Egocentricity as the Root of "Misery"

Two important ideas I have drawn thus far from reading the Hebrew and Christian Bible's "Book of Job" are that 1) the book deals principally with “natural evil,” and, 2) the primary cause of man’s misery is his egocentrism.

All of the terrible things that happen to Job are what are sometimes (ironically) called “Acts of God.” Although Chaldeans murder some of Job’s children – an act that would normally be categorized as “man-made” evil – the book glides past the cause of the tragedy and includes it as one in a litany of natural disasters: Job’s children all die, lightning kills his sheep, the patriarch himself is covered with boils. In the course of a single day, he has lost his family, his livelihood, and his health.

It is clear that Job takes his afflictions very personally, convinced that God has singled him out for punishment. “God,” he says, “has hidden my way and put hedges across my path … [he has] set me up as a target … [he] has tricked me.” Job’s outlook is entirely self-preoccupied, seeing himself as the center around which the universe turns.

The gist of the Book of Job is to show the error of the egocentric viewpoint, which most of us possess. Job’s friends embody this perspective just as much as he does, professing to have all the answers, and arguing that God singles people out for their sinfulness. Job takes this idea to the extreme, certain that God is obsessed by his every move and reacting accordingly. “Why have you made me your target and burdened me with myself? Can’t you forgive my sins or overlook my mistakes?” Job’s egocentric view existed even when his life was going well. “If only I could return to the days when God was my guardian,” he laments of the past, “to the days when I was in blossom and God was a hedge around me.” In good times or in bad, everything is always about Job and what God has done for (or to) him lately. The book would show why this type of self-centered thinking is flawed, and will ultimately fail mankind.

God’s reply to Job replaces the egocentric view with a theocentric one. Look at the way the world works, God commands, and see where man and goodness fit in. What is good for the lion is disaster for the game she kills to feed her cubs. The promise of new life in an ostrich egg becomes the continuance of life for the predator who consumes it. Destruction, God shows Job (and us), is inherent in creation, and nothing is exempt from that rule. Once we understand that, we begin to comprehend our relative roles in the eternal perpetuation of life, and can no longer take our misfortunes personally.

Although The Book of Job doesn’t explicitly address the issue of man-made evil, I think that it does offer the implicit idea that egocentrism is the culprit there as well. With natural evil, a self-centered view leads to misery because it is false. It is that same false self-centered view that enables one man to commit evil against another.

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