Job: Faith, Suffering and a Book All About It
At the beginning of this summer, if you would have asked, I would have told you I didn’t like the book of Job. If you ask a non-Christian what they know about the Bible, they know the passage “don’t judge lest you be judged” (which they know wrongly) and they know about the book of Job. If someone ever enters a hard time or a difficult season in their life, their patronizing friends always go to…the book of Job. There is a whole South Park episode about this.
I found that my objection to Job really came from hearing how it was used, and used badly. But of course, in the rotation of my Wednesday night class, I ended up having to teach Job. I delayed study, I put it off because I didn’t want to touch it. Even when I finally taught Job on Wednesday night, I led off with the South Park clip and my discussion mostly revolved around Job’s abuses. It could have been titled “How Not To Talk About Job: One Disgruntled Christian’s View.” We talked speedily and made it through the book of Job in about an hour which was my goal: get through it so we don’t have to talk about it any more. But, alas, some people in my class needed to keep going, needed to talk about it more.
So again, I jumped back into the book and started reading again. I branched out; listening to some sermons, reading some articles and meditating on the book more I began to grow more and more fond of the book. After more time and more discussion I am totally enamored with the book, loving it. Every theological conversation that I had for a while started with, “So, what do you think about Job?” I have enjoyed it very much.
Anyway, I didn’t realize how big the “What do you think of Job?” question was in the beginning. Now I realize that you have to unpack a lot of things to discuss Job. There is a lot in there. There’s the divine bet, you have to talk about Job’s understanding of God, there’s the suffering, the whining, the friends, the divine back-hand and the re-gifting. There’s a lot in there. So! Let’s talk about it. Lets talk about those things.
DISCLAIMER: I am sure this is going to be a very long post, but stick with me!
The first thing we have to figure out about Job is how the heck to read it. I think that everyone knows that Job is a big long poem. Now, the issue in reading a big long poem is this: is it literal? Did this really happen? Do we read it like the Psalms and say that it is figurative language, not a real story, but instead a fictional tale written by some crafty poet. Or, do we read it like we read The Odyssey or Ecclesiastes which may be an exaggerated tale based on fact? You have to figure that out. Real, figurative or exaggerated, you have to decide which camp you’re in.
The next thing you have to figure out is when you believe that Job happened. Many commentators make Job a contemporary of Abraham which means there was no Law yet, there was no Temple yet, there was no Israel or chosen people. In this, Job is just simply following the inner-knowledge that he has of God. I think this is pretty true. He never mentions the Law or following the Law. He never mentions teachers, or prophets or any other Old Testament teachings. He is doing his own thing. He has a theology that he has figured out himself.
This does have theological implications though because this has God working through and with a non-Jew and non-Chosen person in the Old Testament.
Other people suggest that Job is a Jew living in a post-exile world since he was making sacrifices to God. I don’t think that this is evidence enough to support that theory since many pre-monotheist cultures (i.e. African, South American, Asian) perform animal sacrifices.
NOTE: No matter what you think about these issues, whether Job was a real person or not or what time period you believe he lived in, the real thing to remember is that this is a book that made the Bible, which leads me to believe that it is important and that God wanted us to have a theology on suffering and pain and how he works in the world.
And now the text itself…
The Opener (1:1-5)
The opening few verses of Job give us a little to think about. There was a guy, his name was Job. He had a couple kids who liked to party, and every time they had a party Job would make a sacrifice, just in case they sinned at their most recent shindig. This may help us to date Job a little bit, depending on what the Jewish customs were for sacrificing on behalf of others. Of this, I am unsure. But anyway, these verses are pretty straight forward.
The Divine Wager (1:6-12)
Satan, approaching God, says to him “Job only follows you because you bless him with so much. Not only that, you protect him also. If you didn’t bless him, he wouldn’t follow you.” God ponders this and says, “Try it. Everything he has is in your hands, but don’t hurt him.”
Now, your answer to the “when” question really matters here. Because if you believe (as I do) that Job is taking place in the time of Abraham, then you have to understand where Satan is coming from. As far as opposing God, he in undefeated. He made Adam and Eve take the apple, he corrupted Sodom and Gomorrah, he brought down humanity so far that God’s only option was to start all over with Noah. Almost as soon as Noah gets off the boat he gets drunk and curses one of his sons to a life of slavery. Satan really seems to be kicking God’s butt.
So, Satan is feeling pretty confident challenging God over Job. Satan walks into heaven, a surprise to God, (1:7) and challenges God to his face saying that Job only loves God because God blesses him (Philip Yancey points out that Satan is the first Behavioralist). And God says, “Have your way with his belongings.”
Job’s Frist Trials (1:12-22)
Almost at once servants start running to him from every corner of his land with terrible news. “People have stolen your flock.” I am sure Job’s first thought would have been “Arm my servants and we will go after them!” Then someone comes running up saying, “A raiding party has killed all of your servants!” So in this moment Job learned that his wealth was stolen and the only means of regaining it has also been taken from him.
Then the last news comes, the house where his kids were partying was hit with a wind from four sides and the house collapsed, killing them all.
Job tears his clothes, cries, says a prayer and sits down in the dirt to grieve. But he does not curse the Lord.
Satan Comes Back (2:1-6)
Satan walks back into heaven, again God says, “Where did you come from?” Then seems to gloat a little over Satan saying, “You see, you did all of this and he still follows me.” Satan shrugs it off saying, “Well yeah, we only messed with his stuff, but humans will do anything to save their own skin.” God essentially says, “Good luck. Go for it.”
Satan, like a child, will push and push his limits until he gets what he wants. The limits of the bet were clearly established in the first chapter, but having not received the desired results, he is back to change the terms.
Bodily Afflictions (2:7-10)
Job is struck with sores all over his skin, sores so filled with puss that he has to smash a clay pot and use the pieces to cut them open.
Then, sometimes Satan gets help that he doesn’t even ask for. Jobs wife walks up and says, “Good grief would you just curse God, get yourself struck dead and get all of this over with?” Sometimes people step up and do Satan’s work for him.
In the same line of thinking, sometimes people show up to help Satan do his work without any prompting. These are Job’s friends. The thing I love about all of this is the thick irony. First of all, these are Job’s “friends” but they spend their entire stay disagreeing with him, fighting with him, and being no help at all. Secondly, 2:11 says that his friends set out to go “comfort him” when in all actuality they were no comfort at all. They were about as comforting as Job’s wife.
In accordance with Jewish custom, they sat in the place, silently waiting for Job to speak. They did not offer thoughts, ideas, comfort or counsel until the suffering person was ready to hear them. (They didn’t start quoting the book of Job until he was ready to hear it.)
Job Speaks (3)
Job finally sits up to talk and has an awful monologue about how he wishes he had never been born, wishes that he didn’t exist and so forth.
The first friend speaks, offering some comfort to Job saying that he has done great things for people, he is an encouragement to many and that he is a man of great faith. But, he continues saying, “”you must have sinned, apologize, don’t resent this punishment, pray to the lord, apologize and move on.”
Job Speaks (6-7)
Job becomes upset with Eliphaz saying, “Listen, I don’t lie. I am a man of integrity. I have done nothing.” He then turns his prayer to God saying, “Why have you made me a target if I have not sinned?”
Bildad Speaks (8)
Bildad is a bit less comforting than his friend Eliphaz. He says, “How long are you going to keep up this act? God wouldn’t do this if you weren’t guilty of something, so get over it.”
This act goes back and forth for a long time. Each time Job insisting that he has done nothing and his friends get mad at him. Even a slave boy gets angry listening to Job and shouts at him.
This illustrates an important point. The only thing worse than “friends” is religious “friends” because when you are having a hard time, you’ll find that they are of no comfort. Job’s friends in this situation are more concerned with their particular theology and defending their theology about how God works in the world which is “only bad things happen to good people” which is a stupid theology.
At some point in the course of their conversation they stopped being Job’s friends and instead became theologians with a system to defend.
God Comes Down (38)
Now imagine the position that God has been in this entire time. He has made a high-stakes bet with Satan. This bet is so ridiculous considering the history of the good vs. evil contest. God has watched humanity fall time and time again into the vices and lies of Satan and now he and Satan are going head to head and God has placed every ounce of his credibility in one man: Job.
He says to Satan, “I have so much faith in Job that I will go head to head with you.” Do what you will, but I think this guy will stick with me. I know that millions of people have chosen to follow you instead of me, but I think that this one is different.”
But as these trials are being carried out, Job keeps shouting to the sky saying, “God, why are you doing this to me?!” Eventually, God has had enough blame for this and comes down himself to set Job straight.
The first thing that God says to Job, shouting down from the clouds is “Gerd your loins.” Which is a divine way of saying, “Put a cup on because I am about to hit you hard.” He proceeds with his cosmic smack-down saying “You haven’t seen the gates of hell, you didn’t make the cosmos, you don’t make night and day, light and dark.” You don’t know anything about this do you? So what makes you think you know where to place the blame for your problems? Or that I am not allowed to do these things if I want to?”
Job’s Reply (42:1-6)
“You’re right. My bad.”
Job’s Friends and God (42:7-8)
God turned to Job’s friends the theologians and said to them, “You guys have no idea what you are talking about. All this crap that you’ve been preaching isn’t true. Get rid of that theology. Who told you that lie and how did it get so much traction in your life?”
The End (42:9–>)
Job was eventually able to rebuild his wealth to a greater degree than he had before. He had more children, had more flocks and servants. Job eventually died an old man.
Philip Yancey once wrote “The point of the book is not suffering: Where is God when it hurts? The prologue dealt with that issue. The point is faith: Where is Job when it hurts? How is he responding?”
I think that is very true. The whole point of the bet was God putting all of his eggs in the basket of his people, which he has done since the beginning of time and is still doing today.
Because the story of Job is really the story of all of us. Satan is running about the earth trying his best to knock us all of of the narrow path any way that he can, but all of God’s eggs are still in the basket of his people. Every bit of suffering we do in this life has two Beings looking down on us really pulling for us to go their way.
This means that the little things that we do in life, the tiny details of what we do make a cosmic difference. God and the angels are watching us every time we are caught in one of these moments and every time we choose to follow God a massive celebration begins. Luke 15:7 makes it very clear that every God-centered choice and every repentant moment ignites a huge celebration in heaven.
The point Job, the practical application is this: Your faith and the way you act in the face of adversity matters. Every day, live you life on earth in such a way as to inspire a party in heaven.
NIV Archeological Study Bible along with its various informative articles and footnotes.
“A Fresh Reading of the Book of Job.” by Philip Yancey in Disappointment with God: Questions Nobody Asks Aloud.
On Job: God Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. Gustavo Gutierrez.
Job by John Piper.
The History of God by Karen Armstrong.
And contributors to my consistent conversations including Joshua Bundy, Dylan Pyeatt, Chad Nicholson, Thomas Pittman and others at Robinson Avenue Church of Christ, and most recently Brian Salter and Greg Parks.