Bible Study Class The Book of Job
Points of Discussion and Reflection
What can we say about the Book of Job as we end this study? The prose section (ch. 1, 2, 42) and the poem section (ch. 3-42:6), convey many ideas that raise questions for us.
Questions about the Setting of the Story
In the prose section, the “spy” Satan, confronts God. Satan says that Job’s faith would change if Job lost all he had. Why would God need to hear this from his spy roaming the earth? Even as a literary device, this section is troubling.
More troubling is God agreeing to test Job. Why? What kind of God does the author or book portray here? That God would test someone, much less by imposing such tragedy upon Job is difficult to accept. What’s the point of testing? Whether Job succeeds or fails, what’s the point? Then what?
The writer of the final version of the Book of Job, no doubt uses this section of testing to get to the poem section where the dialogue raises many questions about God, suffering, and religious tradition. Nevertheless, this prose section even as a literary device to get to the dialogues, still raises the questions above.
The Questions from the Dialogues
What about the views expressed in the dialogues?
Job maintains his innocence to the end. Job never wavers. In one sense, Job is correct. Job has done nothing to deserve the tragedy that has befallen him. Even if he had done something wrong, his children and servants have not done anything to deserve their deaths. Why kill his children and servants if Job is the one to blame?
Job, however, by maintaining his innocence raises questions about what his friends say – that God is punishing Job for some unspoken wrongdoing. However, Job refuses to admit that he is mortal and therefore, fallible. The question is – Should a person be tested or punished because God created him mortal and fallible?
Job’s Friends and Elihu
Job’s friends, and even Elihu, raise the question of Job’s innocence. They are firm in upholding the religious tradition that God punishes the wicked and rewards the innocent. The author or book questions whether this view is valid.
The book of Job took its final form in the time of the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE) when Israel’s enemies took them away from their promised land, to an alien land. They destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The people, indeed their whole religion, raised the question - Why did God allow this to happen to his people?
Job’s friends would answer - God allowed this to happen because the Israelites turned from God’s ways. The Exile was punishment. Bad things happen because people do evil. Repent and bad things will not happen.
After the Exile, and the Israelites returned to their homeland, they rebuilt the Second Temple (the one Jesus knew). At this time, their religion emphasized keeping the law to the finest point. People became obsessed with the law. People would know exactly what to do in all circumstances in life. No one would disobey God’s laws and bring about destruction on themselves, or their people. The Pharisees and the scribes of the law emphasized keeping the law.
The Book of Job challenges this notion that suffering is the result of doing good or bad, and that God punishes the wicked and rewards the faithful. This may be a response to the religious tradition of what happened to the Jews during the exile. The book is a challenge to traditional religious thoughts and beliefs and explanation.
Views of the Speeches of God
In the speeches by God, God talks about God’s works of creation. There does not appear to be a direct answer to Job’s questions.
However, Job admits that God created the world and set limits to it. The sea has its bounds. God does bring order out of chaos.
Some interpreters have said, though, that God’s control is limited. God is bringing order out of chaos. Creation is not yet finished.
Others say that we must call upon God to finish what God has started. They point to the Psalmist who cries out to God -
“Rouse yourself; why do you sleep, O God?
Awaken, do not reject us forever.” (Psalm 44:23-24)
Others say that God created the laws of nature, and lets the laws continue their course. God does not intervene in the laws of nature (e.g. person falling from building).
Other Responses to Job and Suffering
Some say that it is not our duty or faith’s duty to answer the question of suffering, but to ask – how are we to respond to it? The only answer is one of learning to cope with it. (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning) We cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond. A response to suffering does not have to be about God, but about how we help and alleviate the suffering.
Many cultures symbolize God by fire. Fire is not an object. It is a process. It liberates the hidden energy in a piece of wood or coal, and turns it into something useful. Fire can be warm and life-sustaining.
Archibald MacLeish’s play on Job (1958?) – J.B.
Do people suffer because God does not care or because God cares but cannot do anything about it? J.B is the story of a good man – loving husband and father. Hs is pious and faithful. His world is destroyed. His children are killed one by one. Three comforters come to him to explain the events.
1. Marxist who says the tragedy was not personal. He was a capitalist at a time of revolution.
2. Psychiatrist who says we are not guilty but are the victims of feeling guilty. You did what you did because that is your psychological make-up.
3. Clergyman who says JB did nothing particularly wrong; but since you are human, you inevitably are not perfect. God punishes you because you are not perfect – the most cruel of all the comforts.
God in the play says he expected JB to throw God’s message from the whirlwind back in his face. Instead, “JB sat there and forgave me (God) in spite of all he suffered.”
Man depends on God for all things. God depends on man for one thing. Without man’s love, God is only Creator. With man’s love, God becomes father and God.
JB’s wife says –
You wanted justice but there was none;
There was only love.
The candles in the church are out;
The lights have gone out of the sky;
Blow on the coal of the heart, and we will see by and by.
Job helps us to see that human vulnerability – suffering - is not the result of God’s wrath. Job admits that chaos is part of our existence. You cannot justify it or explain it. Instead of being obsessed with justice, Job sees reality as it is. He then begins to put his life together. Now we see through a glass darkly.
The ability to live beyond the tragedy that cannot be explained or eliminated, is to live not in isolation but amidst a community of faith and a God who shares life with us.
We cannot answer all problems, or resolve them by studying. We live with them.
No explanation makes any sense. We must go on living day by day in an uncertain world because this is the only world we have. The only answer is one of faith – hope.
(Copyright 2017 by Jack Hughes Robinson. Use by Permission Only.)