil category. But this good and evil dichotomy is quite significant,'s just on the tip of my tongue, yeah, it's sort of like that yingyang, no, that's not it, that's dirty or Korean or something. It's Munchkinism, yellow brick road and all. No, that's not right either, less Wizard of Oz than Wizard of Id and that's Manichaeism! Yeah that's right! Manichaeism is where God brings both Good and Evil in one package but I thought it was verboten or verklempt or something. Because if I remember my church history didn't St. Augustine fight against the Manicheaters? Or was manichean just another word for crab grass because Saint "A" certainly did invent an important warm weather varietal grass that he planted all over the City of God, even the bits that weren't warm and humid, hence the crab grass problem that he had. And a yard half full of St. Augustine and half crabgrass would definitely be the Yin and Yang of lawncare.

And then there were the Hippos, I think Saint A fed the grass to Hippos, didn't he? Or something like that. If not, why was he of Hippo? Was he fat?

Anyway, Satan, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the One True God or the Tri Un God (funny how they sound the same, isn't it?), did another round of unholy hammering on Job. He hammered his skin, his mouth, his nasal passages, his (crotch), his legs, his arms, his butt, absolutely everything except his termagent wife which is definitive proof that at least some wives are in league with the Devil to torment their husbands. Ladies, you know who you are.

But Job didn't break. Not a yelp or half baked gesture came from the stinking, pus covered, quivering mess that Job had become. He resolutely refused to flip God off or even bitch slap his shrieking wife. And when Godday came around and Satan wouldn't let any of the surviving cattle or chattel carry Job past the reviewing stand, he dragged his own scrofulous body trailing a smear of necrotic flesh and pus behind him to the hushed nausea of the waiting throng. It took him forever to do this so most of the throng got over their hushed nausea and took the break in the action as their cue to leg it to the concession stand. So nobody actually saw Job drag over the finish line except for a small child who told him he stank.

And God. To give God his due I think by this time He was feeling rather guilty at all of the misery he had let Satan put Job through. But the official line is that God's perfect and all seeing and knowing and a snappy dresser to boot, so he didn't come too close to Job lest his gleaming raiment be spattered with phlegm. But he did see that Job was compensated for his troubles. He got new wives (which ticked 'ol Termagent off to no end "I told you that if you didn't flip off God you'd end up with new wives, didn't I tell....") and a bunch of new kids plus tons of even better cattle, chattel and rattles and it wasn't long before JobCorp was trading on the Big Board and Fortune named him 'Comeback of the Millenium'.

And Job still praised God and was the keystone in His church. But when it gets quiet and he's all alone, he thinks back to one particular little red haired girl. She would sit on his lap and he would look in her crystal blue eyes and tell her that 'I love you and so does God'. And he can't help but remember his granddaughter's shrieks as she was burned alive at the behest of Job's 'best' friend: the One True God.
So is Job better now? Yes. Is Job as he was before? No. And while Job loves God, it is a love shot through with fear and horror at the monster that at any moment He can - and no doubt someday - will become again.

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Job is an interesting book because it portrays a God that apparently challenges the fundamental assumptions of believers whether they are Muslim, Christian or Jew: That God is perfect and being perfect is perfectly good and being perfectly good is deeply interested and invested in our good. Or what I call the Tri-Perfecta: Perfect God, Perfect Good, Perfect for Us.

And the reason Job is such a great lens (look mom, no hands: I’m using academic clich├ęs in a coherent English sentence) through which to look at these fundamentals is that at first glance, nothing God does in Job seems particularly caring of Job or his people, good, or for that matter perfect. Rather it seems that Job is tormented and his people slaughtered as a result of an off-hand conversation that God has with Satan. A conversation that could demonstrate:

That God’s not perfect – that he set into train a series of events that He didn’t intend or anticipate. It almost seems that in response to Satan’s trash talking, God is goaded into a bet that he later regrets.

That God’s not good – or more accurately God’s perfection does not conform to the standard that we have established for Him. We say that killing humans and inflicting needless pain on them are sins and are not good. But God’s standard could very simply be different: God could could be blessing us with persecution, torture, brutality and death because he knows deep down we like it (and Jew know who you are). Or God could be, you know, just not Good which means the rest of Job could simply be an incompetent Nixonian coverup of His screw up: “Okay Dean: you erase the tapes of the bet and the lives of the caddies that heard it. And Haldeman, first of all, get a better haircut you look like a damn Nazi and Mitchell, I want you to… don’t do anything because I know that you can’t keep anything from that drunk harpy of a wife of yours. Colson: for My sakes man, if you kill someone, do it quietly this time. And Ron, for once can’t you keep the frickin’ Babylonian press off of our keisters?”

That God couldn’t care less about us – he’s perfect and perfectly good but we’re no more important to Him than ants are to us. We have no moral agency, we’re just clever talking bugs who have wrongly interpreted the fact that once in a great while (about 2,000 years ago to be precise) God finds us amusing as evidence of a deep and abiding concern for us. It’s a natural mistake: my bloody ant farm is always petitioning me for more fresh cricket and sacrificing virgins to me as if I didn’t know that virtually all ants are virgins. Dumb bugs.

But if any of these things are true then Job undermines the whole point of the Bible which is of course ‘us 'n God' and how much God loves ‘us’ and the extremely complicated relationship that results from imperfect beings trying to interact with the tri-perfecta God (What else do you think we’d write about? We are above all a supremely solipsistic species). So Job requires believers to cling to God’s tri-perfection in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Which reminds me of the old kid and pony joke: A psychologist conducts an experiment that involves locking a child alone for a brief period of time in a room filled with horse manure. Most of the children - repelled by the ordure - retreat to a corner and softly sob until someone lets them out. But one kid reacted to the poo pile with joy, jumping on it and digging furiously. When later asked why, he replied: ‘with all this horseshit, there must be a pony around here somewhere’. Which is how believers respond to the overwhelming evidence all around them that God’s not Tri-perfecta: they’re busily digging through the shit of life for what they believe will be a pony. Above all, they want their damn pony.

#This is where I must defer to the authority of the theologians in the audience. Hello? I know that there aren't just crickets out there? So explain to me why the God of everything gets punked by a two bit defrocked angel? Or better yet, explain to me how a two bit defrocked angel gets by security and on to the wall on Godday, year after year after year as if he's Jesus' A list pal? Or even better than that, explain why the infinite God lets this little weiner get under his skin when any child knows what he's up to? Or better than all of them, explain why if God is so swell and powerful and clever and perfect and all does his best friend and his family end up on an all expense paid tour of the ancient Auschwitz?

#Which raises another question: Why should God give a rip what Satan thinks? Honestly, you'd think that Satan had something on the Old Boy the way that He simpers and minces around the little devil. It's positively nauseating. In a very spiritual and I'm quite sure perfect way, of course.

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