One of the reasons Samuel Terrien saw biblical theology as all about God’s presence rather than covenant was the wisdom literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job and the Song of Solomon. The concept of covenant is absent in these writings.
I will highlight his discussion of the book of Job. Usually we frame Job in light of our modern or post-modern concern with the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? Bad things certainly happened to Job and he claimed to be a good person.
Terrien thought Job went way beyond the philosophical issue. Job was about the presence of God and how elusive that presence felt. Job’s problem in context was that he needed to defend his honor. Since disasters had befallen him, it was assumed that these represented something like bad karma. Job mounts a defense against the assumption that he has caused his own misfortune, that he has acted dishonorably.
He needs for God to be present so that he can argue his case. But God’s presence proves elusive. “If I go east, he is not there. If I go west, I can’t find him. He works to the north, but I can’t see him. He turns south, but I can’t catch a glimpse of him” ( Job 23:8-9).
However, the elusive nature of God’s presence does not undermine his faith. In one of the few Hebrew affirmations of a life beyond death and an individual last judgment, Job affirms that he will get to present the case for his honor in the next life. (Job 14:13-14 and 19:26-27).
Further, the last judgment that Job hopes for is more a judgment of God, because Job is unaware of any personal faults that would render what has happened to him justified. He wants God to answer. He wants God to affirm his personal honor.
Terrien believed that the story of Job had come down in oral form in wisdom circles. Its oral form goes back to the days of David or Solomon. But the dramatic book of Job was produced by a scribal artist during the exile. The Babylonian conquest from the point of view of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah came about because of the sin of the people.
But what about the many individuals in Israel who must have felt that they did not personally deserve the disruption and hardships of that period? They felt their honor challenged. Job gives voice to their protest that they are personally honorable and pleads for God to affirm their innocence.
In the end the writer imagines God answering Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1 ff). The answer is not on Job’s terms. God does not deal with Job’s concern about his own honor. The answer is on the lines of telling Job that it is not about him. God has other concerns than humans have. Job was not there at creation. So creation was not about Job.
This anticipates our situation now after Copernicus and Darwin. Human beings are not the center of everything. God has other concerns. He causes “it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, in which there is no man” (Job 38:26).
Thus Job’s protests about his innocence are turned against him. Job has not sinned in the sense that he has broken the moral code so much as to deserve the deaths of his children and the loss of his health and social position. He had not caused such harm to others that he deserved this harm that fell upon him and those he loved. But he had sinned in putting himself and his personal honor at the center of his concern. Our concern with the problem of why bad things happen to good people may put us right beside Job. We too may think it is all about us.
“. . . the Jobian theophany constitutes a scathing critique of religious subjectivism in all its manifestations, of egocentric flattery, either through the lull of ritual or the business of moral activism” (p. 373).
Job went through a process. First he rebelled against the absurdity of the calamity he faced. We can sympathize with his outcry against the indignities of life. Yet this did not end in rejecting God. Instead, he came to a new clarity about how the universe centers on God, not man.
Terrien claimed that the wisdom literature proclaimed the “theocentricity of all life”.