The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

By Jonathan Hoeber Lamb | Go to book overview

3
Public Theodicies and Private Particulars

Now no Man thinks the Sufferings of Job any Difficulty in Providence, much less any Objection against it.

( William Sherlock, Discourse on Providence)

In the book of Job three forms of the theodicy have been distinguished, each supplying a vindication or justification of the ways of God to suffering humanity. First, there is the justification derived from a belief in an inscrutable deity, whose providence is not searchable and whose dispensations must patiently be borne on the grounds that they are serving ends beyond the grasp of mortal minds. Second, there is an argument founded on a postulate that nothing happens or subsists in the world beyond the horizon of the divine plan; hence the apparently most anomalous and heartbreaking events are dispensations made according to an ultimately coherent system. Third, there is the deixis of the pointing finger, which spells out each item in the creation as part of a stupendous whole and inspires the diffident audience with terror that modulates to wonder and delighted acquiescence. However, it is the second position that dominates the other two because it formalizes the plenary conception of all theodicies by deducing it from an invulnerable first principle linking the divine to the mortal world. It is impossible to articulate the first position without making some advance beyond blind faith into a statement that subjects the inscrutable to scrutiny; and it is impossible to cite the creation without measuring each terrific instance against an idea of something like a plenum in which it takes its place, finds its rank, and arrives at its significance. The book of Job develops, therefore, as a contest between the universal equity posited by the comforters, and the bare particulars of an unresolved personal agony listed by Job. The broad causal sweep of theodicy is measured against a complaint consisting in discrete notations of an actual set of circumstances for which no cause can be found.


Leibniz and Kant

The argument in favour of a plenary divine intention, based on universal self-evident propositions and called theodicy, were introduced to eight

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