MIPodcast Moments: Job’s story is your story

02.12.2015 | Blair Hodges

“MIPodcast Moments” is a new blog series highlighting excerpts from Maxwell Institute Podcast episodes. You may not have time to listen to an hour-long episode, but you can still benefit from these great interviews.

The patience of Job is legendary. But according to religious studies scholar Mark Larrimore, it’s also overrated. Larrimore recently appeared on the Maxwell Institute Podcast to talk about his new biography on the book of Job. Larrimore says one of the most stirring passages is Job’s impatient and wishful lament that his story be believed:

Oh, that my words were written down!
Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!

(Job 19:23-24)

Larrimore expands on the passage, noting that, in an important sense, Job’s wish has come true:

He’s in great pain, great distress, the world has fallen apart. But still, he expects people to hear him. Job says, “I wish there were a way in which my voice could be preserved because even my best friends can’t be trusted to understand and listen and honor what it is that I’m saying.”

So as I was going over the book of Job over and over again in the context of [writing this biography of the book of Job], these words came to me to represent what the book demands of its readers. It says, “look, my friends don’t understand me—do you understand me?”

And of course, we as readers are hearing his words in a book. So in a way, the book that sits in our hands is the answer to his hope in this passage.

The book of Job has been read and re-read by believers and skeptics for centuries, each bringing their own assumptions and values to the text, each having their assumptions and values challenged by the text. Larrimore’s biography discusses the origins, reception, and interpretations of Job’s story. He says the book of Job’s popularity is due in part to its direct engagement with the problem of suffering. “Why do bad things happen to good people” isn’t a new or rare question. Larrimore touched on this point when I asked if scholars believe there was a literal historical figure named Job:

LARRIMORE: [Elie Wiesel once said] “Even if Job didn’t exist, he certainly suffered.” Which is to say that the story of Job is unbelievable—we don’t think that this sort of thing could possibly happen to anybody. But yet, every part of that story we know is true. Even if Job didn’t exist, his suffering did. So let’s not get caught up on who this one particular person was and where this person lived, and if this person lived at all. That’s actually a distraction from the fact that we know that the kind of suffering that Job endured happens all around us all the time. Don’t let the figure of Job distract us from that.

In more than one way, Job’s story can be your story, too. Find out more in episode 18 of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, “Job through the ages, with Mark Larrimore.”

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