I love the book of Job. It is forty-two chapters of brilliant dialogue around the problem of evil and suffering that never really provides any solid answers. People argue and debate, lose their temper and scream at each other. Its great!
I did not always like it. I remember hearing people say, in regards to the problem of evil and suffering, to just read Job. As a kid I read the first few chapters and last few chapters to get the gist, but I skipped the dialogue. It was not until much later that I plodded through the whole thing and realized it did not offer the answers I wanted but instead gave space to ask questions.
I think people struggle with Job because we read, if we read, one or two chapters a day. In this way it will take weeks to work through Job. If you only read one chapter you will read a diatribe by one of Job’s friends one day and then Job’s response the next day. But by the next day, you’ll forget what Job is responding to. That is why I think the best way to get Job is to read it in big chunks. If you can, read it all at once!
Last night at CSF we went through the entire book of Job, obviously not going deep into much of it since it is so long. Here is an outline of the book:
- Job 1:1-12 – Introduction
- 1:13-22 – Satan’s First Attack and Job’s Response
- 2:1-10 – Satan’s Second Attack and Job’s Response
- 2:11- 13 – Job’s Friends Arrive
- Chapters 3-27 – Dialogue between Job and his three friends arguing about why this has happened to Job – Dialogue continually escalates in anger of friends towards Job due to Job’s refusal to admit he deserved it
- Job’s friends confident – they knew how God worked and that God did not punish those who did not deserve it, so Job must deserve it (rigid retribution theology)
- Job agrees God works this way in theory – but Job insists he is sinless in this case and thus God is wrong and Job wants to plead his case
- Job silences his friends (Zophar does not respond a third time like the others
- Job 28 – An Ode To Wisdom
- 28:28 – To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
- Job 29-31 – Job’s Final Speech – His Defense
- Job 32-37 – Elihu speaks to Job
- Job has silenced the traditionalists, Elihu speaks for the younger generation, offering new solutions to old problems but fails to provide an answer just as the others failed.
- Elihu’s speech on God’s greatness in chapter 37 does foreshadow God’s speech
- Job 38-41 – God speaks and silences Job
- 42:1-6 – Job repents, acknowledges he does not know God’s ways
- 42:7-9 – God rebukes Job’s friends for not speaking right as Job has
- 42:10-17 – God blesses Job
One of my favorite things about Job is how the story seems to question the sort of wisdom you find in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs, a fantastic work in its own right, tends to promise that hard workers succeed and lazy or evil people fail. This is the sort of theology that both Job and his friends hold to. Yet we know from real life that things do not always work out this way. More than that, the fact that our Bible contains both Job and Proverbs tells us something important – being a wise person, a disciple of God, does not mean turning our brain off and blindly following a few commands. Instead, God provides us wisdom teaching that will show us how to think and live in the situation we find ourselves in.
Since Job and his friends have this basic idea that God only punishes people who deserve it, they insist Job deserves it. He must have some secret sin to confess! Job, agreeing that God punishes those who deserve it, argues that God is unfair in this case for he does not deserve it. Thus, Job wants to plead his case with God. What we, the reader, know is that God is not the one who did this. God has allowed it for sure, but has not done it.
Is there a difference between God doing something and allowing something to be done by someone else?
I think there is. There is a big difference between pushing my daughter off her bike as she is learning to ride then in allowing her to fall as she learns. Anyway, I drew a few general conclusions from Job’s story last night:
Job was WRONG in what he said about God (42:3, 6)
*God’s speech emphasizes the complexity of creation and God’s power over it – as finite beings we do not know much
*When we talk about God then we ought to be humble, realizing how much we do not know.
*When someone suffers and comes to us…we better not be like Job’s friends!
Job was more right in what he said about God than his friends were
*Even though Job was wrong, he was closer to being right even as he challenged and questioned God
*This shows me that God desires a real relationship and not just people who blindly follow accepted truths
God’s speech to Job is satisfying on one level but leaves us wanting more as God remains kind of distant from Job’s problems.
In Jesus the distant God of Job comes close and experiences our suffering
What Job wanted of God we get in Jesus.