I still remember when I first clued in to the fact that most artists (writers, visual artists, musicians, what have you) who have ever produced really great art have also suffered in some way, in some depth. This (the light dawning, and not every artist's particular suffering) didn't actually happen until I was halfway through college, which might give you an idea of how quick on the draw I am.
It was kind of a disappointing realisation, because I wanted to become a great writer, but I sure didn't want to have to pay for it. I still don't, really. (Although, speaking of paying, I could, if I had an extra four grand, get a children's novel of mine published. Only I don't, and if I did, I'd probably use it to take a sabbatical in Asia or something instead.)
Some fifteen years after college, I now think you probably have to suffer just for being human, and while natural, God-given talent may sometimes be enhanced by the process, goodness or greatness or genius is not a necessary by-product. It could be, though. Maybe even should be. I'm probably going to explore some of the coulds and shoulds of the universe some other time, but for now I'm just thinking about the book of Job again, chapter 28.
Every so often one year around Advent, I'll decide to read through the readings of the daily lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. I don't really understand how the Book of Common Prayer is set up, nor how it works, my experience of Episcopalianism being happy but late and brief. But I like the lectionary because you get to read three Bible passages in a day from totally different parts (and literary genres) of the Bible and sometimes they're so related it's uncanny. (It would probably be even more uncanny if I didn't believe in the Holy Spirit--but then I might not see the coincidences either.)
It's the lectionary's fault that I've been reading through Job, Acts, and John all at the same time. So far not too many noteworthy resonances between the three, though all three have served to get the brain ticking a little faster than usual. It's also the lectionary's fault for my having read through the whole book of Job, up to and through God's "comment on the blog" with Job's putting his hand over his mouth and repenting in dust and ashes, only to return to chapter 28 at the end of all of it. I never noticed chapter 28 before, but it's beautiful. Don't ask me how Job would know that much about mining gems and precious metals; maybe he owned a mine or something. It might explain how he got so rich in the first place.
Anyway, in chapter 28 he describes the lengths to which people will go in order to dredge up precious stones and a little about how the ores get there in the first place:
Miners conquer the darkness and dig as far in as they can,
to the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
There where no one lives, they break open a shaft;
the feet passing over are oblivious to them;
far from people, suspended in space, they swing to and fro.
While the earth is [peacefully] yielding bread,
underneath it is being convulsed as if by fire;
its rocks have veins of saffire, and there are flecks of gold . . .
(Job 28.3-6, CJB)
Just a few verses later, Job launches into a monologue about wisdom and where it comes from. Even in the middle of his pain and mental/emotional/psychological anguish, not to mention a bunch of pseudo-friends who are being less than helpful, he just sort of starts wondering aloud about it. And even though he's so (not unreasonably) mad at God, he confesses that if wisdom can be found anywhere, it is only done in some sort of relation to Him.
So where does wisdom come from?
Where is the source of understanding,
inasmuch as it is hidden from the eyes of all living
and kept secret from the birds flying around in the sky?
Destruction and Death say,
"We have heard a rumour about it with our ears"
(Job 28.20-22, CJB).
It's probably safe to say that Job knew a fair amount about death and destruction at this point, in spite of not having completely kicked the bucket himself yet. It kind of makes me feel like he (and whoever put together the lectionary and decided to have all us lectionary-followers read this chapter last) was intimating that wisdom, like saffires, is rare and hard to find, hard and costly to obtain, and caused by fiery convulsions. Kind of like, in spite of the fact he was still mad at God, he was starting to get an idea that wisdom, which can only come from God, can also only really come from suffering. At least--maybe that's not exactly it; I'm still trying to put my finger on it, but there's some kind of correlation.
Even before Luis' email, I have often thought about the fact that giving Job a whole bunch more kids at the end of the story can't really have made up for the ones he lost. (Not to mention I would think it would have taken a lot of forgiveness on his part to restore that much intimacy with his wife who had told him to curse God and die.) I have often felt dissatisfied with God's response. But maybe that's just because I don't have the wisdom Job had. Maybe I can't have it, with the life I have experienced up to this point. Whether or not Job missed his first children, he seems to have been convinced and convicted by, as well as satisfied with, God's answer to him. Maybe, after being "convulsed by fire," he understood things I can't.