The Declaration of Independence is fascinating in its origins and formation, use outside the United States, and its perception by Americans.
When we learn about the Declaration of Independence or hear about it in modern contexts, we only remember the first 300-some words. And why would we not? How powerful they are, we have natural rights as divined by the Creator and are as irrefutable as the laws of gravity and nature of the created world. All are created equal, all have the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And while some history buffs might know the original John Locke quote which uses property instead of happiness. Yet the form in the Declaration saw that “property” was too material and needed something much vaguer. Thomas Jefferson borrowed George Mason’s “life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness,” and turned it into the now-famous triplet – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, the readers closer to the writing and distribution of the Declaration cared much more about the second section, what we might call the business section. The long list of complaints about King George III (referred to as “he”). And why was that? Because it was the on-the-ground reality and the riling up of emotions of anger seeing all the cars on the train of abuses in one place. The overall acceptance of the Declaration was more related to the specific complaints versus the higher-level understandings established in the first section.
I am reading a book about it now, but I cannot get the parallels out of my head with another document – the Book of Job. This Old Testament book is very lengthy, yet most of us only remember three, maybe four chapters of the 42 in the whole book. Chapters 1 & 2 depict Job as a pawn of a cosmic legal argument between God and Ha’Satan (“the adversary, or the satan”). Job suffers greatly and does not “sin with his lips,” (verse 10) yet does seem to get away with speaking disrespectfully to his wife. Now jump 40(!) chapters to chapter 42 and you have Job repenting, the Lord punishing Job’s friends, and then Job getting replacements for his dead children, lost fortunes, cattle, etc. with twice as much as he had before.
I can see the original hearers of the whole Book of Job not caring so much for the cosmic setting up and conclusion of the story, and, what they cared about was how Job’s friends sounded a lot like them and what they were taught in school. Job’s experience and words against traditional wisdom teaching are shocking. Even with the addition of Elihu (another friend who mostly repeats the other friends in different words), all the friends fully describe wisdom and how the world works (you reap what you sow, the universe is ordered).
Job introduces chaos which questions, well, everything – creation, purpose, and how we conduct ourselves. So which part of Job is the most important? The bookends of the story, or the middle? The answer is of course the whole thing, all of it puts up difficult questions to our faith and makes us answer something that seemingly has no answer. Why do bad things happen? Does God make (or permit) bad things to happen through the natural rules of God’s universe, or do they happen for no reason? The only way to start answering that question is to read the whole book together.