Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Have Failed, Part One

I’m grading papers this week. One assignment in my Bible class was to rewrite the end of the Book of Job beginning with the premise that God actually tells Job the truth about Job’s suffering: that it was the result of a wager God made with the Devil to see how much punishment and horror Job could endure before losing faith in God.  In the Bible, God never fesses up to Job about this bet.

Some students were wary of rewriting the Bible, but I was pleased that everyone gave it a shot. What troubles me is this: even after admitting the truth that God is responsible for the murder of Job’s children and servants, the theft of his livestock, and the torture of Job himself just to see what would happen (even though an all-knowing God would presumably know in advance what would happen), most of my students refused to blame God at all.

Some did allow Job to get angry with God, but very few allowed Job’s anger to take hold of them personally. Almost to a person, they found a way of excusing God’s behavior, and making it morally sound, ethically right, and even instructional for Job and those of us who read his story.

It seems that there is no horror God can command or commit that will shake the faith of true believers. This may not be shocking, but it should be sobering: as long as we excuse and commend God’s evil we will most likely collude in the commission of that evil.

What I wanted was for some, at least a few, to say this, “If this is God, then I will rebel against him.” I don’t want to deny this God, I want to rebel against Him. While there is much one can say about Job that is positive, he isn’t a rebel. But the reason he isn’t a rebel is that he is never told the truth. I wanted my students to tell Job the truth and make him a rebel and perhaps to rebel themselves. But this didn’t happen.

After months of analyzing the Bible, placing it in its historical context, and wrestling with its often-contradictory teachings, to have the vast majority of students blithely excuse the shadow side of God and defend the evil that comes from it, I cannot escape the notion that I have failed my students, and failed them miserably. And I despair of the world they will create, a world filled with evil done in the name of the God they call Love.


No One Special said...

One's spiritual journey is unique.

Trying to teach the paradox of God is a noble pursuit but at the end of the day, knowledge of God's paradox must come from within.

Eruesso said...

It's assignments like these which make me want to move back to Murfreesboro just to audit your classes. You haven't failed this ex student.


Phil said...

I feel your pain, Rami. I get the same response when we discuss Job and the problem of evil in Intro to Phil. Of course, we don't read the Bible first.

But I'm happy to report much better results in our just-concluded "Atheism & Philosophy" course.

Lyn Baker said...

Rabbi, as evangelical christians, and long before they were your students, they have be taught to make excuses for God and the Bible in order for it to make sense to them. They can't help themselves; it's all they know. And, in order to stay in the tribe (family, church, friends) they will do whatever they have to do, wether they realize it or not. Those relationships are crucial to who they are and will not give them up easily. Are you any different in that I have I not read you to say about your faith that you will always be Jewish no matter what? So don't be disappointed in yourself or in them. You can change and so can they, in time.

Also, you might be very surprised how your teaching will work on them as individuals over the coming years. You've planted some seed. You've done a little watering. And maybe a little fertilizing. Let it do it's work; you keep doing yours.

Karen said...

I would LOVE to take your class. I agree with Lyn Baker - that when you're raised to believe the Bible is literally the word of God, you have to do a lot of mental hoop-jumping to make it, make sense for yourself. And who knows what good will come from the seeds you've planted? Hopefully some critical thinking.

Maria Veiga said...

hi, this is the typical parent-child relationship where no matter what wrong might the parent do, the child needs, for their own survival as they depend on parents, to keep them 'good'. By doing so they not only excuse parent/s as they might blame themselves about what is going on. The beginning of big traumas and issues about loving person but not behavior, and accepting that we all have a shadow including God! As he is everything! The good and the bad, the light and the darkness, the male and the female... etc.. Thanks x