It's always gratifying to know that you have the ear of someone, and can rely on them for a straight answer to a difficult question. The Book of Job is considered by many to be one of the greatest literary work ever written (I know many will not share this opinion, but that's okay). I wanted to share some highlights with you.
It's one of my favorite books in the Bible - for it's so full of great poetic conversation, wit, irony and other literary and rhetorical devices. Most people should be at least familiar with the basic outline of the book by now: Job is a just and righteous man who is suddenly stripped of his children, his wealth and property and finally his health. After his three "friends" sit with him in silence for many days, Job finally opens his mouth and speaks and his first words are:
Damn the day I was born,
The night that said, "A boy is begot."
That day - let it be darkness....
Why did I not die at birth,
Emerge from the womb and expire?
(Job 3:3-4a, 11, AB)
He's not very happy, and wishes he had never been born. The Book takes on the form of a cycle of conversations, or arguments, between Job and his friends on the question of Theodicy - Job insists he is innocent, and his friends argue from the results (his shattered life) to conclude that, according to good old-fashioned Deuteronomic Theology, he is NOT innocent. Eliphaz responds to Job with a polite opening, but very quickly resorts to:
Look, you have instructed many,
Feeble hands you strengthened,
Your words encouraged the faint,
Braced tottering knees.
But it befalls you and you falter;
It strikes you, and you are aghast....
Call now, will any answer you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?
(4:3-5, 5:1, ibid)
Eliphaz first mocks and then taunts Job. What a pal. But he puts forth his opinion: Job should stop whining and just beg for mercy. Job feels differently, for he has no reason to beg for mercy - he has done no wrong.
He judges his friends arightly:
My friends have betrayed me like a wadi,
Like wadi channels they overflow;
They run turbid with ice,
Darkened with snow.
When they should flow, they fade;
Comes the heat and they vanish away....
They are tricked that trusted;
They come and are confounded.
Thus you have been to me....
Teach me, and I will be quiet;
Show me where I have erred.
How pleasant are honest words!
(6:15-17, 20-21a, 24-25b)
Job sarcastically suggests that his friends have nothing but empty wind to add and are liars: "How pleasant are honest words!" When contemplating whether he should be tactful and refrain from criticizing God, he first reflects on the briefness of mortal life and says:
Therefore I'll not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in anguish of spirit,
Complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the Sea or the Dragon,
That you set a guard over me?....
Why do you rear man at all,
Or pay any mind to him?
Inspect him every morning.
Test him every moment?
Will you never look away from me?
Leave me be till I swallow my spittle?
What have I done to you, man watcher?
Job accuses God of treating him as if he were the mythological monsters that God defeated in the beginning - ironically. He then sarcastically asks God why he even lets man live in the first place if he's just going to torture him until he dies. Job's three friends are increasingly becoming offended by Job's blasphemous speech. Bildad sarcastically replies:
How long will you prate so?
Your speech is so much wind.
Does God pervert justice?
Does Shaddai distort the right?
Your children sinned against him,
And he paid them for their sin.
Bildad's dripping sarcasm gives way to full-blown viciousness when he purposefully brings up Job's dead children and states that they deserved to die. Not a very friendly friend. He ends with a long speech imploring Job to beg for forgiveness, for he claims that God would never pervert Justice. Job disagrees, and waxes forth with an almost equal degree of sarcasm:
Indeed, I know that this is so.
But how can man be acquited before God?
He then speaks about his wish for his "day in court" with God, but admits that God is so powerful that any attempt at Justice or a fair trial would be useless, and that:
He would crush me for a hair
And multiply my wounds without cause.....
He is not, like me, a man whom I could challenge,
"Let us go to court together."
Would there be an umpire between us
To lay his hand on us both.
Let him put aside his club,
Let his terror not dismay me,
Then I would speak and not fear him.
But I am not so with him.
Job does not go unanswered, and it is now Zophar's turn to speak. He opens his volley with a sarcasm unheard of yet:
Shall this spate of words go unanswered?
Shall the glib one be acquitted?
Shall your babbling silence men?
Shall you mock and none rebuke?
Yikes! He then goes on to declare that Job is lucky that God isn't investigating ALL of his sins, and asserts that the Wicked get what they deserve. Over the course of the arguments, it becomes increasingly clear that the friends believe that Job is, indeed, wicked. Job, in his reply, spares no feelings and makes a rude comment about Zophar's social status as authority:
No doubt you are gentry,
And with you wisdom will die.
But I have a mind as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things?....
Now ask the beasts, they will teach you;
The birds of the sky will tell you;
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you;
The fish of the sea will tell you.
Who does not know all these things,
That God's hand has done this?....
Lo, my eye has seen all this,
My ear has heard and understood it.
I know as much as you know;
I am not inferior to you.
Rather would I speak with Shaddai,
I wish to remonstrate with God.
But you are daubers of deceit,
Quack healers, all of you.
I wish you would keep strictly silent.
That would be wisdom for you.
Hear, now, my argument,
The plea of my lips attend.
Is it for God's sake you speak evil,
For him that you utter deceit?
Will you show partiality for him,
Will you contend for God?
(12:2-3, 7-9, 13:1-8)
Job can hold his own in the area of irony and sarcasm. Shortly, the first round of discourses ends. The discourses heat up from there and get even more exciting, ironic, sarcastic and humorous until finally - FINALLY - God himself enters the stage with what must be the Bible's most memorable answer in which God shows he is also able to show Divine wit, sarcasm and irony - but on a much bigger scale:
Then Yahweh answered Job
From out of the storm, and said:
Who is this that obscures counsel
With words void of knowledge?
Gird your loins like a hero, [look it up ]
I will ask you, and you tell me.
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.
Who drafted its dimensions? Surely you know?
Who stretched the line over it?
On what are its sockets sunk,
Who laid its cornerstone,
Whil the morning stars sang together,
And all the gods exulted?....
Tell, if you know all this.
Where is the way to light's dwelling,
Darkness, where its abode,
That you may guide it to its bourne,
Show it the way to go home?
You know, for you were then born,
The sum of your days is great!
God goes on like this for several memorable chapters, and such a reply that even Carl Jung was forced to psychoanalyze his reply in an entire book. In the end - well, Job is proved to be correct, and his friends wrong - but God gives him a verbal tongue-lashing and an immense display of power nonetheless for good measure.
One of the greatest books written on the subject of Theodicy - a book full of wisdom, irony, wit, sarcasm, beautiful poetry, blasphemy - I suppose I could go on. Amazing that it made it into the canon of Scripture, really. But it did - in all of it's glorious literary quality. A conversation that has become famous for it's immense literary skill and content. At least we can be thankful that some ancient editors did not cut the entire book out of existence, but left it intact for us to judge by ourselves.
Can anyone share further examples of great religious works that are imbued with such a sense of irony and wit?