Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Book of Job: It's Not as Bad as You Think

I read an article the other day titled "Job Suffered Alone--and So Must We." I don't know why the article bothered me so much--I read lots of articles on the Internet I disagree with (what? how can you disagree with FACTS?)--but it did.

So I decided to blog my thoughts on Job in response to that author's.

However, to avoid taking on the huge task of examining Job all at once, I think I will talk about it bit by bit, starting with an introduction here. I will also forewarn you that I am not a biblical scholar; these will be simply my impressions, how I might talk about Job if the author on the Guardian blog and I were discussing it over coffee. But please, if you have any input, let me know.

I'll start by ignoring the second paragraph of the article mentioned above, which seems neither here nor there when discussing Job, but which I take issue with. He takes it as a given that "Modern readers...feel sympathy and empathy for [Job's family's] suffering. Our values today have advanced and improved." That's another post for another time.

If I were to represent the book of Job with a single character on the keyboard, I would choose a question mark (?). The reason for this is because the book is a question: Where is God when the righteous suffer? Why is God silent in the midst of suffering? Why, when God breaks the silence, does he have questions for Job and not answers? Why does God allow suffering? I think the author of the blog post was getting at these questions, but I would answer them differently than he does (hence why I'm posting at all).

I'm wary in things I write or edit to use the book of Job (or at least isolated verses from Job) as a proof text. (That's not, of course, to say that it can't be done; I think it depends on the situation and what needs to be proved or what the application is. And we also have to consider that the apostle Paul quoted a verse from Job--and it's Job's friend that he quotes!) The reason for this is that so much of what's in the book of Job sounds good and right, but so much good is put to so much bad use. The entire middle portion of the book, chapters 3 through 37, is an unresolved discussion. We know there is a lot of truth in what Job and even his friends have been saying; we just don't always know what it is, and when God arrives on the scene, he doesn't parse each statement for us to let us know. Am I allowed to quote Elihu or Bildad? God rebukes them at the end of the book, saying, "I am angry with you...for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7, NLT). How much of this is because of muddled thinking and how much because of muddled application? So quoting the middle portion of the book as isolated proof texts I'll leave for people far smarter than I.

I'll come back to this later, but I want to leave you with a quote from G. K. Chesterton's introduction to Job, as quoted in the NLT Study Bible, because I like it:
Job's friends...keep on saying that everything in the universe fits into everything else, as if there were anything comforting about a number of nasty things all fitting into each other....If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue, it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. They will adopt the easier task of making out successful men [to be] good.


  1. Preach it, Jon! Glad I checked this out when I was posting birthday greetings. God does indeed ask Job questions, rather than answer--He and Jesus, for some reason, share this common response! Overall, quoting Job as "proof" has always bothered me--except for that triumphant line echoed by an aria in The Messiah: "I know that my Redeemer liveth...."

  2. Thanks for reading, Rachael!

    I'm amazed at God's way of asking penetrating questions. The author of the blog I linked to says the questions set up a straw man; I think they go straight to the heart of the situation. God's questions respond to the secret thoughts Job had and are really the best response.

    Jesus had the same way of making penetrating statements. "You must be born again." "Go and fetch your husband." "Unless you repent, you too will all perish." His statements cut through the fluff and bluster and respond to the true questions his discussion partners are asking.