Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Marriage Plot

I recently read The Marriage Plot by Geoffrey Eugenides. As with many modern books that aren’t for young adults, it was difficult for me—and that’s not because I have trouble understanding words like uxorious and subitize (neither of which were in this book).

These kinds of books are difficult for me because the characters are so realistic and (thus) frustrating. One of the main characters is Madeleine, a rather oblivious rich hottie with a passion for Jane Austen and planning her life around her manic-depressive-abusive boyfriend. Looking for love and intimacy through sex and romantic destiny, she is quite lost but neither she nor Eugenides solve what is a glaringly obvious problem. Defining her life through intimacy with other people (boyfriends primarily, using sex primarily), gives her no foundation from which to build a solid life.

I have trouble identifying with books like this because they show the clear source of a problem many people face today (loneliness, aimlessness)—and then sort of shrug and wander away. “Dudes,” the book (and current armchair philosophy) says, “life’s a bitch, and people let you down, but . . .you know . . . there’s no real answers, so yeah. Make the best of it. Love yourself, be “true,” and good luck.”

We’re smarter than that.

It’s uncool right now to believe there are black and white rules, Biblical right and wrong—designed not to curb pleasure but to enhance it. But why? Why are we so hell-bent on freedom that makes us act like jerks and feel lonely?

One of the other characters rants a little about Job. We all know the story: God allows Satan to do all sorts of horrible things to Job, because he is God’s poster-boy. All of the horrible things—the killing of his children and destruction of his property and so on—occur before the first two chapters of Job are complete. The next 36 chapters are a conversation between Job’s friends and Job, as he cries out in anguish to God.

So this character says, “In the Old Testament, Job is always asking God questions. ‘Why do you do so terrible things to me? I am your faithful servant.’ He goes on asking and asking. But does God answer? No. God doesn’t say nothing.”

False. God does answer after 36 long, annoying chapters. What’s more, the book of Job could have gone on and on past those 36 chapters of conversation and questioning (on the subject of 2 chapters of action) into the twenty-first century when people are still asking, “Why God? Why would you do this to me? Why is there suffering?”

God answers Job; he answers us—and he is very, very clear.

He speaks from chapter 38 to chapter 41 and I recommend the full version, but here are the verses relevant to this discussion (in rather sarcastic glory):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? . . .
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
Or shown the dawn its place—
That it might take the earth by the edges
And shake the wicked out of it? . . .
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?     . . .
Unleash the fury of your wrath!
Look at every proud man and bring him low
Look at every proud man and humble him,
Crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
Shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
That your own right hand can save you.”

God answers Job and he answers us. When who we are defines our lives, we don’t like to hear how unimportant we are. When the people we surround ourselves with define our lives, we don’t like to hear how unimportant they are, too.

Read the full version—it’s even more badass.


  1. "Then I myself will admit to you
    That your own right hand can save you."
    This is a bizarre response. Job's complaint is not based on two parties of equal power; it is the complaint of an inferior mistreated by his superior. Throughout his speeches, Job asks that he be allowed to defend himself in some sort of heavenly court, in the reasonable assumption that God will abide by his pledge to punish the wicked and reward the righteous. Though God treats this desire as an attempt to "discredit my justice," it is the opposite, an appeal to the system that God has, by his own words, claimed to have established. The most remarkable element of God's response is its indifference to equity. It repeatedly mentions punishing the wicked, which would imply that "wicked" has meaning and that punishment is an appropriate action, but then completely abandons the realm of justice and enters into power relationships. Why does Job need to be equivalent in power with God to ask for him to abide by his own system?

    1. Your answer is right on: it IS a bizarre response.

      ". . . it is the complaint of an inferior mistreated by his superior." However, we are inferior to him in such an infinite way that makes our complaining about 'mistreatment' ridiculous. Embarrassing even, as Job admits. (42:2-6)That is the point of an all-powerful God: to be all-powerful. He cannot be all-powerful if he is roped into human limitations--such as our grasp of His justice and time. Life is very, very unfair from a human perspective - the wicked seem to prosper (rich televangelists, for instance). But "wicked" (which has more meaning in the Bible than in our postmodern society) unfortunately applies to an extremely broad demographic: everyone. (Rom 3:23) Job was not perfect (1:1 - blameless means "above reproach" not "sinless") and the Accuser was right: he was very, very blessed by God (loving family, rich, healthy) in the first place. God's system of justice starts with God, so it does not match ours (which is fallen and thus skewed) - it is better.

      Anyway, I'm with you 100% on this one: God is being bizarre. And possibly . . .capricious? And that, I think, is the crux. He can seem sadistic and capricious at times. We have his word that he is not (and anecdotal evidence that wouldn't hold up in court), but -and here's the kicker - he's God. If he is a capricious bastard who likes to play with his creation:that is His right.

      True Christianity is submission to God - a God we firmly believe is not only all-powerful, but also more loving, merciful and just than anything we've ever seen in our short lifetimes.