A few months ago, there was an argument in Relief Society about Job. During a Sunday discussion one of sisters from the faction of “young mothers” locked horns with one of the “old guard.” The younger sister saw fit to point out to the gathered sisters that the story of Job “didn’t really happen,” being merely allegorical. One of our faithful empty-nesters immediately bristled, bearing down in strong testimony against the notion. The teacher played the diplomat and skillfully redirected the conversation away from the discovered hornets nest and the class continued without much further excitement.
“But it says it’s just an allegory right in the lesson manual!” The young sister was later heard protesting. My wife nodded sympathetically, but in private suggested that perhaps she might have been a touch more diplomatic about it.
As for myself, the idea of Job being allegorical is not incredibly upsetting. Much of it reads as a Jewish fable to begin with. Then there’s that odd little betting-match between God and Satan. And it doesn’t really detract to much from the power of the story to call it a “mere story.” And really, who actually reads Job anymore? And besides, what about that caveat about the Bible being “translated correctly?” Isn’t our religion already inherently predisposed to a bit of skepticism regarding the Bible (especially the Old Testament, since it’s full of “mean people”)?
I wasn’t always like this. I was actually a biblical literalist before I started hanging out on the bloggernacle two or three years ago. Back then, I was still a little suspicious of “allegorical creep.”
I mean, why stop at Job? What about the story of Jonah and the Whale? What about the story of Adam and Eve? The temple endowment ceremony already portrays the whole story of Adam and Eve in an expressly symbolic light… Maybe it really is a symbolic story? What about the Parting of the Red Sea?
But doesn’t the story of Moses parting the Red Sea lose a bit of its “zing” if you admit to it being “just a story?” Isn’t a large part of the Bible’s power in its declared historic truthfulness? I admit it. I’m still bothered by “allegorical creep” in my scriptures. It seems that once you make the leap that the scriptures aren’t necessarily historical fact, it’s just a short hop, skip and a jump to wondering what makes them any more inspired than, say… the Koran, or The Brothers Karamazov, or Chicken Soup for the Soul? Next thing you know, I’ll be one of those snivelly goatee-sporting, postmodernist Mormons wearing a beret, and weeping into my cappuccino about correlation and relishing the thought of the fateful day when the bishop finally calls a disciplinary council on me for preaching “truth to power.”
When will it end, I ask you!?
Yet, I have little desire to follow the lead of the sister in Relief Society who vigorously defended the Book of Job as a true story either. That sort of inflexibility in one’s testimony seems dangerous to me. It makes my faithfulness into some fragile porcelain vase that you are always stressing out about, worried that the kids are going to knock it over. Isn’t it better to be able to roll with the punches? Then when you find out down the road, that your take on the holy writ wasn’t necessarily correct, it’s not the end of the world. Right?
So where’s the balance that keeps the “fiddler on the roof” without slipping off the edge? How do you achieve resiliency without courting permissiveness?