Thursday, November 03, 2011

Poetic Power

How can man adequately communicate about God and the depths of spiritual experience? One partial answer is to use poetry, such as the author of Job did.

Robert Alter (The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) is effusive in his praise of the poetic skill of the author of Job.

The Book of Job is, of course, a theological argument, but it is a theological argument conducted in poetry, and careful attention to the role that poetry plays in the argument may put what is said in a somewhat different light from the one in which it is generally viewed. The debate between Job and his three adversarial friends and then God's climactic speech to Job exhibit three purposefully deployed levels of poetry....(6)

The third--and ultimately decisive--level of poetry in the book is manifested when the Lord addresses Job out of the whirlwind....The poet, having given Job such vividly powerful language for the articulation of his outrage and his anguish, now fashions still greater poetry for God....God's thundering challenge to Job is not bullying. Rather, it rousingly introduces a comprehensive overview of the nature of reality that exposes the limits of Job's human perspective....The vehicle of that overview is an order of poetry created to match the grandeur--or perhaps the omniscience--of God. (9-10)

With God's speech as the climax of the book, the Job poet takes a risk that only a supreme artist confident in his genius could do. He had already created for Job the most extraordinarily powerful poetry to express Job's intolerable anguish and his anger against God. Now, when God finally speaks, the poet fashions for Him still greater poetry, which thus becomes the poetic manifestation of God's transcendent power and also an image-for-image response to the death-wish poem that frames Job's entire argument. (158)

Prose isn't enough. It takes poetry to communicate something of the grandeur and power of our God.

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