Job is one of the classical characters in the Old Testament of the Bible who is used by various preachers of Christianity to illustrate the ideals of patience, suffering and submission of the individual will to God’s will.
Job was a “perfect and upright man” and hence was a favourite of God. He lived a rich and contented life with his good wife, seven sons, three daughters, countless servants, lot of land and herds of cattle. The devil challenged God saying that if Job’s prosperity was taken away then he would lose his trust in God as well as his virtues. God gives a free hand to the devil who goes on to wreck Job’s life totally. Job’s cattle are stolen, servants have their throats slit by enemies, sheep are burnt to death, and his children are killed when a fierce storm knocks down his house. When none of these tragedies succeeds in eroding Job’s trust in God, the devil inflicts a severe skin disease on him. When Job scratches his worm-ridden body with a piece of pottery, his wife howls at him: “Do you still retain your sanity? Curse your God and die?” Job questions God but without losing his trust.
The Biblical God’s answer to Job is quite a lesson in existential absurdity. Do you think you understand the working of the universe? God asks Job. Can you control the waves in the sea? Have you seen the world beyond those waves? Job is bombarded with question after question.
Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance.
Do you think justice and mercy govern the universe? That’s what God is asking Job in other words. It is a violent and chaotic universe that I have created. God is telling Job. Violent and chaotic. But bountiful and marvellous too at the same time.
Life does not follow your petty human logic, God implies. Life is absurd. In case Job does not understand that, God is ready to make it clear enough.
The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork, says God. The ostrich lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labour was in vain...
God has given the ostrich wings that are as good as the intellect is for most human beings.
Who do you think you are to question me? God is asking Job indirectly. You are as good a joke as the ostrich possessing wings that cannot take her anywhere in the heavens.
Job’s story ends on a happy note because Job understands and accepts the terrible absurdity of his life. “No plan of yours can be thwarted,” Job tells his God in all humility and submission. God returns to Job all his wealth, servants and children. Job is totally unlike Sisyphus or Prometheus, his Greek counterparts, who refused to surrender their will to their Gods. The three responded to their destinies differently. But their destiny was the same: the inescapable absurdity of human existence.