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Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering

Overview

An ancient commentator called Job a "strange and wonderful book." For many readers, "strange" might do. Though Job has been characterized as an answer to the problem of suffering, for many the book fails to satisfy the longing for answers it supposedly contains. Perhaps that, in fact, is the point of Job--there are no satisfactory arguments for why people suffer. In this compact yet substantial volume, David B. Burrell argues that this is the message of Job. Burrell engages major movements of the book in ...
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Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering

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Overview

An ancient commentator called Job a "strange and wonderful book." For many readers, "strange" might do. Though Job has been characterized as an answer to the problem of suffering, for many the book fails to satisfy the longing for answers it supposedly contains. Perhaps that, in fact, is the point of Job--there are no satisfactory arguments for why people suffer. In this compact yet substantial volume, David B. Burrell argues that this is the message of Job. Burrell engages major movements of the book in theological and philosophical reflection. The book also contains an interfaith perspective with the inclusion of a chapter by Islamic scholar A. H. Johns on the reading of the Job figure in the Koran. Burrell finally concludes that Job's contribution to the problem of suffering is as an affirmation that God hears and heeds our cries of anguish.

EXCERPT
While an initial reading of the story which frames the book of Job suggests a classical theodicy of divine testing and of reward and punishment, we shall later see (with the help of real friends) just how misguided a reading that is. For now, it will suffice to note how the drama's unfolding belies such a reading, notably in the counterpoint between each of Job's friends and Job himself. For while they each address arguments to Job, his riposte to their arguments is addressed not to them but to the overwhelming presence of the God of Israel, to inaugurate an implicit dialogue vindicated by that same God who ends by announcing his preference for Job above all of them. Indeed, they incur the wrath of that God for attempting vigorously to take God's side! Yet since this is the very One who has taken such care to reveal his ways to a particular people (to whom Job does not belong), one cannot escape concluding that the entire dramatic exchange--between Job and his interlocutors and even more between Job and the God of Israel--must be directed against a recurrent misappropriation of that revelation on the part of the people entrusted with it. So it must be that the book's primary role in the Hebrew canon will be to correct that characteristic misapprehension of the revelation displayed by Job's friends, as their "explanation" of his plight turns on reading the covenant as a set of simple transactions.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

For centuries those who suffer have been pointed toward the Book of Job. What they find there is a God who essentially asks: "What do you know? Were you there when I made the world?" That isn't much of an explanation of suffering, nor was it meant to be, according to Burrell, professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame. Rather, the Book of Job provides a corrective to the idea that if we are good God will bless, and when we sin God will punish. While Job's story doesn't explain suffering, it does demonstrate the importance of the relationship between creature and Creator. Job's unhelpful friends talk about God to Job, while Job courageously speaks directly to God instead. Remarkably, God listens to and answers Job; according to Burrell, the fact that God does so is more important than what God actually says. Burrell's review of classical commentaries on Job, contemporary philosophies of suffering (theodicy), as well as a chapter on an Islamic perspective on the Job figure (Ayyub) in the Qur'an will speak mostly to academic audiences. Clergy and pastoral counselors, however, will find material helpful to those who seek guidance in the midst of pain. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587432224
  • Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/2008
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.31 (d)

Meet the Author

David B. Burrell (PhD, Yale University) is the Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC Professor in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He is the author of several books, including Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions, Knowing the Unknowable God, and Aquinas: God and Action.
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Table of Contents

1. Introducing the Strategies of This Reflection
2. The Structure of the Book with Its Framing Story
3. Three Rounds of Multifaceted Dialogue
4. Denouement and Epilogue
5. A Comparative Consideration of Ayyub in the Qur'an [A.H. Johns]
6. Classical Commentaries: Saadiah, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Gersonides
7. Job Mediating Two Opposing Views of Theodicy
8. Assessing Job's Contribution to Theodicy: Semantics of Explaining or Addressing
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