How can the book of Job help us to face pandemics like corona virus? What is the message of the book of Job in a culture of digitalization? The book of Job is about being faithful to God in spite of facing suffering, sickness and calamities. The book of Job is about putting someone on test, focuses moral and natural evil and questioning the suffering of the innocent (theodicy). Finally God graciously grants encounter with himself in the whirlwind. The biblical text, written in the 3rd century B.C., is structured in the Prologue (chs. 1–2), in the Dialogue Dispute (chs. 3–27), in an interlude on Wisdom (ch. 28), in Monologues (ch. 29,1–42,6) and an Epilogue (ch. 42, 7–17).
A man from the land of Uz
The archetype hero and biblical character Job from the land of Uz is presented in the Old Testament as a blameless and upright man „one who feared God and turned away from evil“ (ch. 1,1). He and his wife had three daughters and seven sons. Job owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred female donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He is the greatest man among all the people of the East. Satan (hebr. שָּׂטָ֔ן śaṭan) who is presented as a jetsetter disregards Job’s righteousness and faithfulness to God while doubting „Does Job fear God for nothing?“ (hebr. הַֽחִנָּ֔ם ha ḥinām = without reason) Therefore Job is being tested and led into temptation of mistrusting the loyalty of God towards men.
Put someone on test
First Job looses his material wealth and secondly his physical health. His friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite and an un-involved called Elihu (hebr. אֱלִיה֣וּא, literally translated „He thy God“), the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, try to give explanations for the tragedy of Job. Instead of being co-suffering or compassionate with Job they behave like precocious and cynical experts and advisors trying to find an explanation for Job’s misery. They strictly believes in the traditional wisdom doctrine of an act-and-consequence connection. Interestingly all of them fail to fully grasp the mysteriousness of God.
God grants encounter in the whirlwind
Beyond all human speculations God answers Job in the whirlwind (ch. 38) on a meta-level: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?“
God rebukes Job’s friends
After the visio Dei Job humbly confesses and opposes Satan. And God rebukes Job’s friends: 7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.“ Suffering is presented in the book of Job as a transition to greater salvation. Every salvation story includes and integrates suffering for the greater glory of God and for finding peace, justice and reconciliation in relation to God and neighbors. It says „man’s calamities are God’s opportunities“. What is the message of Christ for the people of God facing those pandemics?
“Stay at home” in African context
The slogan „Stay at home“ has its roots in the process of overcoming apartheid, the struggle for de-colonization and independence of South Africa. Nelson Mandela was the secretary of the African National Action Council which was founded 1961 in reaction to white supremacy. The labour strike „Stay at home“ was a protest to the government in order to demand and build up a new declaration of independence and found a non-racist government. Nowadays the slogan „Stay at home“ got another intention during corona pandemic in order to prevent citizens of various nations being infected by a virus. „Stay at home“ and „Keep distance“ turned into positive slogans for health and self-care. The cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term „proxemics” in 1963 according to Latin „proximus“ which means the next, the neighbor. Proxemics is the study of human space and the effects that population density has on behaviour, communication and social interaction. Hall differentiated four distinct zones: (1) intimate space, (2) personal space, (3) social space and (4) public space. Personal space is highly variable due to cultural differences and personal preferences. Realizing and recognizing these cultural differences improves cross-cultural understanding, and helps eliminate discomfort people may feel in interpersonal relationship.
Physical or social distancing?
The term „social distancing“ during corona pandemic was used to raise awareness to avoid contact in public - according to Hall - in social space zone varying from 1,2 to 3,7 meters to prevent getting infected by virus. Human beings are social and need to remain social. North-East Indians Archbishop of Guwahati Thomas Menamparampil suggests the use of the term „physical distancing“ instead of „social distancing“. He argued that „interactions through phone calls, digital communications and video chats are still possible. Love manifests itself in many ways. The weak and the aged must not be made to feel neglected, lest they become lonely and psychologically traumatised“. Are the elder generations feel more neglected and more lonely because of their difficulties to understand the younger generation using digital media? Did/Do we become more social when we use social media? The term „social“ has itself a context of its use and can be confusing, wrongly used or misunderstood. Is a human being as an „ens sociale“ truly capable of homo homini proximus or is he or she a homo homini lupus, an anonymous wolf in a digital environment?
In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation „Christus Vivit“ to the young people Pope Francis reflects the importance of various generations living together and the dreams of our ancestors: „Perhaps our parents have preserved a memory that can help us imagine the dream our grandparents dreamed for us. All of us, even before our birth, received, as a blessing from our grandparents, a dream filled with love and hope, the dream of a better life. Even if not our grandparents, surely some of our great-grandparents had that happy dream as they contemplated their children and then grandchildren in the cradle. The very first dream of all is the creative dream of God our Father, which precedes and accompanies the lives of all his children. The memory of this blessing that extends from generation to generation is a precious legacy that we should keep alive so that we too can pass it on.“
Signs of the times
Corona pandemic has shown the „global vulnerability of a globalized world“. The Czech theologian and Templeton prize winner Tomás Halík writes: „The church should be a ,field hospital’, as proposed by Pope Francis. The church should not remain in splendid isolation from the world but should break free of its boundaries and give help where people are physically, mentally, socially and spiritually afflicted. (…) If the church is to be a hospital, it must, of course, offer the health, social and charitable care it has offered since the dawn of its history. But the church must also fulfill other tasks. It has a diagnostic role to play (identifying the “signs of the times”), a preventive role (creating an “immune system” in a society in which the malignant viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism are rife) and a convalescent role (overcoming the traumas of the past through forgiveness).“ (America Magazine)
Forgiveness and Blessing
The book of Job concludes with a happy end and the restoration of the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends (ch. 42). The seven plus seven in ch. 42,8 in reference to Num 23,1 is the chance in doing repentance and finding reconciliation. 10 „And the Lord turned the captivity of Job (See Dtn 30,3), when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.“ (See Ex 22,6). 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a kesitah (hebr. קְשִׂיטָ֣ה, a unit of silver of unknown weight and value) and a gold ring. 12 And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.