Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing Job

One thing we can count on in this life is trouble! Becoming a Christian, contrary to what some say, does not so much deliver us from problems as delivers us in them. We still get sick, lose jobs, worry about our children and struggle with loneliness. On a deeper level a personal encounter with God brings at the same time exquisite joy and a new set of questions. Sometimes, like Job, we are led through a dark valley without seeing the path out, why we are suffering, whether God has a redeeming purpose in it all and how we are to respond. Are we to just patiently take it all?

Mention the name Job and one immediately thinks of patience, partly because of one misunderstood New Testament reference to this Old Testament saint (James 5:11). Job did suffer, but not patiently. He rebelled.

Job's saintly friends tried to "explain" his problems by appealing to the logic of good orthodox theology. In the end, Job's almost irreverent appeal to God for an explanation led to his justification and approval by God. While Job's orthodox friends were rejected (Job 42:7), he persevered; that is the real point of the New Testament reference. Perhaps among other things, this surprising reversal can be explained by the fact that Job spoke to God about his suffering while Job's friends spoke about God to Job. But this is not the only mystery encompassed by this fascinating Old Testament book.

Job raises as many questions as it answers. Indeed, when God finally speaks to Job in the whirlwind (chapters 38—41), God himself asks questions! Traditionally theology has wrestled with how a good and all-powerful God could at the same time allow or even cause (as Job claims) suffering and evil in the world. But the usual abstract arguments, spoken smoothly by Job's three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar—are not only rejected by God and his beloved Job, they are not even the point of the book.

This is not a book of rational, systematic theology. This is the story of one human being—one very human and very righteous being—who loses his possessions, his family and his health. But it is a story that takes place within the household of faith. And it is faith that rebels and a God who loves the rebel that is the surprise of the story.

Job—and we—have problems with innocent suffering precisely because we have faith in God, whose goodness is known in the land of the living. There is no answer either in jettisoning belief in the goodness of God or in rejecting the hope that in this life there should be both satisfaction and justice. In the end, and only in the end, Job finds peace with God through his sufferings and not in spite of them. Ultimately, Job's passion points to the death, resurrection and vindication of Jesus as God's final answer to the problem of the innocent suffering.

The gospel-bearing quality of Job is all the more remarkable because the book may be very ancient. There is no mention of temple, monarchy or prophets. We do not know who wrote the book, when or where the author lived, though there is no adequate reason to deny the unity of the book. For date, authorship and textual questions read Francis I. Andersen, Job, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1976), pages 15-76.

The book contains an astonishing mixture of riddles, hymns, curses, proverbs and nature poems. The introduction (1:1—2:13) and conclusion (42:7-17) are in prose, while the speeches of Job, the three friends, the young man Elihu and God himself (3:1—42:6) are in poetry. No wonder the Jewish rabbis were unsure where to place Job in Scripture. Though they eventually chose the Writings section, this book fits just as well alongside the great exodus, David and Ruth.

Like all biblical stories, this one catches us in its plot and invites us in its mysterious and ironic way to find God not in talking about God, but in talking to him at the point of our deepest questions about the meaning of life and of God himself, not in leisure-time spirituality, but in the middle of life where it is hardest. According to The New Bible Commentary, "The book takes its place in the testimony of the ages that there is a blank in the human heart which Jesus alone can fill."

Individual Studies

  • Job 1:1-2:10 : Dueling with the Devil
  • Job 2:11-4:17: God in the Dark
  • Job 6: God-Talk
  • Job 9-10: If God Were Only Human!
  • Job 13-14: The Faith That Rebels
  • Job 16-17: Our Heavenly Guarantor
  • Job 20-21: The Problem of Pain
  • Job 23: The Silence of God
  • Job 35: Songs in the Night
  • Job 38: God in the Storm
  • Job 40: The Joy of Repentance
  • Job 42: Is Faith Always Worthwhile?