Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Self-Deception and Cosmic Disorder in the Book of Job

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Self-Deception and Cosmic Disorder in the Book of Job

Article excerpt


Self-deception has been analyzed extensively in twentieth-century existential philosophy, especially in the thought of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. While these analyses were not written to apply specifically to the Book of Job, they underscore how embedded in human consciousness the phenomenon of self-deception is, and how we evade disturbing truths so as not to have to confront the abyss.

For Heidegger the abyss is that of finitude. Heidegger's Being and Time contains an analysis of "inauthenticity"--a mode of being in which we flee into a "public" consciousness where background noise, gossip, "idle-talk" and other forms of distraction prevent our confrontation with silence and solitude. In states such as silence and solitude, we are forced to confront "the nothing", which causes anxiety because it reflects the human condition as being-towards-death. For Sartre it is the abyss of radical freedom that we find frightening.

Sartre's analysis of "bad faith" in Being and Nothingness is illustrated through the example of a girl on a date who, while aware of the romantic intentions of her suitor, chooses not to acknowledge them, discussing everything but these advances, as they confront her with the uncomfortable need for choice and action, i.e., the vast open space of possibilities and all of the responsibilities this freedom entails.

How do such forms of self-deception apply to the Biblical Book of Job? In the case of Job's 'friends', their theodicies serve to prevent them from having to confront the abyss of moral chaos and our ignorance as to how this moral chaos fits into a larger, coherent (divine) plan. I seek in this paper to interpret God's anger at Job's friends from an existential perspective--that the theodicies of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar actually constitute of a form of 'inauthenticity', and that God is angry at them not merely because of their lack of empathy for Job, but because of their fundamental dishonesty in dealing with his predicament (1).


After suffering the horrific deaths of his children and the destruction of all his property, Job, by all accounts a righteous man begins to question not only God's benevolence but the very existence of an intelligible moral order in the universe. It doesn't matter if a person is righteous or evil. Job says: " is all one ... He destroys blameless and wicked alike."(Job, 9-22)". This denial of a cosmic moral order is a radical notion, antithetical not merely to Judaism but to the religious impulse in general. Job's 'friends', while first offering him comfort, soon grow impatient with (and threatened by) Job's anger at God, and accuse him of impiety. They argue that he must have sinned to deserve his fate and they basically repeat the standard lines of theodicy--that there is an intelligible moral order in the universe in which the wicked are punished and the good rewarded. For example, Bildad, in 8-3, asks Job rhetorically: "Does God pervert justice? Does the almighty pervert what is right?"

Job doesn't merely accuse his friends of emphasizing the positive aspects of a bad situation and minimizing the negatives. Job actually accuses them of uttering outright lies in their attempts to defend God. Job says to his friends: "you go on smearing truth with your falsehoods, one and all stitching a patchwork of lies." (13-4) What are the implications of this, especially as God says to Eliphaz in the Epilogue: "My anger is aroused against you and your two friends, because, unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken as you ought about me" (42-7)? Why is God angry with Job's 'friends'? How can the ideas of 'inauthenticity' and self-deception as found in existential philosophy help us understand this paradox?

God is angry with the three 'friends' not merely because they have given dishonest, unsympathetic responses to Job in his time of suffering, but also, and more importantly, because they are lying to themselves and to God. …

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