Matthew Berendsen Shane Owens Theology 17 November 2018 Evil A protagonist handling a series of misfortunes is a common theme in literature and film both modern and ancient
17 November 2018
A protagonist handling a series of misfortunes is a common theme in literature and film both modern and ancient. In A Serious Man directed by the Coen brothers, Larry Gopnick is put through a fast paced deterioration of his passion for life as everything he cared about was stripped from him. This film directly connects to the book of Job. The book of Job is filled with wisdom on God’s infliction of pain but also healing on the human soul. Considering that these misfortunes for Larry are “evil,” these biblical passages can support what is depicted in the film and provide deeper understanding.
In the story of Job, it is evident that Job is blessed in wealth and in relationships. Job is a good christian, with no malice towards anyone. Satan takes notice of this and approaches God. He says that Job is only faithful to God because of the blessings that he has given Job. God decides to allow Satan to torment Job in order to test his faith. The first string of events for Job comes in the form of four different messages telling him that his livestock, servants, and children have all died. Due to this adversity Job shaved his head and lacerated his clothes, but continued to pray to God. Similarly in A Serious Man, Larry had been living a stable life. He is a professor, living in a middle class home with his wife, two children, and less well to do brother. Larry is Jewish, and is true to his faith. Larry has things to look forward to such as his sons Bar Mitzvah and the finalization of his tenure. However, Larry is not exactly a husband to his wife nor a father to his children. His wife promptly asks for a divorce, which Larry did not see coming. His daughter steals money from him, and his son is a marijuana smoker who only uses his dad to fix the television aerial. This is the first wave of evil that Larry is forced to deal with. Larry responds to this by staying true to his faith and believing that it will keep him safe, similarly to Job.
The problems do not stop here for Job or Larry. Larry sees his lawyer and discusses the terms of the divorce. Knowing that these trials tend to not go over well for the man, he realizes that he stands to lose everything. To make matters worse, his wife has left him for a mutual friend, Sy Ableman. The newfound couple decide it best for Larry to move out, leaving Larry to stay in a local motel with his homeless brother, who offers an interesting contrast to Larry throughout the film as he is fairly hopeless himself. Job’s issues also worsen when he is burdened with leprosy, an ancient skin disease that could easily kill. Job sits with his friends for seven days in mourning for his losses. On that seventh day Job spoke up and stated how miserable he was and how he wishes he had never been born. His friends surmise that he must have done some evil for God to have done these things to him. Bildad agrees, but goes on to say that “Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers.”(Job 8:20) In saying this, he is claiming that Job’s children must have also done something to bring evil on them, because God is just in his treatment of people. At this Job begins to have doubts, at one point claiming that God lets the wicked prosper while innocent people such as himself suffer. Despite this negative thinking, Job decides to press on and continue to worship God.
As things continue to deteriorate for Larry he decides he needs to get some advice. He is faced with a South Korean exchange student attempting to bribe him for a good grade. Given his financial bind it seems enticing but he holds off. However, when he learns that someone is speaking poorly about him to the tenure committee he completely breaks down and realizes he needs to talk to someone. When speaking to his Rabbi, he wasn’t offered any real support or help, despite the Rabbi’s honest efforts. Things continue to get much worse for Larry, he receives a three thousand dollar legal bill, as well as a call from the doctor insinuating that he is terminally ill. In the same moment, Larry’s children are caught in school during an imminent tornado. The story ends here, with the scene fading to black as the school is about to be destroyed. At this point in Jobs story, God interrupts his conversation with friends, appearing in a whirlwind.
“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. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” (Job 42:7-8)
The above quote describes the appearance that God made to them. God is infuriated at Job as well as his friends, so Job humbles himself before God. He asks God to forgive his friends for their misgivings and explains that they were only trying to be helpful. Unlike Larry and his family, we receive answers in the story of Job as to what all of these horrible things lead to. God forgives Job and returns him to perfect health with twice as much livestock as well as land.
Both A Serious Man and the book of Job bring up questions that have plagued mankind
since the dawn of time. Why do bad things happen to good people? Am I a bad person? Although no one can actually answer this question confidently, it hasn’t stopped philosophers and Earth’s greatest minds from pondering. For Job, he is rewarded for his loyalty to God and for continuing to show faith even when faced with true hopelessness. However Larry never receives his gratitude from God. Even in the final moments of the movie, it seems as if all is lost for him. These are the things that can make a man question his faith. Larry had never done anything to bring these horrible things upon him. The average person would most likely hear of Larry’s situation and respond with something along the lines of “God works in mysterious ways.” This is true in a sense as God has a plan for all of his children, but why torture an innocent college professor? In philosophy, it is believed that humans just cannot look at things with the same perspective that God can. Perhaps there is beauty through Larry’s suffering that we cannot see. Perhaps Larry’s troubles were leading him to his death, as everyone must die. However, if Larry was able to escape his troubled life on Earth for eternal life in heaven than it would seem that the end goal (“telos” in philosophy) was an improvement on his prior situation. “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal.”(Job 5:17) This excerpt from Job may offer some help in trying understand this concept. For Job, a more direct connection can be drawn. Although Job suffers he is also healed in the end and rewarded for his faith. This is less evident for Larry as it is implied that he dies. However, Larry’s healing could very well be in the afterlife; relating back to the difference in perspective between God and humans.
The nature around evil and how it can seem to follow people will always be a phenomena that troubles the minds of humankind. Both Job and Larry represent two extremely different depictions of how such a situation can occur. The life of every person will fall somewhere between these two extremes. Bad things will happen to everyone at some point in their life, and how you respond may not even determine your final outcome for better or worse. We are at the mercy of God’s will, but it is up to each individual to show faith even in the darkest of times.