And the Angels sang: “We can redeem him who bestirs himself striving.”

Posted: December 13, 2019 in Evil, god
Tags: , , , , ,

Two of the great archetypal stories of the world are Job, from the Bible, and Faust, written by the German literary light Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

These iconic tales have this in common: Both Job and Faust are tempted by the devil. What is different, however, is the devil takes things away from Job, but he gives things to Faust. 

Job loses his health, his family and his property. 

In Faust, Mephistopheles, the tempter, offers Faust three temptations: first, the pure love of an innocent girl; second, the artistic fecundity of Helen of Troy and third the creation of a new land and a new people according to his desires. Faust makes a deal with the devil, unlike Job, but Faust fails to create a satisfying life with his opportunities. He bungles them. 

And yet there are similarities. Both men, Job and Faust, in their dark days, make great efforts to resist the devil, and they both struggle to try to understand nature, the world and God. 

It’s the endings that I find most interesting. After confronted by God about his ignorance, Job says, “I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes.”

At that point Job is restored as well as his fortunes, and the Bible says that, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”

When the Bible concludes that Job died full of years, there’s a sense of peace and satisfaction in the ending.

In contrast, while Faust also realizes his errors, struggles against the devil and makes efforts to be right, he never finds the enjoyment of life and satisfaction with it that he longs for. 

In the end, Faust is not thriving like Job. He is struggling, with everything.

Both stories dig deep. Both stories reveal the universally frustrating effort to understand life and grapple with evil.

But perhaps the story of Faust is more parallel to many of ours than the story of Job. Not many of us lose it all, and then — as if winning the total-life lottery —  get it all back. Not many of us are as righteous as Job, particularly when it comes to loss, suffering and enduring mystery.  He weathers difficulty with dignity, despite the advice from his foolish friends and remains quite noble. 

But we don’t see a noble, peaceful, provided for or restored Faust at the end of his life. Faust’s experience is more like ours, the losses and the failures and confusions mount along the way and the deep rest so longed for and the deep understanding so desired is not forthcoming. And for Faust, his family life spirals into disaster.

And yet right here is precisely where the classic, mythic narratives get interesting and Biblical, in the endings, and the story of Faust falls closer to many of us that the story of Job. Grappling with our own convoluted theological narratologies, our own imperfect families, we find that Faust is us and we, him. 

Just before the devil is to take Faust to hell, Angels  arrive as messengers of divine mercy  and declare, “He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still.” And they take him with them.

Another interpreter phrases it this way. Faust is carried to Heaven by angels who sing, “We can redeem him who bestirs himself striving.”

Here Goethe got it right. 

Strivers all! Or most! And yet by grappling and pushing and shoving our stories around — helped by the devil or not — we don’t get at the true knowledge of nature, God or even ourselves. Despite our cri de cœur, we are a bunch of conflicted, disfluent, ambivalent, equivocal ideological wavelets. We are theological tidelets! We wash and wish and wonder  —  and yet the grace of God saves us anyway. 

We never arrive at the state of ataraxia, the Greek term for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. 

If we arrive at all — anywhere! —  we arrive by grace.

Natality is in Christ.

”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ep. 2:8-9

Ah! 

Grace! 

We don’t fly our own wings to heaven; we are carried by angels.

I love this! I love the picture of Faust, of me, of you, carried by angels — virtually kicking and screaming our way into heaven. 

Then arriving a hot mess, I imagine the gentle, powerful angels will set us down — we totally confused and exhausted strivers — and we will be quiet for a long, long time — along side Job and all the other strugglers present there. 

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