Matt Levering, in his new book called Dying and the Virtues. examines the Book of Job and intersects it with the longing for life everlasting because of love. If God loves us, then God can’t annihilate us. That’s a major theme for Levering for the Book of Job.
Life everlasting and love. They are not tied together enough, but for the one who truly loves another facing death is facing not loving, and that’s where fear and terror and doubts occur. It is missing the other, it is being alone. The questions “What about me? Will I live eternally?” are not as important, and can be signs of narcissism, as the question “Will the one I love, will the Divine Lover, be there on the other side? Will those I have loved be on the other side?”
Hence, Levering opens up on the right note.
Joseph Ratzinger has argued that “man’s longing for survival” arises from “the experience of love,” in which “love wills eternity for the beloved and therefore for itself.” Love makes us yearn for everlasting communion with the beloved. But as we are dying, can we be sure of God’s enduring love for us? Across the chasm of death, does love lead to everlasting divine-human ‘networks of relationship and love,” or is love something that we experience now, but that God will take away from us forever, so that human love is ultimately destroyed by death?
Jon Levenson stands for many: Israelites did not long for eternal life but for a name carried on by way of descendants.
Levenson admits that the evidence of the Psalms shows that individual Israelites did indeed experience existential terror in the face of death, but he contends that in Genesis and throughout the Hebrew Bible, “the great enemy” is “death in the twin forms of barrenness and loss of children,” not the death of the individual person (120). I recognize that the book of Job ends on a happy note by having Job die in old age with a prosperous family surrounding him. Nonetheless, I think that the book of Job actually confronts head-on, with real terror and agony, the problem of personal death understood as annihilation. My contention is that Job challenges God precisely on the grounds that it would be unloving and unjust for God to annihilate (or to permit to be annihilated) a human being such as Job, who obeys God and who yearns for an ongoing relationship with God. At stake in the book of Job is whether God truly loves Job, and whether Job’s love for God (and neighbor) ultimately means anything at all. [my emphases here and throughout]
Thus I do not think that Job’s main concern is either the sudden death of his “seven sons and three daughters” (Job 1:2), leaving him temporarily without heirs, or even simply the fact that he suffers terribly. It is mortal suffering and its seeming consequence—annihilation—that most bother Job.
[Sketching the wrestling of Jacob and God, he says] Likewise, Job wrestles with God until God makes clear that God can be trusted not to abandon Job everlastingly.
Job contends God would be unloving and unjust to toss humans under the bus and move on to other lovers.
Job is right that if God only loved his human lovers for a short time and then obliterated them, then God’s goodness and real love for us would be radically thrown into question, and the basis of our love for God would be undermined. In the book of Job, then, we find the deepest problem that confronts dying persons: in the midst of the terror and darkness of mortal suffering, can and should we love our Creator God.
Thus, his argument: if God loves, and if we love God, then annihilation is unloving.
Levering states his view that Job is a parable, not least from “One there was a man from Uz” and the exaggerated numbers and stereotyped disasters and God and Satan arguing… his view is typical of many scholars today. Job is a parable, almost like a staged play — a very serious one, that’s for sure.
Some in the Augustinian tradition contend Job is self-righteous and unmasked by the God of the book. Levering contends in this parable that Job is good and that goodness is needed for the Book of Job to stand on its own.
Is Job proud? What is the fundamental basis of his lament? Since God eventually intervenes and condemns Job’s friends, I think that we can take Job’s innocence for granted, as the story’s way of bracketing the fact that suffering and death are a punishment of human sin. Having removed this justification for suffering and death, the book of Job can probe the deeper issue, namely whether annihilation is fitting or just for a rational creature who loves God and who has been made by and for divine love.
He sketches the whole book adequately and comes to these conclusions:
Why, however, does Job conclude that God has made a sufficient answer to the charge of unjustly annihilating humans? I have suggested above that God’s response to Job indicates that God, as the all-powerful Giver of life, can be counted upon to order things in such a way that brings forth the joy of those who love him. Proclaiming his power to create and sustain all things, God implies that he should be trusted to sustain Job’s life after death rather than annihilating Job; but Job will have to take this on trust or faith. This amount of hope seems to be enough for Job, especially since God has personally responded to his entreaties. God does not unveil the mystery of human death, but God gives Job enough hope to reassure him that death does not negate love.
Back to the unloving unjust theme of annihilation.
The injustice of flowering into consciousness and communion only to face everlasting death and nothingness stretching out endlessly consists in the fact that humans, while mortal, are created for a communion of love with the infinite God. The book of Job suggests that God ensures that annihilation is not what happens to his human creatures.
Job’s experience is ours in the face of death.
Humans face death in such a way that it feels like an annihilation, like standing on the brink of oblivion and then stepping into everlasting darkness and nothingness from which there will never be an escape.
Death urges us to love deeply.
In the encounter with God that is mortal suffering, therefore, we must love ever more urgently, and—in the space of silence before eternity that dying opens up—seek to receive what God has willed from creation to give us: his divine love. As he does to Job, the all-loving God will respond.