A United Methodist pastor with over thirty-six years of pastoral experience, Rev. Wayne Plumstead describes what he has learned about the aesthetics of religion from the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel.

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Location: Bloomfield, New Jersey, United States

The Rev. Wayne Jack Plumstead holds a BA from Drake University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ordained a minister in the United Methodist Church in 1973, he has served since 1991 as Senior Pastor at the Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Prior to that time he served pastorates in Lower Berkshire Valley, Bayonne, Arlington and Jersey City, all in New Jersey. Rev. Plumstead credits the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, with having an invaluable influence on his theological formation. He has given many public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. In 1994, the Board of Global Ministries invited him to give a presentation at a consultation on Developing Multicultural Congregations in San Antonio, Texas to assist national church staff in developing strategies for congregations in transitional communities. In 2000, he was invited to give the opening sermon at the first meeting of clergy in the newly formed Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. And, in 2002, the United Methodist Publishing House printed an article he authored in its national magazine for United Methodist clergy, Circuit Rider.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Eli Siegel Discusses Job

I am pleased to present here a portion of the lecture Mr. Siegel gave on Friday, March 10, 1967 titled "Absent and Present Are Two Adjectives About God." I have transcribed the entire lecture for a book I am now in the process of preparing on Aesthetic Realism and religion.

If God permits evil we have to ask why. And if God sees evil and could do something about it and doesn’t—that is, He permits it—again we have to ask why. But the big question is: How much is God present in evil itself? This has to be looked at.
This question is part of the Bible. In Job we have Satan telling how he has been roaming around the earth. The Bible presents Satan as a character.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and that man was perfect and upright and one that feared God and eschewed evil. And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. And his sons went and feasted in the houses every one his day, and sent and called for the three sisters to eat and drink with them. And it was so when the days of the feasting were brought about that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said: “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus did Job continually. [Job 1: 1-5]

So Job’s sons have done evil and maybe cursed God in their hearts and this can be alleviated by burnt offerings. Burnt offerings seem to have gone out of fashion. But we have some notion of evil. Then we have Satan coming.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan: “Whence cometh thou?” [Job 6-7a]

If the Lord knows everything He shouldn’t ask Satan questions. He is just wasting time. But He does ask questions. And Satan gives that very wonderful answer. It corresponds to the great Sheepshead Bay answer when a mother asks a boy: “Where have you been?” “Oh, around.”

Then Satan answered the Lord and said: “From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down it.” [Job 1:7b]

I think that lacks specificity.

And the Lord said unto Satan: “Hast thou considered my servant Job that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said: “Doth Job feareth God for naught? [Job 1: 8-9]

This is an invitation to sincerity. If you fear God and you show devotion to Him is there anything you think you’ll get out of it? Satan has a notion that Job escheweth evil and feareth God because of all the livestock. So, he asks this question, which comes to this: “If Job is religious, does he get something out of it?”

Hast not thou made a hedge about him and about his house and about all that he hath on every side? [Job 1:10a]

Job is insulated and doesn’t have to be bothered by other people.

Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face.” And the Lord said unto Satan, “Behold, all that he hath is in thine power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand!” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. [Job 1: 10b-12]

Job happens to be one of the mighty works of the world. I am presenting this to have God thought of in terms of presence and absence and somewhat relatedly in terms of good and evil.

And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger unto Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them away; yea they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell ye.” [Job 1: 13-15]

This brings up a third question: What has God to do with freedom and determinism? We get the notion that God permitted Satan to have the Sabeans take away the oxen. And people could have compassion for the servants. They are part of the debate between God and Satan. It doesn’t seem to be fair.

While he was yet speaking there came also another that said: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and hath burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell ye.” [Job 1: 16]

Now that seems to be God working directly. It is the fire of God that has fallen and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them and again we can say: Why should the sheep and the servants suffer because God and Satan are having a philosophic debate?

While he was yet speaking there came also another and said: “The Chaledans made out three bands and fell upon the camels and have carried them away, ye and slain the servants with the edge of the sword and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” While he was yet speaking there came also another and said: “Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house and behold there came a great wind from the wilderness and smote the four corners of the house and it fell upon the young men and they are dead and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” And Job arose and rent his mantle and shaved his head and fell down upon the ground and worshipped… [Job 1: 17-20]

And then we have a very lovely thing: one of the great sentences of the world.

...and said: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” [Job 1:21]

As soon as you come to a sentence like that you hear something.

In all this Job said naught nor charged God foolishly. [Job 1:22]

The whole world is about the relation of beauty and ugliness, order and disorder. It is a philosophic question but it is in the very midst of religion.