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XXI.

THE DOMINION AND THE BRIGHTNESS.
Bildad speaks. Chap. XXV.

The argument of the last chapter proceeded entirely on the general aspect of the question whether the evil are punished in proportion to their crimes. Job has met his friends so far as to place them in a great difficulty. They cannot assail him now as a sort of infidel. And yet what he has granted does not yield the main ground. They cannot deny his contrast between the two classes of evil-doers nor refuse to admit that the strong oppressor has a different fate from the mean adulterer or thief. Bildad therefore confines himself to two general principles, that God is the supreme administrator of justice and that no man is clean. He will not now affirm that Job has been a tyrant to the poor. He dares not call him a murderer or a housebreaker. A snare has been laid for him who spoke much of snares, and seeing it he is on his guard.

"Dominion and fear are with Him;

He maketh peace in His high places

Is there any number of His armies?

And on whom doth not His light shine?

How then can man be just with God?299

Or how can he of woman born be clean?

Behold, even the moon hath no brightness,

And the stars are not pure in His sight.

How much less man that is a worm,

And the son of man, the worm!"

The brief ode has a certain dignity raising it above the level of Bildad's previous utterances. He desires to show that Job has been too bold in his criticism of providence. God has sole dominion and claims universal adoration. Where He dwells in the lofty place of unapproachable glory His presence and rule create peace. He is the Lord of innumerable armies (the stars and their inhabitants perhaps), and His light fills the breadth of interminable space, revealing and illuminating every life. Upon this assertion of the majesty of God is based the idea of His holiness. Before so great and glorious a Being how can man be righteous? The universality of His power and the brightness of his presence stand in contrast to the narrow range of human energy and the darkness of the human mind. Behold, says Bildad, the moon is eclipsed by a glance of the great Creator and the stars are cast into shadow by His effulgence; and how shall man whose body is of the earth earthy claim any cleanness of soul? He is like the worm; his kinship is with corruption; his place is in the dust like the creeping things of which he becomes the prey.

The representation of God in His exaltation and gory has a tone of impressive piety which redeems Bildad from any suspicion of insolence at this point. He is including himself and his friends among those whose lives appear impure in the sight of Heaven. He is showing that successfully as Job may repel the charges brought against him, there is at all events one general condemnation in which with all men he must300 allow himself to be involved. Is he not a feeble ignorant man whose will being finite must be imperfect? On the one hand is the pious exaltation of God, on the other the pious abasement of man.

It is, however, easy to see that Bildad is still bound to a creed of the superficial kind without moral depth or spiritual force. The ideas are those of a nature religion in which the one God is a supreme Baal or Master, monopolising all splendour, His purity that of the fire or the light. We are shown the Lord of the visible universe whose dwelling is in the high heavens, whose representative is the bright sun from the light of which nothing is hidden. It is easy to point to this splendid apparition and, contrasting man with the great fire-force, the perennial fountain of light, to say—How dark, how puny, how imperfect is man. The brilliance of an Arabian sky through which the sun marches in unobstructed glory seems in complete contrast to the darkness of human life. Yet, is it fair, is it competent to argue thus? Is anything established as to the moral quality of man because he cannot shine like the sun or even with the lesser light of moon or stars? One may allow a hint of strong thought in the suggestion that boundless majesty and power are necessary to perfect virtue, that the Almighty alone can be entirely pure. But Bildad cannot be said to grasp this idea. If it gleams before his mind, the faint flash passes unrecognised. He has not wisdom enough to work out such a thought. And it is nature that according to his argument really condemns man. Job is bidden look up to the sun and moon and stars and know himself immeasurably less pure than they.

But the truth stands untouched that man whose body is doomed to corruption, man who labours after301 the right, with the heat of moral energy in his heart, moves on a far higher plane as a servant of God than any fiery orb which pours its light through boundless space. We find ignorance of man and therefore of his Maker in Bildad's speech. He does not understand the dignity of the human mind in its straining after righteousness. "With limitless duration, with boundless space and number without end, Nature does at least what she can to translate into visible form the wealth of the creative formula. By the vastness of the abysses into which she penetrates in the effort, the unsuccessful effort, to house and contain the eternal thought we may measure the greatness of the Divine mind. For as soon as this mind goes out of itself and seeks to explain itself, the effort at utterance heaps universe upon universe during myriads of centuries, and still it is not expressed and the great oration must go on for ever and ever." The inanimate universe majestic, ruled by eternal law, cannot represent the moral qualities of the Divine mind, and the attempt to convict a thinking man, whose soul is bent on truth and purity, by the splendour of that light which dazzles his eye, comes to nothing.

The commonplaces of pious thought fall stale and flat in a controversy like the present. Bildad does not realise wherein the right of man in the universe consists. He is trying in vain to instruct one who sees that moral desire and struggle are the conditions of human greatness, who will not be overborne by material splendours nor convicted by the accident of death.

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