job: what’s the point?

Throughout this study of Job I’ve asked myself a few times, “Why did I choose this book?”  There’s so much to it (not even considering its 42 chapters) and not really any answers at the end except that God is divine.  So this will not be much of an exposé as much as a word vomit of my thoughts throughout the study.  I will list all the resources at the end and thank my “cream puff” friends for joining me in this adventure.

It is not really known when Job was written or who the author is.  A lot of what I read placed Job’s life in the time of the patriarchs, roughly 1950-1500 BC.   He sacrificed for his family, rather than having a priest do it; the structure of the family fit the time of the patriarchs; the type of money mentioned was used in that time period.  There is speculation that Job, Solomon, or even Moses wrote the book.  Whoever it was had complex knowledge of embryos, gems, agriculture, and mining.

Before starting this study, I wondered if Job even existed or if his story was more like an allegory, or a platform from which to discuss suffering of the righteous.  I am more or less convinced that he did exist, though his story might be an amalgamation and likely refined over the years.  Ultimately, the story being told is important, whether or not Job actually existed.  Questions of suffering and sin come up a lot in discussions of faith and those of us who have grown up in a religious home very likely have grappled with them.  Even though there aren’t clear answers, or really any, I think it’s important that the Bible does not shy away from discussing those questions.  I do want clear cut answers, but pain is complicated and in a way, I’m also thankful that there aren’t any answers in Job.  My faith is a constant journey, one where I hope to always be seeking and learning, and I think if I had all the answers, I wouldn’t experience the myriad of emotions that go along with pain that help me process and move through it.  (Since I’m not currently suffering, it is extremely easy for me to say this.  However, I have had moments of suffering and I think going through it has made me stronger.  So cliché, I know.  Also, I think we have “moments” of suffering, and while some moments might last longer than others, they are just moments, which are temporary.)

While reading some of what Job’s friends had to say, I would find myself nodding and agreeing (notice the emphasis on “some”).  But I realized a few nuggets of truth doesn’t make everything they said true.  Someone who is unintelligent can still say wise things; it does not make them wise.  And that was part of the struggle for me.  Their logic seemed to make sense: bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people.  Therefore, Job must be a bad person because bad things are happening to him.  And on the one hand, thank God this is not true.  But on the other, it makes life so unfair.  And your perspective on this all depends on whether you’re thanking God for your good life, or cursing Him for the unfairness.

And that’s just it, life is not fair and perfectly balanced, as much as we want or hope for it to be.  Those “evil” people who are living a life of sin might be getting it really good right now and those on the outside are just waiting for their comeuppance, which might never come in their lifetime, or at least might not be totally obvious.  I know I’m always striving for balance in my life, not to be too focused on one thing while ignoring other aspects of my life.  And I want for my whole environment to be fair and balanced, where good = good and bad = bad.  There.  Now everything’s clean and tidy.  And Job flips all that on its head.  It says more than once that he is righteous and blameless before God so that when his friends are saying, “You must have done something to bring this on,” the readers know without a doubt that they are wrong.  It’s because of his righteousness that all this is happening to him.  Satan wants to prove that Job is righteous only because of his blessings and God knows the one is not contingent on the other.  God knows that Satan will be proven wrong and allows Satan to wreak havoc.

And then I want to tear my hair out.  Because this doesn’t. Make. Any. Sense.  And I so want it to.  I want to put it inside this tidy box and be able to just tell people, “God will bless you if you live a ‘good’ life and follow Him always.  You should become a Christ follower because look at how rich your life will be.  Just look at Job.”  But really, it will be rich, just not in the way my narrow mind works.  I have had such a rich life, full of many great and beautiful things.  And there has and will be some ugliness, but that variety is precisely what makes my life wonderful.  Some scholars think the ending of Job was tacked on to make for a clean, tidy close.  Like, “Look, God allowed Satan to destroy his life but then God blessed him twice as much because he remained righteous at his lowest point.”  And I’m not sure how I feel about this ending.  I feel like it is too clean, like a fairytale ending.  If it’s true, then great, but I really hope that it wasn’t added on to make the reader feel better.  Because I think the beauty of Job is in the ashes and suffering and adding on a false ending just tarnishes that.

In Christopher Ash’s book, “Job: The Wisdom of the Cross,” Ash talks about how Job is a foreshadowing to Jesus; Job and Jesus are righteous and still they suffer.  Ash also talks about Satan’s role in God’s plan, that “Satan has a ministry; it is the ministry of opposition, the ministry of insisting that the genuineness of the believer be tested and proved genuine.  It is a hostile and malicious ministry, but a necessary ministry for the glory of God” (p. 45).  When Job laments God’s silence in his suffering, Elihu reminds Job that God is speaking to him in his suffering.  The readers know that it was because of Satan and God’s discussion that his situation is what it is but of course Job does not have this insight.  I still have to sort out what this means for me, this speaking in suffering.  I know that God is ever-present, even when I feel He’s far away, but now I might start wondering if all suffering comes from a discussion between God and Satan where my faith is being tested.  I’m being somewhat facetious, but I’m also being totally serious.  And I hope that no matter what, my attitude toward suffering won’t change; I want to dig deeper in my faith and see it as a learning opportunity and a chance to grow.

It has been interesting to see the variety of opinions on the subject of Job.  I’ve always seen it as the suffering of the righteous but in this study I’ve also seen true worship, humility, foreshadowing of Jesus, God’s divinity, worship of God, and just God in general.  Before I started this study I saw Job as an “easy” book.  Not easy in the subject matter, but easy in that it seemed pretty flat, one-dimensional, and something I thought I would grasp easily and move on from.  As I researched and discussed with my “cream puff” friends, we discovered a depth to Job we hadn’t realized.  And that’s one of many things I think is so beautiful about the Bible, it has a lot of depth.  As someone who grew up in the church, it’s really easy for me to hear or read the words, but not really hear or read the words, you know?  That’s why I wanted to do this study, so I can experience this depth for myself.  I feel like reading the Bible had become so rote for me that any passion I might have once had for it had long since faded.  And already I’m seeing the positive affect this study has had on me.  I’m excited to read the Bible and do my own studying.  I’m so thankful for the freedom that I have to do this and am even more thankful that I have a wonderful group of friends to share this journey with.  Our next book is 1 Corinthians and I’m ready to go.

***************

See, word vomit.

 

Resources:

The Voice: Biblical and Theological Resources for Growing Christians

The Bible.Org

Shmoop

My Jewish Learning

The Scroll Eaters

“Job: The Wisdom of the Cross” by Christopher Ash

“The Book of Job (New International Commentary on the Old Testament” by John E. Hartley

“Biblical Studies Press, LLC,” book of Job New English Translation

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