Today is the United Nations’ designated “World Book Day,” a symbolic day for world literature, cultural knowledge, and collective wisdom. Now is the time, perhaps more than ever before, with schools, libraries, and bookstores shuttered around the world and so many of us quarantined and isolated in our homes, to mark World Book Day by reading a good book.
COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, and there is a profound anxiety that lurks deep in our collective psyche. Our confidence and assumptions have been shaken in a matter of a few months. People are dying from a virus we barely understand. The global economy has come to a grinding halt. Our healthcare systems are pressed to their limits. Our lives and institutions suddenly seem so much more unstable and insecure. The troubling reality is that COVID-19 did not make our world vulnerable. It was always this fragile. We were just blissfully ignorant until now. You might be wondering, what does this mean?
We in the modern West are psychologically ill-equipped to conceptualize a pandemic. Natural threats like plagues or famines seem to be something that only afflicted our distant ancestors. We, on the other hand, are the children of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers. They were confident that through reason and investigation, everything could be understood and controlled. Consequently, we think that we are no longer at the mercy of nature. Rather, we are its master. And to a large degree, this is true. Unlike our ancestors, we don’t fear widespread famine, natural disasters, or disease. Surely, we are beyond that. Or so we thought.
Ancient people, on the other hand, lived under the constant awareness that natural events, like disease, could wipe them out. The fear did not cripple them, but it was part of their reality. The average ancient person suffered more than we could possibly imagine. Therefore, it would be helpful to turn to the wisdom of ancient texts as we confront the threat of something that we modern people thought that we were beyond.
The Hebrew Bible’s book of Job may be just the place to start. It is arguably the greatest meditation on the nature of suffering in all of world literature. Job, the protagonist, faces one brutal calamity after another. His children are wiped out. All his wealth is destroyed. His body is wracked by disease. The book of Job is remarkably relevant in this moment and speaks to our present condition.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Lee