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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Jewish bible as "fact" or metaphor--a needed clarification of my post about the story of Susie and the story of Job

One of our readers e-mailed me and questioned my use of the biblical character of Job to add emotional depth to the story of Susie's bicycle crash.  Here is the essence of what this reader wrote this afternoon:

"Not to be rude, but I hope that you consider the possibility that 'all it was' was a depression in the road, and that God or Satan had nothing to do with any of Susie’s accident, suffering, etc."

"I am basically non-religious, though I do feel spiritual."

And then our reader recounted (the curious fact) that our reader said the following prayer, in connection with a business transaction which our reader wanted to come out in favor of our reader and our reader's significant other:

"So I stood in this [identifying information omitted] area [id.] and kept saying, 'Please, God. Please, God, please let us get this [id.].' I said it over and over."

"Yesterday I went to a church service at the church I grew up in in [id.], because I felt I 'owed' it to God after I had prayed to Him/Her (so selfishly as I did, asking that we get that [id.])."

"So I’m not totally non-religious."

"But, again not to be rude, maybe there is no God nor Satan…"

"What do you think, Mr. Active Mind????"

Our reader has raised some interesting philosophical questions.  Our reader's behavior in praying to "God", and attending a church service at our reader's childhood church, contrasts oddly with our reader's claims to: (1) being "basically non-religious", (2) "not totally non-religious", and (3) going to "a church service at the church I grew up in in [id.], because I felt I 'owed' it to God after I had prayed to Him/Her (so selfishly as I did, asking that we get that [id.])."

Of course I,too, am open to the possibility that Satan and God had nothing to do with Susie's nearly dying on Pine Street when she hit the road defect which caused the crash.

I am also open to the possibility that "Satan" and "God" do not exist.

I am also open to the possibility that "Satan" and "God" are meaningless words.

There is no evidence of which I am aware, that Romeo and Juliet, the characters in Shakespeare's play, ever existed.  The Bard was writing fiction, not fact.  And yet, there is something quite true about the play. If you limit your interest in it to questions about whether or not Romeo and Juliet ever really lived, or whether their families which bitterly opposed their relationship ever lived, you will miss totally the profound wisdom of the story.  In my life, what I've learned from the play is, never interfere in your children's romantic lives in the way Juliet's father tried to force his daughter to marry a man of his choosing, rather than Romeo.  There are actual cases in today's world, in which young men and women who develop a romantic relationship with a man or woman from a different sect, are hounded and even threatened with death by their brothers and fathers.  Some of these young people will wind up killing themselves to avoid the fate chosen for them by their families.  In Shakespeare's version of this age-old story, the young lovers killed themselves.  So, when I hear about parents who take a strong and punitive approach to their children who wish to make their own decisions about whom to love, whom to marry, I think about Romeo and Juliet.  And doing so adds a layer of emotional resonance to the actual stories of present-day, doomed, lovers, which would be absent had Will Shakespeare never dreamed up his tragic story and written a play about it.

So it is with the story of Job, and the story of Susie.  Whether you believe in God and Satan, as actual, metaphysical, personal, forces which act in this world, most of us are brought up to believe that if you work hard, obey the rules, and treat others with respect, good things will happen to you, and you will have a better chance of prospering than if you are lazy, disregard the law, and treat other people badly.  That is the moral principle of the Jewish bible, up until, that is, the book of Job was told orally and then committed to paper.  

And even if that principle is not always embodied in the lives of other people, whom we read about in the newspaper, or know personally, or in our own lives, is it not a principle which most of us feel SHOULD apply to how the "good" and the "bad" people of this world fare in life?  If you understand that observation, then you can see why the story of Job, a "good" man who suffered a horrible fate, comes to my mind when I think about Susie's horrible fate.  Susie's basically a "good" person, but has suffered a "horrible fate", i.e. an outcome of bad health, and emotional challenges, because of her bicycle injuries.  And I think to myself, "Bob, you have done some things during your adult lifetime which probably would have been better left undone, which hurt people, and you've even ridden your own bicycle 15,000 miles in the past five years (although none since Susie's injury), down hills at high speeds (up to 40 miles per hour; not Tour de France "downhill high speeds" of 60 miles per hour, but at speeds which could easily kill me or maim me), during approaching thunder storms when Susie has tried to convince you, without success, not to go on your daily ride.  And yet, it is Susie, not you, who nearly died or became wheelchair-bound on July 2, 2011.  Not you."

And this doesn't seem fair to me.  But, as the story of Job teaches us, life's not fair.  But it is wonderful, and it is horrible. It is precious, and it is unworthy.  It is, or seems like, a miracle that there is any life, let alone human life, rather than nothing of the sort.  It is certainly an enormous "beating of the odds" that any of us were ever conceived and born.  Did any of us choose to have all our ancestors, who conceived all of our ancestors, meet, fall in love, make love, and have just the one of millions of our ancestors' sperm and eggs meet, penetrate the other, and begin the process of cell replication and organ formation?  Did any of us create the biological processes by which these events acted to produce our bodies?  Did any of us create the air we breathe, the water we drink, the history of the world of which we are all the beneficiaries?  Do any of us control the flow of blood in our bodies, the formation of blood clots, or the movement of such clots into positions in our coronary or cerebral arteries which could cause, at any moment, silently, morbidly, our death or debilitating stroke or other horrible accident?  Do any of us control the movement of the tides, the separation of the ocean from the land on which we live, quaking of the earth which causes the formation of tsunamis and cyclones, which could, at any moment, drown all of us who live near an ocean coast?

These are questions raised in the story of Job.  That tale was probably passed on by word-of-mouth for generations, thousands of years ago, and then was committed in writing to paper.  And Job's story, his truth, was thereby passed down to us, to read, to ponder, to reflect on our own experiences.  Just as Susie's story, her truth, is food for us to ponder, to reflect on our own experiences, to remind us of our mortality, and hopefully never forget that life, or health, can be taken from us, at any time, in an instant, by "just" a road defect, by Nature, or maybe even by some personal metaphysical force of the universe, a combination of all three, or something else entirely.  Whatever "causative" story we choose to tell ourselves, and each other, about how good and bad are meted out to the good and bad, is just that: a story.  

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