23 August 2010

Aug 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Eliphaz gave the easy, tempting, and wrong answer to Job's suffering. The answers of Job's other friends get increasingly sophisticated. This is important because, although we know that Job is righteous and that, therefore, the reasoning of his friends has a faulty basis, ultimately Job and his friends are developing a theodicy together. As the friends respond, they make some legitimate points that push Job to develop his argument.

Bildad still thinks some wickedness must be to blame for Job's suffering. He blames Job's children. Instead of saying, like Eliphaz, that Job must redeem himself by confessing his sins, Bildad softens the position and says merely that Job must seek God's favor. Eliphaz acknowledges that the wicked do flourish, but argue that ultimately their roots are shallow. Eliphaz argues for a God of ultimate justice, but grants that righteousness cannot be inferred from present fortune or misfortune.

Job responds that Eliphaz seems right in principle, but also points out that God who is prosecutor, judge, jury, and hangman has no obligation to administer what humans would consider justice. God performs miracles and marvels but some miracles and marvels, such as earthquakes and plagues, seem to disregard the interests of humanity. Job is claiming that God is so mighty and wise that there is no point in asking for justice; God, the clever prosecutor, could find some reason to declare Job guilty even if he had done no wrong. Thus, all Job can do is plead for mercy (and, to tie this to his early speech, the only mercy he could imagine for his suffering is death).

At one point, Job says of God's responsibility for the evil in the world,
If he’s not the one who does it, who is?
For many people the answer would be demons or Satan. However, people who give such trite answers miss the fundamental nature of the problem of evil. Even if entities are causing this trouble, God ultimately created them as they are, so this is no more an answer. Job, therefore, arrives at the conclusion that ultimately all good and all bad rests with God.

Job then goes on to make his one request. He cannot ask for justice, but he can ask the fundamental question, "Why?" Job wants to know why he suffers. Why would God create a person, create humanity, if only to let them suffer? Why would God have taken the effort of creation if not to care for what he had created?

The third friend, Zophar, then responds. Zophar again assumes Job's guilt, and in terms more harsh than Bildad. He, it almost seems sarcastically, accuses Job of trying to falsely establish his innocence. Zophar  falls back on the old idea that punishment is clearly the result of wrong doing. God has the greatest knowledges and knows all hearts and so cannot be wrong.

Despite falling back on that, he does address another aspect of the argument not yet addressed. Although Zophar assumes that the good will prosper and the wicked suffer, he does not assume that such prosperity and suffering will be external. Instead, those who open themselves to God will find internal strength and hope and happiness while those who do not will not.

We will see Job's response tomorrow.

New Testament

Paul tries to use logic again. As usual, his reasoning seems suspect. Paul wants the Corinthians to know that Jesus really did die, rise again, and appear to many. (Side note: people often use this mention of Jesus appearing to 500 as 500 independent verifications of Jesus' resurrection. That is wrong. We do not have 500 accounts of the resurrection here. We have Paul's claim that 500 people saw Jesus.)

Here is the passage I find suspect:
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either.
"What is wrong with this?" you may wonder. It seems like a perfectly valid argument of the form "for all X, not P(X), therefore, not P(Jesus). But P(Jesus), therefore not (for all X, not P(x))". However, it seems likely to me that Paul is making a straw man of his opponents arguments. Just because some Corinthians may be arguing against general resurrection of the dead, it does not follow that they believe that there are not specific exceptional cases where the dead can be resurrected.

But even if we grant that Paul's premise is valid. As mentioned above, the conclusion that Paul can legitimately draw is "not (for all X, not P(x))". That is, "there exists an X such that P(x)". But Paul wants to claim that since Jesus was raised from the dead everyone who belongs to Christ will be resurrected. This is not a valid argument.

It's also worth noting that Psalm 8, which Paul quotes to establish Jesus' authority, addresses the glory and authority God gave to humanity, not any particular individual. Perhaps Paul is arguing that Jesus, as the ultimate representative of humanity, is the ultimate vessel of this authority. If so, he is doing a bad job making that argument.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing we haven't heard before. I do hope the proverbs are not redundant for the rest of the year.