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45 - The Ultimate Suffering Story - Jordan on Job

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Transcribed from a classroom lecture by Jordan Peterson

God and the Devil make a Bet

Okay. So, I’m going to read you something from the book of Job. And, this is God harassing Job. So, I don’t know if you know the story of Job, but it’s a very interesting story, and basically what happens with Job is that, ha, God and the Devil have a bet. Which seems a little, you know, on the unreasonable side, for God, but He gets to do whatever he wants. So, He has a bet with Satan, roughly speaking, and says, says, well Job…, He tells Satan that Job is a good guy, and that he’s faithful to God. And Satan says, “Yeah, let me, let me at him for a while, I betcha we can do something about that.” And God says, roughly speaking, “Nah, you can torture him all you want, he’s gonna stay faithful.” And, and, and Satan says, “well, we’ll have a bet on that.” And so, God hands him over and, what happens to Job. It’s like, everything terrible you can imagine then happens to Job, right. His, his, all his family dies, all his possessions are destroyed, he gets a horrible skin disease. And so, then he’s sitting there by the fire sort of scraping himself with bits of broken pots. And all his friends come around and tell him that the reason all this happened to him is because he deserved it. So, it’s perfect, right. It’s, it’s like an ultimate suffering story. It’s a precursor to the idea of the crucifix. That’s one way of thinking about it. So, and ah, Job has a chat with God and askes him, like Cain did, roughly, what’s going on. And God attempts to, He’s irritated that Job would even dare to question him. It’s like, He’s God, He gets to do whatever he wants. It’s a very strange book. Anyways, this is one of the things that God says to Job, while God is trying to justify himself, I would say, to Job.

Document Maps and Hyperlinked Documents

Hence the reason why I’m telling you this. You see, is because, so, imagine that you’re trying to analyze a literary work. You might say, “well, where’s the meaning in the literary work?” And the answer is; it’s in the words, word by word. It’s in the phrases, it’s in the sentences. It’s in the relationship of the sentences to each other, it's in the relationships of the sentences within paragraphs. It’s in the relationship of the paragraphs within the contexts of the chapters. It’s in the relationship between the chapters and the whole book, and then the book in the whole culture. So, you can’t, it’s not easy to localize the meaning. It exists at all those levels simultaneously, and they all inform one another. And what that means, it’s even worse in a book like the bible. I wanna show you a picture, this is an amazing picture. So, let me tell you what this is. So, the Bible’s the worlds first hyperlinked document. That’s a good way of thinking about it. So, what you have here. So, what you see at the bottom, there’s a line along the bottom, and then there’s small lines coming down from it, okay. Each of those, the line has dots on it. Each dot is a, is a verse, okay. And then there’s a line that’s associated with the verse that’s a varying length, and the length corresponds to how many times that verse is cross referenced somewhere else in the document. And then these rainbow-colored lines are the cross references. So now, that’s really worth thinking about. So, then you think, “that book is deep”. Well, why is it deep. Well, it’s because every single thing in it refers to ever other thing. It’s connected like your brain is connected. Like, it’s not a linear document. And, the thing is, a book is a very strange think, right. Because, or even a story, because when you lay out a story, in some sense your like god, you’re outside the space and time of the story. And so, you can adjust the end to make the beginning different. You know, how you watch a movie and then it’s got a surprise ending, it changes the beginning. You thought the beginning was one thing, but it isn’t. It’s something else. Well, when you lay out a story, you can fiddle with the story, anywhere in the story. And so, and you can also make something that happens before dependent on something that happens after. Which is very strange. And that’s what’s happened with the Bible, because people have worked on it, worked on it, worked on it. Trying to synthesize it. And make it coherent. And make it make sense. And so, they’re continually connecting everything that’s inside of it to everything else. And so, you end up with a document map that looks like that. So now, so, you think about that. Everything is connected to everything in that document. Not chaotically, but meaningfully, just like your brain is connected in a meaningful way. It’s not, everything isn’t connected to everything, it’s connected in a meaningful way. And then you think, well, where, what do the stories mean. And then the answer is, well that’s a hard question, because all of them are connected with each other. And then there’s all these different levels of analysis. And so, you can pull out meanings at one level of analysis that aren’t self-evident at another level of analysis. Just like if you’re listening to a complex piece of symphonic music, you can follow a base line or you can follow the strings or you can follow the horns. They’re all harmoniously interrelated but they’re also separable.

Encountering the Chaos

Okay, so, there is an image that lurks in the Old Testament. And the image is the same image, it’s roughly the same image as the image of Marduk confronting Tiamat. So, for example, at the beginning God makes, here’s, here’s how the beginning goes. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, let there be light. And there was light. Okay, so we gotta look at the first lines here. So, this is God justifying himself to Job. He says, “can you pull in Leviathan with a fish hook, or tie down it’s tongue with a rope. Can you put a cord through its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep you begging for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you, for you to take it as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of it like a bird, or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? Will traders barter for it, will they divide it up among the merchants. Can you fill it’s hide with harpoons or it’s head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it you will remember the struggle and never do it again. Any hope of subduing it is false. The mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who is then able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” Ah, more computer trouble. Ah, there we go. “I will not fail to speak of Leviathans limbs, it’s strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fiercesome teeth? It’s back has rows of shields tightly sealed together, each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another. They cling together and cannot be parted. It’s snorting throws out flashes of light. Its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth. Sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils, as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth. Strength resides in its neck. Dismay goes before it. The folds of its flesh are tightly joined. They are firm and immovable. Its chest is as hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. When it rises up the mighty are terrified, they retreat before it’s thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect. Nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. Arrows do not make it flee. Sling stones are like chaff to it. A club seems to it but a piece of straw. It laughs at the rattling of the lance. Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. It makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron, and stees up the sea like a pot of ointment. It leaves a glistening wake behind it. One would think the deep had white hair. Nothing on earth is it’s equal, a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty, and is king over all that are proud.” Well, so what’s God doing. He’s describing what he defeated in order to create the world. That’s Marduk and Tiamat. Okay, so that’s one reference like that. Alright. So, now, another reference like that. This is from Psalms 74. “Yet God is my king of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst break the sea in pieces by thy strength. Thou didst shatter the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan.” Right, that’s the creature that we just heard described. “Thou gavest him to be food to the folk inhabiting the wilderness.” Now you remember, so, when Marduk defeats Tiamat he cuts her into pieces and makes the world out of her pieces. And here what’s happening is that the force that, that encounters the Leviathan is able to break it into pieces and feed everyone with it.

Conquering the Chaos

Now, the reason I’m telling you that in relationship to this is because, “and the earth was” what, “without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Let me tell you a little bit about that. Those lines. Before God begins to create, the world is “Tohu wa-bohu”. That’s from the Hebrew. The word “tohu” by itself means emptiness or futility. So, there’s a psychological element to that, ay. And that emptiness or futility in some sense is what you confront when you’re trying to extract your life from the world. It is used to describe the desert wilderness as well. Um, “Tohu wa-bohu”, chaos, is the condition that “Bara”, “ordering” remedies. Okay, so there’s the idea in the first verses that this initial chaos is being ordered, and order is what makes the world. So, the, it’s standard cosmology. Order emerges out of chaos, and the thing that makes it emerge is the Word of God. Now, “darkness and deep” which is “Tehom” in Hebrew are two of the three elements of the chaos represented in “Tohu”, “Tohu wa-bohu”, the third is the formless earth. In the “Enuma Elish” the deep is personified as the Goddess Tiamat, the enemy of Marduk. Here it is the formless body of primeval waters surrounding the habitable world. Okay, so, but we know, “taom” and Tiamat are the same word. Or at least “taom” was derived from Tiamat. So, the idea that’s presented at the beginning of Genesis is the same, it’s an abstracted and psychologized representation of the story that the Mesopotamians put forward. So, Yahweh is Marduk, roughly speaking. Going out and conquering the dragon of chaos and making order out of it. And then there are these illusions later, say, in Job and in the Psalms of Him doing exactly that. Conquering a primordial monster and making the world out of its pieces. Well, so what does that mean exactly. Well, it means that the highest ordering principle is the spirit that goes out into the darkness or the deep that encounters the dragon of chaos, because, obviously Leviathan is a dragon, and defeats it and feeds the people as a consequence. Well, we are hunting creatures after all, and in order to establish our place in the world we had to go out there and conquer the dragons of the wilderness. You might wonder, why does a dragon breath fire. Well, there’s a bunch of reasons as far as I can tell. Fire is awe inspiring. So, fire and a terrible predator are the same thing. Because they both inspire awe. Fire is transforming. But, predit…, like, what’s a good metaphor for being bitten by a poisonous snake. Well, have you seen the wounds that poisonous snake produces if you’re bitten by them? It’s like someone took your arm and incinerated it. And so, the idea that a snake has a fiery breath, is, well, lets call it close enough, from a metaphorical perspective. Right, now, God is claiming to Job that He’s the Spirit that clears the wilderness and then build order out of chaos, and because, because, uh, because he’s the embodiment of that spirit in some sense Job has no reason to ever question his moral decisions. It’s something like that in the story of Job. But, the point. That point, we’ll leave aside, because it’s a more complicated issue. The point is, that the writers of the Bible are trying to dream up a representation of the spirit of civilization. That the right way to think about it. You can think of Yahweh as the Spirit of civilization. And what is that, well, it’s the thing that encounters the wilderness and makes habitable order. But then it’s also the Spirit of the order itself. And that’s why I think, in Christianity, there’s a representation of God the Father, because He’s a representation of the culture that’s generated after the chaos is ordered. Right! You have the Spirit that goes out into chaos, and orders, and then you have the Spirit of the order. And then the Spirit of the order and the Spirit of the ordering principle have to figure out how to coexist. That’s part of what the Egyptians were trying to figure out. Right. There’s a dynamic relationship between the culture, and the Spirit that generates the culture. And then you might also ask, should the culture be superordinate, or should the spirit that generates the culture be superordinate. And the answer seems to be, the emergent answer seems to be that the Spirit that generates the culture should be superordinate to the spirit of the culture. Its something like that. And that’s also why I think that one of the brilliant discoveries, let’s say, of western individualistic civilization is that the group is there to serve the individual, because the individual is the thing that revivifies the group. So, each depend on the other, integrally. But if you subordinate the individual to the group then the group stagnates and dies. And so that’s a very bad, long-term strategy. Even though the group, and belonging to the group is clearly necessary. You need to uphold the values of the group, but the values of the group should be subordinated to producing the individual who gives the group vision. And the Mesopotamians figured that out. The Egyptians figured that out. We figured that out. We just don’t know that we figured it out. And it’s not a mere arbitrary supposition. Alright.

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