In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams explained that the meaning of life is 42. That’s what the great computer, Deep Thought, came up with at least. But the answer is 42 what?
Is it 42 pieces of lettuce in my salad?
Is it 42 trips to the Olive Garden?
Is it the 42 lessons we learned along the way?
I was reading the Book of Job last week for personal reasons. I love this book despite never really wanting to read every word of it. In some ways it’s the most human book in the whole Bible, because it’s concerned with suffering and injustice and the inscrutable will of God. It’s also intensely opaque and ambiguous: you could read the book and feel that life is arbitrary, or not. Because what was the point of Job’s suffering? To make him realize what he had, and appreciate it when he got it back? I don’t think so.
It’s ambiguous, like that number 42, in part because it’s hard to figure out who’s right in the book. Most of the text is just Job’s idiot friends yelling at him for screwing up, and Job firing back that he didn’t do anything wrong, at least nothing that he knows about. And we have to agree with Job, that he’s the good guy, except that in the end after God is done telling Job’s friends to make sacrifices because they’re so bad at giving advice–and telling them that He’ll forgive them only because they’re Job’s friends–God turns around and tells Job not to forget his place in the universe.
And that, my friends, is real life. Even when we’re the good guys, even when we didn’t do anything wrong, God still says that He’s the only one who can make those judgments.
It’s like you want God to run down like a boxing referee and swing Job’s fist into the air and hail him the winner of the philosophical bout, but God doesn’t do that. He says Job’s friends are wrong, but Job is wrong, too, for counting himself righteous. He can’t make himself good, God, implies, and neither can anybody else.
It’s dispiriting for those of us who might tend to feel a little self-righteous at times. Why doesn’t God pat us on the back for being so right?
Oh, and one other thing about Job’s story: there’s 42 chapters in it.
Maybe 42 really is the answer.
Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, mixed veggies
Wait: not long at all