I listened to a fascinating podcast today from the Professional Left. In it, the two hosts were discussing the Book of Job. Their thoughts and opinions gave me much to think about, so I will share here my ideas and I hope to hear from some of you as well.
First, What They Got Wrong
Now, these people obviously weren’t Bible scholars. In fact, as they recounted the story, they got a few of the details wrong. For example:
- The refer repeatedly to the Satan in the story as the devil. Whereas, according to scholars, this is incorrect. This character was not the devil we associate with the New Testament, but another heavenly being known as the “Accuser.” Two different entities. (Stanley, p. 509.)
- They made several remarks about Job’s wife being killed and replaced. However, in reading Job chapter 2, we see that Job’s children were killed, but his wife actually lived on to harass him through his troubles.
- I don’t know if I should label someone’s opinion as wrong, however, in minute 30 of the podcast, one of the hosts described the main theme of Job as being, “the best man being tested and punished by God because He was bored.” I will cover what I believe the main function of the book to be later, however, I will say here that I believe this statement to be dead wrong.
So, they got a few minor points wrong. However, in their discussion, they got a number of important ideas right.
- God never answers Job’s questions. Throughout the bulk of the book, Job continues to ask why God would allow such tragedy to befall him. And even though God responds, He never gives Job the “Why.” Instead, He seems to ridicule and mock him for asking.
- The end does not absolve God for the loss of Job’s first family. The end of the story ties everything up nicely with a bow with Job’s fortune being restored and four generations of children being born. I am sorry, but having 2 new children does not make up for the senseless loss of one.
- The Evolution of Blasphemy. The hosts discuss the attitudes with which people have come to question God over time. They made some good connections with the fact that Job was a shift in Wisdom writings from a Deuteronomic theology to a more realistic and questioning way of reasoning through life’s ups and downs. In other words, where many Wisdom books, such as Proverbs, assumes the ideal that faithful people receive only good gifts, Job turns to the questions of reality when terrible things happen to those good people. Does God always give us what we deserve? Does suffering mean God is angry with us (Stanley, p. 510.) The Book of Job makes it ok for us to ask those questions.
What Did They Miss?
Both hosts made some good points about this story that is so hard for most of us to accept. I think everyone, especially Christians, want to believe that God rewards faithful followers. However, I believe the hosts missed a critical point regarding the function of the Job story. They focused much on how uncaring and malevolent God was toward Job. One seemed emotionally engaged with the idea that God wronged Job and how terrible a deity He was for it. It was as if the story’s primary concern was refuting the Conventional Wisdom writings that God is just, loving and equitable. Almost as if the main point was to show how petty and irresponsible God can be.
However, by looking closely we can see that the true function of Job is completely different. The central message of this ancient writing is that God is so big and beyond our comprehension that we can never truly understand his plans or his reasoning. We try to put Him in a box, so that we can explain why certain things happen. We try to relieve our own emotional discomfort by attaching blame to a victim or a specific, divine reason to a tragedy. (Doctorow.) But that is not how God nor the universe works. And just because we don’t understand why bad things situations befall us, it doesn’t mean that God is out to get us.
Stanley puts it best, “The message is clear: humans are incapable of understanding why things happen as they do, including why humans suffer.” (p. 511.). We are not God, my friends.