Warning: this post is rated PG-13 for language. If you find strong language deeply offensive, please come back tomorrow.
But really, the offense of strong language is the point. Sometimes life needs to be rated PG-13 for language. Because the reality of life rarely lives up to its Rated-G billing (better: the Rated G fascade we Christians sometimes want to erect over it).
I’ve been poring over A Serious Man in anticipation of my world-changing SBL paper, “New Country for Old Men: Biblical Wisdom Traditions in Coen Brothers Filmography.” This movie echoes Job at many points. It wrestles with the reality of a world where life comes apart at the seams–and yet where God is believed to be active to give and to take away.
Often, the experience of the world’s privations is worse when we believe that the hand of God is sovereign and active. It wraps up God within the causality of our disappointments and pains.
The agony of this assumption of divine intervention is captured in all its rawness in the scene of Larry and his brother Arthur by the pool (warning: strong language begins here):
You’ve got to pull yourself together!
It’s all shit, LARRY! It’s all shit!
Arthur. Don’t use that word.
It’s all fucking shit!
Arthur! Come on!
Look at everything Hashem has given you! And what do I
get! I get fucking shit!
Arthur. What do I have. I live at the Jolly Roger.
You’ve got a family. You’ve got a job. Hashem hasn’t
given me bupkes.
It’s not fair to blame Hashem, Arthur. Please. Sometimes
-please calm down-sometimes you have to help your-
Don’t blame me! You fucker!
Hashem hasn’t given me shit. Now I can’t even play cards.
Arthur. This isn’t the right forum. Please. Not by the
Arthur… It’s okay… It’s okay…
“Don’t use that word.”
Despite his circumstances, Larry is trying to cling to a world where people get what they deserve–even as he sees that it’s not true in his own case. And despite his circumstances, Larry (somewhat Job-like) will not curse in his wrestling with God.
But Arthur will.
Why is this scene so important? For the movie, for reality, there is a place to cry out in vitriolic protest against the injustice of the world. There is a place for raising our voices to God and telling God that the world where “God’s favor shines upon the righteous” and “the traps of the wicked spring upon themselves” is not the world in which we find ourselves from day to day.
So at the risk of justifying what is often frivolous behavior, I want to say that dropping s-bombs and f-bombs is sometimes an important response of Christian faithfulness to the God who has power over all things, and yet has not made all things just and good in the world as we experience it.
This is the biblical practice of lament: to look at what is wrong with the world, stand by it, and call out to God for a transformation of the cosmos such that it reflects the goodness of God. We will not let go of the reality of a sovereign Lord enthroned at God’s right hand. We cannot deny the failure of the world to embody the grace and righteousness by which this Lord and his God would be known.
And so, we lament.
And sometimes, this means crying out with all the boldness we can muster.
And even an f-bomb or two.