"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 21, 2015
Tearing Apart an Old, Familiar Story
by Hannah Bird

My brother, who understands me better than almost everyone on the planet, sent me a book for Christmas entitled Re-Reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem. I love to read and am quite a fast reader. At 260 pages, this should have been a pleasant afternoon's work. Instead, Job and I have been locked in mortal combat for nearly five months. 

We all know the story of the righteous Job and his legendary patience. It sometimes escapes us entirely that the person described in the poem is not always patient and not particularly righteous.

The Book of Job requires one to accept that the same Heavenly Father who forbade any unclean thing in his presence was hanging around and having a casual conversation with his most unrighteous and unrepentant son.

They embarked on a friendly wager using one unlucky man as a pawn by first destroying all that he holds dear. Lots of chapters later he is somehow triumphant, and he gets lots more stuff given to him.

This is how we know that it is important to be patient.

Michael Austin, the author of Re-Reading Job, suggests that none of this is true — starting with whether or not there was a man named Job. Austin makes a very strong case for his arguments. He uses everything from the Book of Job itself to statements from the First Presidency to etymology and history to lay out a better understanding of Job. 

This slim book is rife with ibids and footnotes. There is much to consider. I have ended up reading a few differing versions of the original poem. I have wandered into a few other books that had something to say. I have checked out a few statements that I questioned (he’s always right). Re-Reading Job has been a small glorious education in itself.

But that is not what is taking me forever with this book. It is not reading the book and the source material that is hindering me. My problem is trying to un-read Job. 

Austin makes the case that I do not understand Job. This matters, he says because if I do not understand it I cannot glean the good that is meant for me there. I believe him. He does point out that we get two chapters of the story being set up, then a lot of chapters of Job complaining and his friends being horrible and then a happy ending. He is right. My understanding was incomplete. 

But somewhere in my head, the fragmented nonsensical picture I had of Job remains. Some stubborn shard of me finds it tedious work considering I already know the story.  The story I learned first is useless and weird, but it is still taking a shockingly great deal of force to pry it loose. 

Brains are funny that way.

I have another book that has sat on my shelf largely un-read for years. It is an epic gothic novel with some nice twists on the manners tales of yore. It seems to be something I would just love. Now and then I discover it again and think that it seems exactly like what I want to read.

Then, I proceed to read the same 100 pages that I have read umpteen times, resolve (again) to find the author and challenge him to a duel and then toss the book aside. But never too far aside. It seems like a waste of a book that will very clearly be my favorite (it will not). It seems clever (it is not). It seems like a book that it would be a shame to miss (it would not).

A book that I should have traded away at the used book store 15 years ago has conned me into reading it’s stupid 100-page premise nearly as many times as I have read 1st Nephi. All because my brain clings tenaciously to the idea that it is just my sort of thing. 

That silly clinging brain is the same reason I still try to eat shrimp, occasionally listen to the Beatles and own more planners than one might be able to use. The gap between what I know and what is, is a frequent stumbling block for me. 

I have been reading a great deal about the human brain lately. A few things have stood for out for me. The first thing is that most of what we believe we know about our brains is not true. But setting that aside, it is amazing to study the plasticity of the human brain in light of the terminal inflexibility of the human mind. 

A recent study asked respondents how much information would be required to make them consider changing their opinion on a particular public health issue. The answer was heartbreaking. Respondents indicated that there was no amount of information that would change their minds. None. There was no expert qualified, no information to be gathered, no research to be done. They knew what they believed. Never mind the facts. 

We all do this. Similar studies show that we are more likely to end our marriage than to cross party lines when we vote. Our ideas are the objects of greater fidelity than our spouses. We assume that everyone on the other side of anything are horrible people because we lack the imagination to consider ideas other than the ones we have fed and nurtured. 

I am still un-reading Job. Part of my grindingly slow pace is the realization that if I do not understand Job I probably don’t understand other things as well. There will be more things to un-read. There will be more ideas to pry loose. 

They must be pried loose if I am ever to get to the good. It is painful to un-read. It is tiring and challenging to consider whether the things we know are things that are. But sometimes, that’s the path to learning what we must follow. 

Luckily, I have learned that Job wasn’t particularly patient either. So I have company for the road. 


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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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