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Bible Recap, Job and the Problem of Suffering

Bible Recap, Job and the Problem of Suffering

I just finished Skyping my Hebrew professor on this sunny Saturday morning in Charleston, South Carolina, and I'm excited to extrapolate some of the theology found in Job.

This morning, we finished reading Job (chapter 7-42) and the first 18 Psalms. I'll focus more heavily on the Psalms tomorrow and the next day. Today our focus will be on the theology of Job.

Job

Job deals most prominently with the problem of suffering. Do bad things happen to good people?Job is a book classified as Wisdom Literature, and was written sometime between 1500-500 B.C. It's usually referred to as the first book written in the Old Testament, which may or may not be correct. Often times, people quote passages in the book of Job, and similarly misuse scriptures that enhance a conventional, "popular" theology. In reading Job, it's helpful to understand the genre of writing, the one speaking in the passage being referred to, who that person is speaking to, the context of the passage (is it a response in a conversation?), and whether hyperbole is used (often a technique used in wisdom literature and poetry alike). To truly understand the book of Job, I recommend reading it several times from beginning to end, taking special note of each character's philosophy of the way God works in the lives of his people (and in the lives of those who are not his people), and weighing the perspectives of each character until you are informed enough to decide who said what and why, and whether or not they were "right." Just because all of the scripture in Job is "God-breathed/God inspired" does not necessarily mean that all the words spoken are correct or righteous. We know from every book thus far that there are characters who do not do what is right in God's eyes. God doesn't condone these acts, but they are in the Bible nonetheless to be learned from, either theologically or historically. Scripture can be true, in that it is truly God-breathed, without being righteous.

Characters In Job

God: God tells Satan to consider Job, a man who was blameless and upright, a God fearing man. God had confidence in Job's faith and character. (Job 1:8)

Satan: Satan challenges God's trust in Job, arguing that it is for naught. Satan wants to destroy Job and wreck God's faith in him, as well as Job's faith in God, so he tells God that Job will abandon faith if his possessions and all that he has are all taken from him. (Job 1:9-11). When Job's livestock, sheep, servants, sons, and daughters were all destroyed by the work of Satan, Job worshipped God, and "did not sin or charge God with wrong" (Job 1:22). Due to this, Satan again approaches God and says that Job will curse God's face if Job's flesh and bones are destroyed. God allows Satan to harm Job, but only so much as his life is spared. After the series of events that take place when Job is stricken with sores on his whole body, he still "did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10). At this point, Job's three friends come to him and sat for seven days silent before the conversation of the next 34 chapters ensues. Satan knows that there is no better way to defeat God than by leading one of his people astray.

Job: "Blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." (Job 1:1)

Job's wife: Tempts Job and makes a single appearance in the book: "His wife said to him, 'Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die!'" (Job 2:9)

Job's Four Friends

Eliphaz: He was a Temanite, which may have meant a descendant of Esau (Edomite). His responses to Job are in chapter 4, 5, 15, and 22.

Bildad: A Shuhite and descendant of Abraham. Shuah was a son of Abraham from his wife Keturah in Genesis 25. Bildad speaks in Job 8, 18, and 25.

Zophar: Is a Naamathite, probably from the region of Arabia and speaks in Job 11 and 20.

(Elihu): A younger man ("young in years" (Job 32:6)), though certainly not a child. Likely only significantly younger than Job and his three friends. At the point that Job's three friends ceased to answer Job, Elihu speaks to Job and proclaims God's justice in Job 32-37.

Now, what is to be said of the Book of Job. Was Job righteous? Was he in sin? It seems that Job was patient and composed in the beginning, but then loses his mind in chapter three when he laments his birth. Is this how we should read the story? Not necessarily. There is much to be said of the conversation between Job and his friends, as well as Job's response to his trials. However, what is most important is taking the entire book as a whole. Because of the nature of the book of Job, it is difficult to take one passage from here and there to assert the meaning of the book in its entirety; rather, the whole 42 chapters must be used in conjuction to illustrate how God works in people's lives, and how the conventional, popular theologies of God-fearers are not always correct.

In Job 16:2, Job refers to his friends as "miserable comforters." Their intention for being there with Job was to comfort him, right? "They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him" (Job 2:11). At what point did their comfort turn to condemnation? At further analysis of the book as a whole, there are several different theologies of God, doctrines of his omnipotence, being reasoned through, and even used to "rebuke" Job's response to trial.

Because Job is a book of poetry, it's often thought that each of Job's friends represent a popular theological perspective on God's will on earth. Scholars suggest that Eliphaz represents a rabbinic tradition and speaks to Job of him getting what his sins deserve. Bildad seems to subscribe to the popular prosperity gospel; that Job is being tested, and if he passes the test, will receive something even greater. Zophar might be categorized as a man who promotes predestination; that God's sovereign control over Job's life happens to dictate that he will suffer at this moment in time. While these allegories might likely be in the text, it's hard to draw definitive teachings from allegorical assumptions.

There are two things that are very clear in the book of Job; bad things do happen to good people, sometimes without cause or reason. People suffer, whether righteous or otherwise. Also, there is a proper way that we should approach the throne of grace to speak to God, as his thoughts are infinitely higher than our own, and he is the Creator of all things.

Throughout Job, Job and his three friends all make very different assumptions on the doctrine of God and his divine intervention in their lives; further, they make dogmatic assumptions on God's involvement with suffering. At first glance, it appears that they are righteously rebuking Job for his life of sin; however, when examined, it's evident that their perception of the character and power of God may not be as accurate as they think. Job is suffering, and it is not his fault.

Eliphaz

Each of his friends profess a partially true doctrine of God, but fall short in different areas. For example, Eliphaz points out the inexplicable deeds of God, that God performs wonders and miracles that are impossible to understand (Job 5:9). This is true. There are aspects to God's nature that are so inscrutably above our own that we can't possibly wrap our human minds around every crevice and sinew of his greatness. Nonetheless, though Eliphaz rightly regards the omnipotence of God, he wrongly accuses Job of misunderstanding God's nature. Job 22:12-14 is Eliphaz's summation of Job's outcry, which is not correct. Eliphaz claims Job is writing off God in heaven as someone who couldn't possibly understand; "What does God know?" (Job 22:13), but Job is not stating this. In and throughout, Job's perception of God and his personal humility do not stray far from righteousness; something easy to misconstrue without taking the book of Job as a whole. The Lord does not rebuke Job for what he says. In fact, he rebukes Job's friends, for speaking incorrectly of God. "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7 & 8). Certainly God wouldn't refer to Job's perception of him as "right" if he was off on a high horse throughout the entire book.

Bildad

Bildad's philosophy of the prosperity of the innocent and the punishment of the wicked (Job 8:3; 8:20-22) portrays God as a God who micromanages, though this theology contradicts the character of the God whom we serve. God gives us the free-will to choose and to act as we will. Likewise, just because we are righteous doesn't mean we will live a fabulous life (often the opposite, see 2 Timothy 3:12), and just because someone is not righteous, doesn't mean they won't receive all the riches in the world! In fact, Job laments about this in chapter 21, questioning why the wicked prosper. "Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. Their bull breeds without fail; their cow calves and does not miscarry" (Job 21:9-10).

Zophar

Zophar echoes Eliphaz's incorrect assumption, in that they blame Job for bringing these trials upon himself due to a life of sin.

In and throughout Job, his friends constantly blame him for the trials he is facing. This doesn't mean that everything they say is wrong; they speak of many truths in God's character and in the way he acts, but their overall perception of God is not correct, and their accusations of Job were also not correct, otherwise God would not have reaffirmed Job in chapter 42.

In the same way, Job speaks correctly of God's character and power, though perhaps not everything he says is correct either. Job is referred to as blameless by God, and this is to say that, while the friends of Job consistently strayed far from the path of theological truth, Job was consistently correct or close to it. This is why God doesn't rebuke Job but does rebuke his friends. There are moments in the book that Job could be perceived as impatient, reactionary, or arrogant, but there is something to be said about the Lord's response to Job. He doesn't directly state that Job was in sin. In fact, the only thing the Lord directly states about Job is that what he said was right (Job 42:7 & 8). Otherwise, the Lord seems to powerfully remind Job that that contending with God is an argument not worth having. Is there anyone else in the Bible who contended with God? Abraham, though in a different manner, reasoned with God for the salvation of Sodom in Genesis 18:16-33. Likewise, Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32:22-32. There are many sections in the Bible that show bold interactions between people and God, Job included.

Elihu

Lastly, Elihu joins the conversation and speaks to Job. Elihu, along with Job, was not rebuked by God at the end of the passage, and many of the things he says seem to guide Job back to a correct perception of God's might. Whereas Job seemed to begin thinking that God's punishment was arbitrary (Job 24:1-12), Elihu refocuses his view on the fact that God doesn't necessarily bring about the destruction of the righteous and the innocent, but rather permits it. As we read in Job 1, God only permits Satan to act as he will; it was not God who inflicted the damage in Job's life, but Satan. Likewise, Elihu reminds Job that God often uses the affliction of men to rid them of pride, so that they will finally consider Him above all else (Job 33:17). Further, Elihu shows that God's judgement is not perverted, but rather sovereign (Job 34:13). While God does certainly bring about judgment (Job 34:21-28), he similarly permits (notice that permissibility and causation are not the same thing) the prolonged retribution of suffering, for a number of reasons (Job 34:29-30).

In the end, the Lord comes to Job and uses illustrious rhetoric to show his highest ways. He asks Job over and over again "Who?" created, controls, governs the universe. Chapter 38-42 are demonstrative of God's limitless power, highest glory, and endless dominion over the universe he created. Who are we to question the workings of a God so much higher than us? This doesn't mean we can't ask questions to understand, but there are realms of God's universe that we can't understand, and won't understand. In our seeking to understand God, we shouldn't stray from trusting that he does indeed know what he is doing.

Conclusion

The book of Job demonstrates a theology in action that sometimes wicked people go unpunished (and even prosper greatly) and other times righteous people suffer greatly. Job teaches us that trials are not necessarily just or unjust, rather they simply are or are not, and we are considered righteous by how we choose to respond to suffering. Likewise, Job's plea for a mediator or advocate, an arbiter, between him and God (Job 9:33, 16:19, 17:3) speaks volumes of the coming Messiah. Christ is now our mediator, the link between us and God in heaven, whom we can pray to in Jesus' name (Hebrews 7:25, 1 John 2:1). God wishes for a relationship with us that is bold, consistent, and faithful.

When reading Job, we should be careful to quote in order to teach, as each sentence independent from the rest of the book can convolute the overall theme of the book. Further, when reading Job, which I recommend doing several times to assist this short teaching summary, always be sure to understand who is speaking, who they are speaking to, and what point they are trying to make. Often times, you may find that the point they are trying to make is one that Job should rightly disagree with, which helps to explain many of the responses Job has to his friends throughout.

Job is a very dense book, but I hope this was helpful.

Bibliography:

Jacoby, Douglas. "OT 44 Podcast: Job." Douglas Jacoby. Accessed January 30, 2016.     http://www.douglasjacoby.com/ot44-jobmp3/.

Jacoby, Douglas. "Q&A 0154 - Job - Douglas Jacoby." Douglas Jacoby. 2003. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.douglasjacoby.com/q-a-0154-job/.

Jacoby, Douglas. "Q&A 0484 - Job 19:26 - Douglas Jacoby." Douglas Jacoby. 2004. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.douglasjacoby.com/q-a-0484-job-19-26/.

Parsons, Greg W. "Job, Theology of - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online." Bible Study Tools. Accessed January 30, 2016.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/job-theology-of.html.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in Book of Job." Shmoop.com. 2008. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.shmoop.com/book-of-job/eliphaz-bildad-zophar.html.