The Pledge – The Nature of Magic, Part 1

"A light from the shadows shall spring..."
“A light from the shadows shall spring…”

There is no mediator. (Job 9)

If you’ve never seen the absolutely brilliant film The Prestige by Christopher Nolan, stop reading this blog. In fact, I don’t care if you were about to land a probe on an asteroid, stop what you’re doing and go watch it. This film follows Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two rival magicians in the late 1800s. Their obsession with each other is born out of a tragedy they both share, and it only grows throughout the movie, evolving into a loss of self bent on revenge against the other, and an all-consuming passion dragging their souls to find the secrets of each other’s tricks, at all costs.

This whole movie is set up against the opening monologue, delivered by Michael Caine, about the nature of magic. He breaks down every magic trick into three parts:

The Pledge – “The magician shows you something ordinary, a deck of cards, a bird, or a man.”

The Turn – “The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary.”

The Prestige – “But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part…the part we call The Prestige.”

Today, we’re going to talk about The Pledge.

Job, aside from the first 11 books in Genesis, is the oldest book of the bible, and it dives headfirst into what I’ve described as a “silver bullet for religion” – the problem of evil. I have yet to hear a satisfying answer to the question of why evil exists in a world created and managed by an all-powerful, omniscient, and loving god. But this is the question that Job struggles with.

This is what keeps him up at night. It could also be the lack of marital support, loss of children, servants, and livestock in one day, or the festering boils that he has to endure while simultaneously trying to defend his honor from his douchebag friends who say that this is his fault somehow. But for now, we’ll assume that it’s this question that’s nagging at Job.

In Job’s monologues, you can see a recurring theme: “There is no mediator.” Job recognizes that his struggle is between him and God and that he is okay with not knowing the answer, even when God seems so cruel and unfair. And as much as modern Christians try to deflect responsibility from God in instances like this (check out the comments on this blogpost), Job engages in almost none of that.

In fact, despite the fact that the beginning of Job describes this as basically a bet set up between God and Satan, Job seems blithely unaware of the existence or agency of such a being. In the same way that you wouldn’t blame a lion for being a lion, but rather blame the emperor that threw you into the Coliseum, Job views his adversaries as secondary, almost non-agential forces. He doesn’t mention Satan anywhere by name, and he makes it clear that as far as he’s concerned, he is contending with God and God alone.

And that’s the problem for Job. He is in court before the Almighty Judge, and he cannot plead his case, his friends blame him for hidden wickedness, and he knows that he is honest and upright. And he has no one to defend him. There is no mediator.

This is The Pledge. There are prophesies about this coming Messiah, from Isa 53 (“by His stripes we are healed”) to Daniel 2 (“and the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth”) to Paul’s epistles (which were written before the gospels that hailed Jesus as the Messiah.) Like the birth pangs described in Romans 8:22, we can look from the oldest to the newest parts of the Bible and locate this unmistakable, undying hope of the bible writers. It is the hope that there is something, some ONE, living and acting on their behalf, to quell the anger of God and bring them all to glory.

And that’s just the first part of the magic trick.

Next time, we’ll talk about The Turn.

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3 thoughts on “The Pledge – The Nature of Magic, Part 1”

  1. I want to point out that it might be inappropriate to interpret the book of Job as dealing with modern questions of theodicy, such as how God can be both all-powerful, all-good, and still allow evil to happen. Job shows no signs of asking those questions. Job is never actually contending with or doubting God. The entire book, he is trying to defend his honor to his friends (not to God). He talks about going to court in front of God only as a theoretical “proof” to tell his friends that God knows that he never sinned. But through it all, he never questioned God’s right to do whatever the hell He wanted; Job never said, “God shouldn’t have done this” (though he did say “I don’t know why God did this”). Towards the end, he gets close to doubting God by saying that what God was doing didn’t fit in with how God usually acted and Job wished he could understand the discrepancy, but he never claimed to know better than God (he did claim to know better than his friends, though). This is why Job was praised by God in the end. On the other hand, Job’s friends undermined God’s power, saying that God can only do good to good people and can only do bad to bad people. The friends were disrespecting God and not fearing God’s chaotic and all-powerful autonomy. This is why the friends were condemned by God in the end. The book is a reminder to be righteous because that is your role in life, not because you will be rewarded for your righteousness (though, of course, you will be rewarded for your righteousness).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! That was not how I read it at all, but an interesting interpretation. At the very least, we can agree that Job has some rather spicy language for God and questioning His choices. I mean, even the imagery that he brings up of being able to plead his case in court means that he in some way thought of himself as the blameless party, and questioned the fact that these things were happening to him. He longed for a mediator to fight his case for him, and ultimately, to vindicate him because he was sure about his righteousness. That’s how I read it. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Like

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