At this moment I am engaged in a reading project. I’ve read the Qur’an cover to cover, now I’m reading the Bible in its entirety, and next I plan on reading The Book of Mormon. While I’ve read large chunks of the Bible over the years due to my atheist activism, I had never read it all the way through, only in a disjointed manner. This will be the first time I have read the Bible all the way through, with the exception of the first time I read it when I first began my investigations into religion, and even then I only got about a quarter of the way in. The first time I read it I was dumbstruck about the fact that many people believed this stuff actually happened.
This time I have committed myself to reading every word of every book, and so far it is going well. It has been very interesting. I just finished the book of Job last night and I began to reflect upon my own past struggles with my feelings as a teenager when I believed God had abandoned me and loosely comparing my situation and my reaction to Job’s.
In the beginning of Job God and the Devil discuss Job’s devotion to God, and the Devil wonders what Job would do if God brought all manner of bad fortune upon him. God goes along with the gag and so begins to tear Job’s world apart, first by slaughtering all of his livestock, and then by creating a tornado (a “whirlwind” that “swept across”) that toppled the house they were in and killed them.
After a number of other calamities, Job’s wife begins to curse God, wishing he would die for the misery he caused their family, while Job continues to have faith. (2:6-10) After more bad luck befalls Job he finally loses his patience and “curses the day of his birth.” Later Job begins to complain about God to some friends who try to talk some sense into him, telling him to have faith and that God’s ways are “higher than heaven” and that he can “do nothing” to comprehend what God does or why. God is all good and “does no wrong,” so just don’t worry about it. Just have faith. (11:4-11; 28:12-13, 20-24; 33:12-14; 34:12)
I thought this was very interesting. I have heard this excuse from many a believer and I had been under the impression that the “God works in mysterious ways” excuse was just a modern day rationalization used by religious people to justify why bad things happen to them, but it actually has a Biblical basis. Not that this provides any weight to the argument. In fact, none of the arguments Job’s friends tell him is in any way the least bit convincing. As I was reading my eyes were glued to the page, imagining myself as a teenager once again, wondering if had I read Job back then might I be persuaded by any of these arguments? I could feel myself sitting on my bed in my parent’s basement, wishing, hoping to find some kind of answer that would lead me out of despair. I kept my eyes peeled for any good arguments, but I found none. It was actually a disappointment. Then I snapped back to the present and began reflecting upon the faith-based arguments presented and thought to myself, “But what else should I have expected, really?” I wondered if in my mental state as a teenager would I have been persuaded by any of this? I really don’t know. I would think I’d be smarter than that, but then again… I recalled reading a book on Buddhism that was hugely influential and very helpful during this time. I recalled reading it while depressed and finding so many examples that pertained just to me. I read it many years later and couldn’t find many of those same passages I thought described my feelings and situation to a tee. It just goes to show that the human mind will latch onto anything in an attempt to find some significance. I just happened to look to another religion for comfort.
Near the end of the book God finally addresses Job and thunders, “Who is this whose ignorant words cloud my design in darkness?” (38:1-2) I paused for a second to reflect upon the fact that if God is supposedly all-knowing, why in the world would he need to ask who is questioning him? Shouldn’t he already know?! After intimidating Job and threatening him, Job finally repents and God multiplies his livestock and for all he suffered blessed Job with an abundance of wealth and a long and happy life.
When read with a skeptical, yet open mind, the Bible at times is a very interesting book. Yes it has its tales of rape and misogyny, murder, war, enslavement, and whatnot, but I believe it can also give you insight into the current religious landscape and what goes on in the minds of believers. I kept thinking to myself that many of the beliefs and ways of thinking in the Bible are similar to how Christians today think about religion (or rather, don’t). My skeptical mind still cannot wrap my head around the idea of faith. I can fully understand the concept but I just don’t get why people choose to live that way.