From the book “All Things New” by Fiona and Terryl Givens:

In the new framework of the Restoration, how do we understand obedience? We can begin with a paradigm-bursting question that has lain scripturally embedded and seemingly unnoticed for centuries—waiting to detonate with the power to rewrite the nature of God’s parenthood and our relationship to Divine Parents. The scriptural setting is the story of Job and his bewilderment in the face of what seems to him a suffering that is clearly unmerited. In some ways the story is reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the garden because it revolves around a condition of cognitive dissonance. In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve are told to replenish the earth but they are warned away from the only means of replenishment: the tree of knowledge.1 This is an apt situation if the purpose of this founding myth is to teach what is at the heart of the human condition: the difficult and generally painful need to choose among competing values and competing versions of the Good. (Even our Divine Parents are not exempt from such anguished dilemmas, as when Their respect for our agency competes with Their desire to spare us pain.

Job finds himself suffering his own kind of cognitive dissonance, competing truths he cannot reconcile. God is just, but Job is suffering unjustly. The root of his problem, as Elihu will at last explain, is Job’s deficient understanding of God, the commandments, and the nature of sin and obedience. Like so many Christians of a thousands years hence, Job assumes the the point of obedience is to satisfy an arbitrary ruler who punishes any breech of His law. Job’s friends confirm him in this view. “Who ever perished, being innocent?” asks Elphaz (Job 4:7) Job cannot locate any evil in his conduct, but Bildad objects: “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice” (8:3). But “thou knowest that I am not wicked,” Job counters (10:7).

Without dissent, his companions insist that Job is deceived. If man is righteousness, God is pleased, and as a just God, He will bless him. If man sins, God is angry and will punish. The entire paradigm framing the dispute shifts seismically with the question asked by the newcomer Elihu. He appears like a wandering prophet to at last intercede and with his question cuts through the common currency of sin and obedience and rocks the foundations of this theological paradigm. To Job and his earnest but erroneous friends, Elihu declares,“I would like to reply to you. . . . If you sin how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him or what does he receive from your hand?” (35:4-7, New International Version; our emphasis).

The implications of Elihu’s rhetorical questions are astonishing, disconcerting, and, initially, beyond our ability to absorb. He is deconstructing any idea we (or Job and his companions) might have of God as a sovereign ruler. Our sins do not diminish God. They do not detract from God’s majesty or divinity. Neither does our obedience enhance God’s glory. Our actions, be they evil or righteous, have no necessary, intrinsic bearing on God. This knowledge is to turn the universe upside down. The whole language of God as sovereign, a deity who must be appeased, a jealous God whom we fear to offend—from ancient cultures through Hebraic conceptions to the present day—has infiltrated our sense of what it means to worship, to fear, to obey. Elihu’s rhetorical question calls all such conceptions into doubt. ~Fiona and Terryl Givens, All Things New (Meridian, ID, 2020), 97-99

To be continued. . .

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