Gustavo Gutiérrez, author of A Theology of Liberation ("Is he still alive?" my students ask. You betcha.) and known widely as the father of liberation theology, has written a lot of other books, and one of the best is his book on Job.
I first read that book in English but then, about six years ago, had a chance to crawl through it in Spanish with a class at the GTU. Even the title is better in Spanish. In English it's On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. In the original Spanish it's Hablar de Dios desde el sufrimiento del inocente, "Speaking of God from inside of (or "from the starting-point of," from the inside toward the outside, all in that one word desde which doesn't exist in English) the suffering of the innocent." Very different from "and the suffering of the innocent." (The subtitle in Spanish is una reflection sobre el libro de Job, "a reflection on the book of Job." The title and subtitle were thus inverted in the English edition.)
Today's reflection, in English, is from that book.
The editor of a fine volume of selections from Gutiérrez's work, James B. Nickoloff, writes that in his book on Job, Gutiérrez argues that a turning point in Job's relationship with God occurs when the afflicted man comes to see that, unfortunately, he is far from alone in suffering unfairly. Indeed, the awareness of others' suffering (and its injustice) leads Job to free himself from a theology of reward and punishment and begin to embrace the mystery of gratuitous love and the tasks to which it gives rise.
Here's Gutiérrez now. These are bits of chapter 5 in the book on Job.
The dialogue of Job and his friends advances at an uneven pace, but it does advance. The friends repeat themselves and become increasingly aggressive, but Job sees more deeply int his own experience and refines his thinking. ...[H]e realizes that he is not the only one to experience the pain of unjust suffering. The poor of this world are in the same boat as he: instead of living, they die by the roadside, deprived of the land that was meant to support them. Job discovers to his grief that he has many counterparts in adversity.
The question he asks of God ceases to be a purely personal one and takes concrete form in the suffering of the poor of this world. The answers he seeks will not come except through commitment to them and by following the road --which God alone knows-- that leads to wisdom. Job begins to free himself from an ethic centered on personal rewards and to pass to another focused on the needs of one's neighbor. The change represents a considerable shift.
As his friends continue to insist on the doctrine of temporal retribution, Job ceases to look only at this individual case and asks why it is that the wicked proper [see Job 21:6-9]. This first enlargement of the field of personal experience will supply him with a further argument in the debate with his friends. From the new vantage point he will be able to see the weakness of the arguments brought against him...
"At the very thought" [that the wicked still live on] Job recalls a fact of daily life, which anyone can verify. The wicked proper --that is, the very persons who neither serve God nor pray to God [Job 21:13-15, 17-18]...
... Job... will distance himself even more quickly and fully from the ethico-religious language of his friends. Moreover, his line of argument will now change radically, as a result precisely of realization that poverty and abandonment are not his lot alone. For he sees not what this poverty and abandonment are note something fated but are caused by the wicked, who nonetheless live serene and satisfied lives. These are the same ones who tell the Lord, "Go away!" The wicked are both rejecters of God and enemies of the poor -- two sides of the same coin. All this leads the author of the book to put into the mouth of Job the most radical and cruel description of the wretchedness of the poor that is to be found in the Bible, and also to have Job utter a harsh indictment of the powerful who rob and oppress the poor [Job 24:2-14]....
The description is full of detail and shows careful attention to the concrete situation of the poor. The poverty described is not the result of destiny or inexplicable causes; those responsible for it are named without pity. Job is describing a state of affairs caused by the wickedness of those who exploit and rob the poor. In many instances, therefore, the suffering of the innocent points clearly to guilty parties. The daily life of the poor is a death, says the Bible. The oppressors of the poor are therefore called murderers.
*******On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (1986; English ed. 1987)
Read Spanish? Here's a Spanish-language BBC interview with GG on a related theme, opposition to the fatalism of poverty.
Now, back to our previously scheduled Portuguese-speaking community of friends: you can still give to the Cristo Rei parish in Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We have till Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas.
The money will go primarily to the community's ministry with children and will contribute to the infrastructure to make a lasting difference in the classrooms, the kitchen, and other community resources.
Read all about the appeal here and here and skip that double latte two days in a row, and voilà! a donation! Now, don't you feel good? (I have no shame, at least about fund-raising.)
In honor of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I will continue to post short and not too obnoxious daily reminders of the community Christmas appeal for the parish of Cristo Rei (Christ the King) in Cidade de Deus (City of God), on the West side of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, accompanied by quotations from various Latin American Christians.
Links to previous postings of reflections by Latin American Christians during these 12 days of Christmas are here. Enjoy.