We live in a day when many theater directors take liberties with classics, for example, with plays of Shakespeare. But what about the Book of Job? What if we take some liberty here? In this literary classic of the Hebrew Bible, Job, a righteous man, enjoys the blessings of the earth life: flourishing children, prosperity, and excellent health. But out of the blue he sees his children killed, his goods destroyed, and his health savaged by disease. He strenuously seeks an answer from God as to why this undeserved wretchedness has descended upon him. After persistent efforts to find justice, God gives him a revelation of his creative power. Overwhelmed, he replies, “I abhor myself.”
But what if we change the story so that Job’s dramatic self-judgment precedes the divine revelation. Then we see in this confession not an overpowered Job, one whose soul has attained a height which can look down upon the old self and recognize its ugliness. Job’s statement expresses transcendence of ugliness and the beginning of liberation. That very act opens him to the divine ingression.
A few times in my life I have had such a Job moment. Let me tell you the story of the most recent one. Bruce Wenger, a construction contractor in Arizona, told me one evening last week of his major spiritual transformation. It took place when he was 24 during the summer he spent in the wilderness. He had found God, but he was anguished: “How could you do this to us? Life is so awful!” One day, crying out again to God in maximal distress, he found himself suddenly caught up in spirit, utterly removed from any sense of body or mind. It was the most awesomely uplifting, love-filled, truth-beauty-and-goodness place he had ever experienced. After several minutes of this indescribable rapture, he became co-conscious of his mind in all its ordinariness. So here he was in the simultaneous combination of being in transcendent spirit, while his mind continued in its accustomed functioning. After a while, continuing in this dual-consciousness, he began some of his daily chores, including a very difficult trip to gather water from below, carrying a bucketful up on a very steep and difficult ascent back to where he was staying—except that now, he ascended with ease. In a challenging conversation with a difficult person, he interacted with graceful agility and effectiveness.
For firewood, he had been relying on oak branches. Having neither axe nor hatchet, he had been breaking the branches for a couple months by throwing large rocks at them or smashing them on a rock. But he had accumulated quite a pile of branches that he had been unable to break. Now, however, with sharpened focus, he was able to take a large stone, take each piece in the pile one by one, examine it with precision to see exactly where it should be struck, and bring down the rock upon the branch with superb accuracy and force. In this way he was able to break up each piece that had previously been unbreakable.
A little while later, he asked God, “How can I change my bad habits?” And the reply came back that he should accomplish that just as he had broken those hard pieces of wood. When I heard Bruce say that, the thought shot into me.
Early the next morning, I decided to adapt Bruce’s log-breaking method. I believed that my daring to adapt his method was justified, because my analysis of my weaknesses was adequately precise: disordered desire, inappropriate fear, and pride. In particular, I wanted to break through my cowardice by using spiritual force. In the twilight of imagining, I reached up toward the heavens for a stone, and could see it approaching from above as a comet . . . , which became the love of God as it came closer. At length I grabbed it and three times smashed the self which I abhor. Then a subtle spiritual exhalation came out from my mouth, very unlike a breath, and I distinctly heard three times in quick succession the ugly voice of a now externalized beast. (I refer to the animal-origin nature, not to an exorcism.)
Later in the morning, I realized that—though I had not been completely cleansed of the mark of the beast—I had crossed a threshold. The sense of purgation and cleansing was liberating.
Image credit: By Unknown – Google Books – George Van Schaick (1914-08). “That Jim!” Sunset August 1914: 328. Southern Pacific Company, Passenger Dept., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3798085