Disinterested Religion As True Religion

I had a conversation recently on the subject of suffering where I shared some of the observations of Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of liberation theology, from his book On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. I wrote about this in 2013.

A key puzzle about the book of Job is the nature of the wager between the satan and God. According to Gutiérrez the wager sets up the basic question behind the Book of Job, what the book is all about.

According to Gutiérrez the Book of Job and the issue behind the wager is about the possibility of disinterested religion. Gutiérrez writes:
Can human beings have a disinterested faith in God--that is, can they believe in God without looking for rewards and fearing punishments? Even more specifically: Are human beings capable, in the midst of unjust suffering, of continuing to assert their faith in God and speak of God without expecting a return? Satan, and with him all those who have a barter conception of religion, deny the possibility. The author [of Job], on the contrary, believes it to be possible, although he undoubtedly knew the difficulty that human suffering, one's own and that of others, raises against authentic faith in God. Job, whom he makes the vehicle of his own experiences, will be his spokesman.

In the end, God wins the wager. The rebellious but upright Job, in all his suffering and complaints, in his dogged commitment to the poor and his acknowledgement of the Lord's love, shows that his religion is indeed disinterested.
As I've shared before, I'm struck here by Gutiérrez's description of an "authentic faith" as I wrote a whole book--The Authenticity of Faith--about that same possibility. And there's a convergence between what Gutiérrez is saying and what I argue. Specifically, according to Gutiérrez if faith is disinterested it is a faith that isn't driven and sustained by rewards and punishments, by whips and carrots. But that produces the experience of Job, the Winter Christian and sick soul I describe in The Authenticity of Faith.

In short, the heart of the satan's accusations about Job is that Job's faith is not "for nothing." Job, the satan points out, has been richly rewarded by God. Of course Job believes in the face of that blessing. But take that blessing away and Job, the satan argues, will turn and curse God. That's the point of the wager, the root question behind the book of Job. Can faith be disinterested? Gutiérrez writes:
It is impossible for the satan to deny that Job is a good and devout man. What he questions is rather the disinterestedness of Job's service of God, his lack of concern for a reward. The satan objects not to Job's works but to their motivation: Job's behavior, he says, is not "for nothing"...In the satan's view, a religious attitude can be explained only by expectation of a reward...

[And so] the satan proposes his wager: "Lay a finger on his possessions: then, I warrant you, he will curse you to your face." Thus the central question of the Book of Job is raised at the outset: the role that reward or disinterestedness plays in faith in God and in its consistent implementation. God believes that Job's uprightness is disinterested, and he therefore accepts the challenge. The author is telling us in this way that utilitarian religion lacks depth and authenticity; in addition, it has something satanic about it...The expectation of rewards that is at the heart of the doctrine of retribution vitiates the entire relationship and plays the demonic role of obstacle on the way to God. In self-seeking religion there is no true encounter with God but rather the construction of an idol...To believe "for nothing," "without payment," is the contrary of a faith based on the doctrine of retribution. This point will be bitterly debated in the subsequent dialogues.
It's bitterly debated because the doctrine of retribution--that our relationship with God is governed by rewards and punishments--is the theological system that Job's friends will try to defend. God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. That is how it works with God, according to Job's friends. Thus, in the face of Job's suffering the law of retribution says that Job has to be guilty of some sin.

But Job refuses to admit any guilt.  And yet, maintains his faith in God. In doing so Job shows his faith to be costly but disinterested.

Job's faith in God is revealed to be authentic--it is not motivated by reward--and thus the argument of the book of Job made: Disinterested faith is possible.

More, and making the point I make in The Authenticity of Faith, in its eschewing a utilitarian, bartering approach to God Gutiérrez concludes: "disinterested religion alone is true religion."

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