As the subtitle of the Gutiérrez's book indicates, he is looking for ways to properly speak about God in the face of human suffering.
Unsurprisingly, given that he was a founder of liberation theology, Gutiérrez argues that our language about God must be prophetic in nature. Our language should be in solidarity with those who are suffering and align with God's preferential option for the poor and victimized in the world.
Gutiérrez shows that Job himself makes this journey. Though Job is suffering himself as the book continues Job begins to reflect less on his own suffering than upon the sufferings of others, the poor in particular. Even in the midst of his own pain Job's theology becomes other-oriented, focused on the suffering of others. You can see this focus in a passage where Job offers up what is, perhaps, the most stinging prophetic rebuke in the bible of those who exploit the poor:
Job 24.2-14The indictment of the rich here is searing. This speech is as harsh if not harsher than anything we find the prophets. And in this we see how Job's speech about God--his theology, his God-talk--finds its way forward by becoming properly prophetic, aligned with the plight of the poor and those who are suffering.
Evil people steal land by moving the boundary markers.
They steal livestock and put them in their own pastures.
They take the orphan’s donkey
and demand the widow’s ox as security for a loan.
The poor are pushed off the path;
the needy must hide together for safety.
Like wild donkeys in the wilderness,
the poor must spend all their time looking for food,
searching even in the desert for food for their children.
They harvest a field they do not own,
and they glean in the vineyards of the wicked.
All night they lie naked in the cold,
without clothing or covering.
They are soaked by mountain showers,
and they huddle against the rocks for want of a home.
“The wicked snatch a widow’s child from her breast,
taking the baby as security for a loan.
The poor must go about naked, without any clothing.
They harvest food for others while they themselves are starving.
They press out olive oil without being allowed to taste it,
and they tread in the winepress as they suffer from thirst.
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the wounded cry for help,
yet God ignores their moaning.
“Wicked people rebel against the light.
They refuse to acknowledge its ways
or stay in its paths.
The murderer rises in the early dawn
to kill the poor and needy;
at night he is a thief.
That much you'd expect from a liberation theologian. But Gutiérrez goes on to say, and this is the part that interests me, that prophetic speech is not enough. The language of justice is unable to capture all that needs to be captured when we talk about God.
What else is needed?
Gutiérrez argues that we also need the language of contemplation, mystery and worship. We see this in Job at the end of the book when Job, after his encounter with God, moves from prophetic speech to worship. This movement is important as Gutiérrez suggests that the language of justice, if left by itself, becomes vulnerable as speech about God. For two reasons in particular.
First, the language of justice if left alone can slip back into the theology of retribution that Job has been rejecting throughout the dialogues with his friends. To be clear, we need to be careful here. We do want justice. But we need to be careful lest we reduce the Kingdom of God to the bringing of punishment upon evil-doers. Justice alone provides no room for grace, love, and mercy.
And this relates to the second concern about the naked language of justice. Namely, the preferential option for the poor isn't rooted in the virtue of the poor. The poor aren't preferred because they are Righteous Angels of Light. The poor are preferred because of God's love. If this is forgotten the oppressed can come to see themselves as God's divine agents and, in seeking justice and redress, the victims can become the perpetrators.
And yet, we need to be careful here because if the language of worship--the language of God's grace and love--becomes disconnected from the language of prophecy, disconnected from the suffering of others, it becomes ineffectual, pietistic, idolatrous and irrelevant.
So what we have here is a dialectic, with the language of worship keeping the language of prophecy rooted in God's grace and love and the language of prophecy keeping the language of worship connected to the suffering of others.
This new awareness in turn showed [Job] that solidarity with the poor was required by his faith in a God who has a special love for the disinherited, the exploited in human history. This preferential love is the basis for what I have been calling the prophetic way of speaking about God.
But the prophetic way is not the only way of drawing near to the mystery of God, nor is it sufficient by itself. Job has just experienced a second shift [after his encounter with God]: from a penal view of history to the world of grace that completely enfolds him and permeates him...[But] in this second stage the issue is not to discover gratuitousness and forget the demands of justice, but to situate justice within the framework of God's gratuitous love...
The world of retribution--and not of temporal retribution only--is not where God dwells; at most God visits it...
The poet's insight continues to be value for us: the gratuitousness of God's love is the framework within which the requirement of practicing justice is to be located.