This entry is part of the Blogging-the-Bible series. To see a list of passages, covered so far click here.
Being no stranger to godless parables, the wonderful Job 24:12 made me think of this story:
You own a major company with 50 locations city-wide. Your uncle (who knows nothing about the company) is visiting from out of town. He is naturally curious and you decide to show him around the corporate headquarters.
The office is in a terrible state. Employees go to the toilet in the corridors so the two of you are negotiating feces as you walk around. Rooster fights are rampant in lunch rooms. You turn the corner to find that just as some offices have football tipping competitions, yours have knife-fight tipping competitions on top of the rooster fights. Today it’s HR vs accounting. Fights are to the death: injuries would require removing some small fraction of money from the betting pool to pay for medical expenses.
The building itself is a warzone. Rapes on the terrible Level 23 (where all employees must go to hand in their timesheets) are all too common. This has led to employees demanding the company pay for security guards to patrol the offices. Which HR has refused to do. Accordingly, most women have had to spend some of their salary hiring private armed escorts, who have in turn turned to fighting amongst themselves — to the point where the parking lot has degenerated to warlordism with several sociopaths fighting for control.
You exit this 7th circle of hell and stand on the sidewalk. Your uncle raises an incredulous eyebrow. To steal from the greats: Double-you. Tee. Ef.
“What the hell’s going on here? This has to easily be the worst company I’ve ever seen. It’s a terrible workplace environment. It’s so disorganised that your profits are despite the company not because of it. Why, if I–”
“–now hold on just a second!” you protest. “I admit there are some serious problems in the company. But what do you suggest I do? I mean, you can’t just expect me to…force my employees to change their ways!” You finish the sentence laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea.
“What? Well of course I do! I mean you don’t have to run the company like a prison but the fact that things have gotten this bad means you have to at least start imposing some things.”
“But what of their freedom to choose their course of action? An ideal employee is not one who refrains from stealing from the cookie jar merely because it’s against their employment contract — but because they know it to be wrong.”
“True true. But I think your employees have gone a bit beyond questions of cookie jars. If a person cannot come into work every day without worrying about being raped, tortured and killed, what kind of ‘freedom to choose their course of action’ are you referring to?”
“But a lot of good can come even out of such terrible things. Just last week, Anderson came up with a new way to save on deliveries, after having to deliver tasers to her team for protection from attackers.”
“So if attackers bring out the best in your employees why don’t you just go hire some more yourself?”
Of course you have an answer. After all, you spend your day running the company (or at least watching it) so it’s not like you haven’t considered these arguments. You argue for hours, losing all track of time, not hearing the screams of employees being dismembered. Over time, your uncle slumps his shoulders as he gets tired. It seems you have an answer to everything.
But then, in your fervour, you argue right through sunset. As the darkness falls, the lights in the office unexpectedly turn on. “Nice,” you think to yourself, “Petrovsky must have managed to capture the room that has the building generator from Reporting Services”. Suddenly your uncle gets a triumphant look in his eye, as he points to the company logo that has just lit up with the lights.
“There, do you see it?”
“What, the company name?”
“You mean our family name!…When someone looks into this building, they associate all the terrible things therein with YOU, with US. Aren’t you ashamed?? Aren’t you totally and utterly ashamed??”
But you don’t answer. You turn away and drop your gaze, unable to meet that of your uncle.
So here’s the verse (Job 24:12):
Men groan in the city, the souls of the dying cry out
Yet God does not regard it as a reproach.
When I read it I was even more impressed than before with this Job character. After all he just voiced one the most effective versions of the problem of evil. It’s an emotional argument but that’s because the whole problem of evil is ultimately an emotional not a rational debate.
Alas, alas. Turns out the verse is but an illusion. I’ve written before about the Jewish Publication Society’s dishonesty in translation. Having consulted a few other translations, Job seems to be just saying that people cry out because of the wicked yet God does not prevent the wicked. Which would make it a repetition of what he’s said many times before in this book (and another translatory massaging by JPS to make the text seem more profound). Oh well.