An Aesthetic Response: Job, Suffering, and the Rhetoric of Beauty
Alec Arnold, St. Louis University
Medical humanities scholars and bioethicists have sometimes drawn lessons from the book of Job for the sake of a theologically informed response to pain and suffering relevant to medical practice. Yet few have emphasized the clinical implications of what literary scholar George Steiner describes as God’s “aesthetic response” to Job’s complaints, which unfolds as a particular kind of rhetoric focused on perceiving and responding to divine beauty in creation. In this paper, I will explore this suggestion, focusing on the ways in which theological aesthetics impinges upon the medical response to patient suffering. I will first map out some previous attempts to interpret Job’s relevance for dealing with suffering in a clinical context. Then I unpack how Jewish and Christian thinkers (such as Steiner, but also Hans Urs von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart) have described beauty as a theological category that has potential to radically affect our perception of pain and suffering. Indeed, rather than permitting some kind of shallow sentimentalism, this line of interpretation suggests instead that God’s aesthetic response to Job is not firstly a source of comfort so much as an invitation to a transformed perception. In a third section, I explore a few ways in which such an account of beauty could relate to clinical practice, thus complementing the preexisting conversation about Job’s relevance to medicine.