Thursday, June 25, 2015

Job, Vonnegut, and Lot's Wife

Kurt Vonnegut wrote, in my opinion, one of the most honest lines ever written in his book, Slaughterhouse-five. In the first chapter he wrote of Lot's wife turning back to look back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,

"And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt."

It is this quote, in fact, that gave me the name of this blog. The notion of a pillar of salt in the classic biblical sense gives the reader the sense of punishment--the result of her looking back at the city after being commanded not to. The Hebrew word that represents the "looking back" means more than just the glancing over one's shoulder. It is a consideration, or paying specific attention to something. So in this sense, Lot's wife did not simply look back but considered the city in a meaningful way. Traditionally, it seems that we look at this act as a sin. She was unwilling to take heed of God's words.

However, it is Vonnegut that gives us a different perspective of this. The act of "looking back" he says was so human. One of the most human things we can do. She missed her life, sure, but she considered what was being told to her. She questioned God critically.

It is near the end of Job that we read:

"After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has." (42:7)

Michael Austin, in his book Re-reading Job gives us great insight into this verse, stating that through it we can understand that God would rather us question him critically (as Job had done in demanding to know why he had to go through this suffering) then simply accept what we "understand" to be true. It is to critically question something that allows us to further develop and grow in the gospel and to better understand God.

Lot's wife is a pillar of salt. She is a woman who was given a commandment and questioned it. While taking the story to be factual seems silly to me, looking at it as a story gives us a lot of insight (similar to the story of Job) as to our relationship to commandments. Do we simply take what we hear as unadulterated truth? Or do we consider it carefully, weigh it in our hands, search out its truth on our own, carefully considering what is being told to us?  Salt, throughout the bible, is represented as virtue through covenants and sacrifice, and through the story of Job we find his virtue not through his patiently suffering his afflictions (because that is not the case) but through his virtue of questioning God's actions.

It seems then that God would rather us critically examine our lives and the commandments and traditions we hold, then simply following them unquestioningly.

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