BiND: Day 36 (part 2)-39 (part 1)
Ah, the story of Job. It just doesn’t get any more fun than this, does it? God and the adversary (ha-satan—literally The Adversary or The Accuser. Not a proper name, but a noun indicating function/title!) set up a little bet about God’s faithful servant Job. God thinks that Job is faithful because he just is and because Job gets God. The accuser/adversary thinks Job is faithful only because of the material rewards, and if those benefits are removed then Job will wither and be like everyone else. In lots of ways, God has faith in Job as much as Job has faith in God. Then all kinds of horrible things happen to Job—as Richard says, “Job had it all, and in a single day he lost it all.” But Job perseveres in faithfulness, though he does question and rail and vent his anger and beg God to look at someone else for a while, or just kill him already. Then God comes along and says “can you make the sunrise? Were you here when I made mountains and oceans? have you see the sea monster? Can anyone else control him except I, who made him? What about ostriches—aren’t they great?” Umm, yeah. That’s an answer. At least, to Job it is. Job is humbled and he returns to exalting and glorifying God, no longer presuming that he (a mere mortal) should have any answers at all. And then his stuff and family is returned tenfold.
Well, if ever there was a story that raised questions about God, about humans, and about how we relate together, this is it. Not to mention the traditional theodicy (problem of evil) issue: why do bad things happen to good people? If God is loving and powerful, how come bad stuff happens?
We should note that the poetry in the big middle section (chapters 3-42) is the older portion of Job, and none of the disturbing stuff about God and the adversary making a bet is in that. The prose at the beginning and end were added later as an attempt to make sense of life’s suffering. Since Job’s friends clearly can’t be right—Job doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him (and, by extension, none of us deserve the things that happen to us, at least not things like the ones described in Job); and since Job clearly can’t be right—God can’t just let things like that happen to people (it doesn’t work with the covenant theology we’ve been talking so much about lately!), then there must be another answer. And the answer the ancient people came up with is hugely unsatisfying and causes us loads of new problems.
As we discussed in class tonight, though, ultimately Job’s friends and Job do get it wrong. And also a little right. God doesn’t punish us by striking down our families or our bodies or our psyches, as Job’s friends suggest. And if we just examine ourselves more closely and repent more and pray more and act more faithfully, the suffering won’t magically end because God is somehow satisfied. But also, as Paul says, “there is no one who is righteous, not even one.” Human beings are all broken, all sinful. Yes, we are also all made in the image of God, which is what Job clings to and continues to claim over and over again, but ultimately, compared to God, well…we don’t really compare. So when God finally speaks out of the whirlwind and gives us all a whirlwind tour of God’s amazing creation and amazing deeds, well, all we can do is be in awe, all we can do is be humble. There is a bigger picture than just us. We are part of the picture, yes, but not the whole picture. And, most importantly, we are not God. So while we don’t understand, and while we rail at God for injustice, we also have to recognize that God is God and we aren’t. Yes, rail against injustice, and also yes, recognize that whether we want to be or not, we’re part of it. And recognize that, as the Westminster Catechism says in question 1: “What is the chief end of humankind?” “Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
There’s lots to think about about Job—join in in the comments!
orthodox icon of Job, “the much suffering.”