Would, then, that my words were written,that they were inscribed in a book, with an iron pen and lead to be hewn in rock forever. But I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand up on earth.
Job 19:23-25 (translation from Hebrew by Robert Alter)
The book of the Bible that engrosses me most is Job. It poses a profound question about human suffering but gives no clear answers. Although Job gets to see God and to hear his words, he is still left in the dark, oblivious to what seems to us a petty wager between God and Satan and to which he is an unwitting party. Often more perplexing than inspiring, the book is nevertheless the most profound work on the problem of evil precisely because it leaves us in a state of uncertainty.
Job seems especially relevant today as all humanity suffers from a pandemic, many from the physical disease itself and others from the worry, anguish, fear, and uncertainty about the future. Just a few months ago I did not have doubts that my life would go on as usual. We would finish the semester, capped with the traditional commencement ceremony, enjoy a summer of travel, and return in August to a campus refreshed and eager to begin a new year. But now all these plans that seemed built on stable rock are in truth resting on shifting sands. We have become like Job, whose health, livelihood and family’s social routines seemed so sure but suddenly were washed away.
“When things are normal it is easy to forget how much we depend on each other”
In his poignant plea, Job asks prophetically that his trials be recorded permanently for all to see, written in “iron pen and lead, hewn in rock forever.” That his suffering never be forgotten. We today should share Job’s prayer. The history of disease shows that every pandemic eventually abates and humanity returns to “normal.” When that does happen, like Job we should remember our trial, especially the heroic virtue exhibited by health care workers and all who put aside concern for themselves to tend to the health and welfare of others. When things are normal it is easy to forget how much we depend on each other, how fragile life is, and that however many wonders there are in our world, we long for another that is our true home.
Michael Papazian has been at Berry since 1998. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1995 and specializes in ancient philosophy, logic, and the medieval Armenian tradition of translations of Greek philosophical and theological texts. He has published journal articles recently on Stoic logic and has a translation of an 8th century Armenian commentary on the Gospels forthcoming. His current projects include papers on Neoplatonic discussions of suicide, the gnostic Infancy Gospel of Thomas (with Harvey Hill), and the logical system of the ancient logician Diodorus Cronus.