The Challenges of Job
The book of Job is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of literature written. It is a composite book, having a number of authors and many editors. It is part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. This literature seeks to give a logical, wise answer to the problems of life. It seeks to make plain and logical what is considered to be revelation. It seeks to teach the individual how to live successfully in this world and it seeks to make rational sense out of a world that doesn’t seem to make sense.
One of the basic traditional questions this book seems to raise but does not answer according to traditionalists is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” Or we might say, “Why do innocent people suffer and evil people prosper and have good health?” These questions were raised long before the Hebrews. There are similar stories coming from Egypt, Babylon, and the ancient Sumerian cultures.
The answers to these questions are contained in the story but our traditional theology and world view has hindered our perception of the answer. The fact is there are several reasons why this seemingly senseless phenomenon takes place and this is what we will be exploring in our interpretation of the book of Job.
But first let me briefly tell the story. There are forty-two chapters, much of which is dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. None of the friends are Jews and the author of the book of Job was probably not a Jew.
The story begins when Satan challenges God about Job. To make the story really impressive and to stress the point, Job is made out to be a most holy character. He is considered a very good man, blameless, upright, and one who fears God and avoids evil. He is also very rich and has a large family consisting of a wife, seven sons, and three daughters. Satan suggests to God that the only reason Job is good is because God has blessed him so well. Satan says, “But put forth thy hand now and touch all that he has and he will curse thee to thy face.” (Job 1:11)
God has faith in Job and agrees to put him to the test or at least let Satan put him to the test. God gives Satan the power but states that he cannot harm Job. One day Job was at a big party being given at his oldest son’s home when the bad news started coming in. First, it was reported to him that the Sabeans stole his oxen and donkeys and killed many of his servants who were caring for them. One of the servants who escaped brought the bad news that the fire of God fell from heaven and burned up his sheep and killed some more of his servants. Another one came along and said the Chaldeans took Job’s camels and killed more servants. You can see from this that Job was a very rich man. But this was not the end of the bad news. Job evidently left the party to go and survey the damage. While he was out a windstorm came up and destroyed his son’s home, killing all seven sons and three daughters.
Job was very distraught over his losses but he maintained his faith in God. His faith may have been a little shaky but he stood his ground and did not disappoint God; only Satan was disappointed. Job said in response to the tragedies, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20 &. 21) A more human response would have been, “God, why did you do this to me?” But in spite of all this tragedy Job maintained his faith in God. We are told that he did not sin or charge God with the wrong. But it seems that in the passage just quoted Job did charge God, saying that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Many people have this negative attitude even today. They believe that God gives them life when they are born as a child and that God takes their life when they die, usually of some horrible and painful condition.
Satan again challenges God about Job. He says that since Job was not hurt physically that it was easier for him not to lose his faith and curse God. So Satan suggests that if Job is physically afflicted he will turn against God. But God still has faith in Job. So he gives Satan permission to afflict Job. There is only one requirement and that is that Job is not to be killed. Satan can cause all the pain and suffering he can but he cannot take Job’s life. Satan is all aglee and begins to afflict Job with sores from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Job was one miserable character. He was in such pain and suffering that his wife suggested to him that he curse God and die. I assume she meant that he should commit suicide. But Job did not listen to or take his wife’s advice. Instead he said something to her that he thought was very positive but in truth is actually very negative. Job said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) This not only expresses Job’s attitude but it expresses the attitude of many people today and it is a false belief that causes much misery in the lives of many people.
It is important as you read and study the book of Job to take note of the many statements Job makes. What was his attitude toward what happened to him? Who or what does he think causes these things to happen to him? What is his attitude toward God? What is his attitude toward himself?
About this time Job’s three friends come along with the express purpose of comforting and helping Job. Instead they only antagonize him and make him very angry. The reasoning of his friends runs like this. Job, you know that God is just and good and that he rewards the good and punishes the evil. There must be something that you have done, Job, that has caused God to punish you. Why don’t you repent of your sins so that God may bless you? Job cries out in anguish. He disagrees with his friends because he thinks he has been living a very good life. He is in such pain that he even wishes that he were dead. In fact he wishes that he had never been born. Job cries, “Why is life given to the bitter soul who longs for death?” (Job 3:20-21) Job thought death would end his misery and suffering. It was believed by many at that time and probably Job believed this that death ended everything. There would be no more pain and suffering and there would be no rewards or punishment in another life for there would be no more lives.
Job expresses another negative attitude that we must take note of. He says, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” (Job 3:25) Some people think this way today. They believe that when things get too good, we should look out and be prepared to lose the good. Good cannot last. Good comes and goes the same as evil comes and goes. God is not enduring and will never last.
On top of all his other negative statements, Job proclaims his innocence to his friends. He feels he does not deserve all this suffering. Let me quote to you some of his other negative attitudes. He says, “I do not perceive him.” Here he is referring to God, admitting that he does not have a personal relationship with God. In fact if he believed as was common in those days, God was up in the heavens somewhere. He probably even believed that there were many gods and he may not have been quite sure which one of the gods was afflicting him. He also states, “Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him.” He believes himself to be totally innocent of any cause of suffering and he is at a loss to explain even to God what he could possibly have done to deserve all that has happened to him. He further states, “I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.” Job evidently had prayed for relief from his pain and suffering but he believed, like too many today, that God does not hear or if he hears he ignores the request for healing. To top off all this negation Job reaches the height of rebuke against God when he says, “He crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause.” That is quite a negative statement to make about God but he sincerely felt that he was innocent and good and that God was the culprit causing his problems. In effect Job is saying that God is unjust.
It is quite natural, I suppose, for the human ego to cry out in this type of despair, accusing God of causing the pain and suffering when the ego does not know why the suffering is brought upon him. Job says, “Though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.” That is quite a negative and very pessimistic attitude toward God. In effect he is saying that God would come up with some trumped up reason why Job deserved what he got even though in reality he is blameless. Job even goes so far to say that God knows that Job is not guilty.
In all the dialogue with his friends Job denies their accusations that he must be guilty of some secret sin. He is filled with self-pity, another negative quality that can cause suffering in the life of an individual. He says, “I am a laughingstock to my friends ... a just and blameless man, a laughingstock.” (Job 12:4) He goes on to lament that those who provoke God are secure, they are healthy, they are happy, and they enjoy great prosperity. Job, like many today, has not discovered the answer that would make sense out of his troubles, for to him they were senseless and unjust. Job might even have thought as many do today who do not have an understanding of truth, “What good does it do to try and live a good life?” To them it seems that the evil people have it good and they die. The good suffer in this life and they die. The same happens to both so what difference does it make whether one tries to live a good life or whether one follows the “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy?
Much of the dialogue on Job’s part is to justify himself and prove his innocence. His friends, however, keep suggesting that he is a sinner and that he should repent. But Job cannot buy that metaphysical argument. Job wants justice and he wants someone to plead his cause. Charles Jennes, the English librettist, took one of Job’s statements out of context and incorporated it in his composition of the Messiah which Handel put to such beautiful music. Jennes had a Christian theology that he was trying to prove by selecting certain Old Testament passages and weaving a story of salvation for the Christian. The passage reads, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” It is a beautiful passage and has much meaning for us today. But to Job the real meaning was not a Redeemer but a “vindicator”. Job felt he had a vindicator who could and would plead his case before the council of gods and prove to them that Job was a just and righteous man.
Well, what is the answer to the problem of the suffering of the innocent? I think there are several answers. But first we have to ask a question that Job failed to ask. Job was so busy proclaiming his innocence and the fact that he was a righteous man that he failed to ask the question, “What is righteousness?” “Who is innocent?” How can we answer the question, ‘.’Is God good?” What is the answer to the question, “If God is good, why does He permit evil?”
Righteousness is living in harmony with the just laws of life, the eternal and enduring principles that cannot be changed to suit our personal desire or beliefs. Contrary to what we may have thought or been taught in the past, this is a just universe. Nothing happens by chance and nothing happens by accident even though we use these terms to explain what we do not know.
Many people think that righteousness and innocence means living according to current moral, ethical, and religious traditions. They never stop to question whether they are true or false, they just accept what they have been taught in Sunday School, Church, and in other educational institutions. The great truth is this, “The righteous do not suffer.” One who lives in harmony with universal law as did Jesus will have total power, mastery, and dominion over his or her life and there will be no pain or suffering or any form of limitation. There will not even be any death.
It is also true that those who wantonly and openly and knowingly violate the laws of life do not escape the negative consequences of their actions. Death does not free them from the consequences, for they will reap what they have sown in some other life. Jesus expressed this great truth when He said, “A good tree brings forth good fruit and an evil tree brings forth evil fruit.” It has also been expressed as “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”
Job was wrong in thinking that death solved everything. He was also wrong in blaming or accusing God of being unjust for God is very just and so is life. Job also had a fear of losing what he had and thinking this way can lead to loss. Righteousness has to do with right thinking, thinking in harmony with truth. Job may have been outwardly good and innocent according to the customs and beliefs of his day. But in the light of truth we can see that he had many misconceptions about himself, God, and life and these misconceptions manifested as limitations for him. Therefore, Job was not totally righteous nor was he totally innocent in the light of truth.
Who was this Satan that was given permission by God to afflict? Certainly he was not a separate entity from God, an opposing power to God. You would think that Job would have blamed Satan instead of God. Satan is the negative influence of a false human consciousness. The beliefs we think are true and yet are false in the light of truth are Satanic beliefs and we and the world are filled with them. We even believe things to be religiously true that are actually false and these are Satanic beliefs.
Job was basically a self-righteous man. He could not accept the possibility that he might be at fault in any way. He was in fact very arrogant, angry, bitter, and mistaken in many of his beliefs.
One of the theories about the story of Job is that it is trying to show the fallacy of the Deuteronomic law of cause and effect, the law that states that God blesses those who are obedient to the law and punishes those who are disobedient. For here we have a man, Job, who is obeying the law and is still suffering. But this is a limited view about the book and it cannot be maintained in the light of truth.
We begin to get a clue to the answer to this puzzling problem in Chapter 38. God has patiently listened to Job. Incidentally, as you read the story, you soon realize that Job was not such a patient man after all. God finally begins to talk to Job. He lets Job know in no uncertain terms that Job does not know everything. And if he does not know everything, how can he be so sure of his innocence? It seems to be-a fact of life that we suffer more from what we do not know than from deliberate mistakes that we make. How can he be sure that he is not violating universal law?
We are told that God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. The whirlwind symbolizes the intuitive inspiration and revelation of truth that comes from God’s Spirit within us. This whirlwind will seek to help us resolve the conflict that we all experience between revelation and reason. This inspiration will help us to make sense out of the material world which seems to make no sense when viewed intellectually.
God begins to ask Job a few questions, questions that he never considered since he was so self-righteous in his thinking. It is one of the characteristics of a self-righteous person: he never asks questions because he thinks he knows it all already. So God asks Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) He is saying to Job, Job, you do not know everything. You are not as wise as you might think you are. In fact you are pretty ignorant about life. The questioning continues, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (38:4) You know very little about the earth, the animals, the seasons and all the other phenomena of nature. Chapters 38, 39, and 40 are vital to understanding Job. They reveal to Job his almost total ignorance about the facts of life.
One question that must have set Job back and shocked his self-righteous consciousness was when God asks him, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (40:8) Job was so self-righteous that he was willing to say that God was wrong. But Job finally gets the point. His self-righteous pride turns to humility. He repents, which means he lets go of his self-righteous arrogance. He admits that he is not as smart or bright as he thought he was. Maybe he is doing some things that are contributing to his own misery due to his ignorance. Job says to God, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” That is a beautiful realization for him. He is now ready for God to really teach and instruct him about the universal laws of life. Job says he has heard many things “about” God but as previously quoted he never really knew God. Now he says, “But now my eye sees thee.” (42:5) Now his mind is illumined. In this new inner illumination he will begin to harmonize his reason with the new revelations and inspiration that will come to him.
Satan symbolizes not only misinformation; he also symbolizes lack of knowledge of truth — ignorance. In ignorance or through lack of understanding about the laws of life we do many things that cause illness, lack, limitation, suffering, pain, and many other negative things to happen in our lives. If we would always listen to that still small voice of the Lord within us and be obedient to it we would be richly blessed.
What we do not know about life can lead the most innocent seeming person to violate universal law and this is what happened to Job. Or what we do not know can lead a person to follow the self-righteousness of the human ego even when it thinks it is being religious and holy. We should always remember that beautiful statement that Job made, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3) Here the ego is coming down off its high horse. It is beginning to admit its ignorance. It was ignorance of God, ignorance of the truth about himself, and ignorance about universal law that contributed to Job’s many problems.
Job was filled before with bitterness, resentment, hate, and many other negative thoughts and feelings. After he repents and humbles himself, he finds peace of mind. He finds that he can even pray for his friends. He is now ready to be teachable. As Jesus said when we are ready the spirit of truth will come and teach us all the truth.
The story has a beautiful conclusion. Job is blessed more abundantly than he has been before. His prosperity is restored. His wife has seven more sons and three more daughters. In addition to all these blessings he lives another 140 years.
Yes, obedience does bring blessings and God’s blessings are unlimited. The story maintains that God is just, life is just. What we need to do is to seek understanding. Elihu, another character who has a few things to say to Job toward the end of the book, makes a very profound statement. He says, “There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” When we gain that inner understanding there will be no more pain or suffering. We will be healed, we will be prospered. There will be an eternal life of joy, happiness, and spiritual self-mastery.
© 1985, Jim Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.