What are the key differences of the two-sided issue: the sovereignty of God and the accountability of Man in the face of that sovereignty, in The Book of Job (KJV) and J. B.?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The deep theological importance surrounding the two-sided question of the sovereignty of God versus the accountability of Man in the face of God's sovereignty is explored in the Archibald MacLeish play J. B. The Distant Voice in J. B. accurately represents the words spoken by God in The Book of Job beginning in the 38th chapter.

Job's reprimanding speeches to his persecutors, as written in the Bible, when compared with God's response to Job's plea to reason with God (as God requests that believers do) and to know his transgressions give a good picture of the differences of the two-sided issue of God's sovereignty versus Man's (preferably, Humankind's) accountability to God's sovereign authority. Some of those differences are discussed below.

Obedience

God's authority vs. Humankind's obedience

One of the most apparent differences is that of God's immutable authority versus Humankind's obligation to give obedience. In Jewish law, salvation depends upon strict obedience to the Laws of God as set out in Deuteronomy and other places. You'll note in The Book of Job that, in the end of his ordeal, Job makes sacrifices in the names of his persecutors who failed in their adherence or obedience to God's law.

Justification

God does not have to justify his actions to Humankind vs. Humankind must justify their choices before God.

In the Bible, when God responds to Job's appeal to reveal to him what transgressions he has committed against God (in J. B., when in a rushing wind, like "thunder in the wind" The Distant Voice speaks to the assembled characters: "Hast thou commanded the morning?"), God responds to Job's speeches by asking what power or authority Job himself has:

Job 38:3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.   

Yet, though Job can request that God reason with him--in response to God's invitation, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet..." (Isaiah 1:18)--he is obliged to answer any question or charge God puts to him or makes against him.

"Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct Him?" (J. B., Scene Nine)

Two other differences between God's sovereignty and Humankind's accountability to God's sovereignty are:

  • Whereas God had unlimited powers that are unknown to Humankind's understanding, Humankind has limited, known powers.
  • Whereas God has inexplicable objectives, Humankind has been given the objective of honoring God.
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