Book of Job
Book of Job Current Hot-Button Issues And Cultural Debates In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
At some point, every faith has to answer the question of why the righteous suffer. Why do good people die young? Why do generous people lose everything? Why do loving people encounter hate and loss? These are the Big Questions that Job is seeking to answer.
Religious or not, you know what this is all about. If you're part of a community that has certain rules, and these rules get you stuff—a pass into Heaven, free beer on Wednesdays, whatever—what happens when you follow the rules but still don't get anything? No one likes that.
Of course, in any faith that believes in a deity, you've got to incorporate the suffering of the righteous into your understanding of your God. When it comes to monotheistic faiths like Judaism and Christianity, attempts to solve this quandary of bad things/good people are called theodicies.
There are three things that people believe about God that seem to be irreconcilable with the Problem of Evil (it's capitalized because it's the official way people talk about this bad things/good people problem):
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent). The problem: if he's all powerful, why doesn't he just stop bad things from happening?
- God is all-knowing (omniscient). The problem: if he knows everything, then he knows when bad things go down and can't exactly plead ignorance.
- God is all-good (benevolent). The problem: if he's such a good guy, then why would he let evil exist in his world at all?
Most theodicies operate by collapsing one of these three table-legs. So, there are a few stories in the Hebrew Bible where God doesn't hear or notice people's suffering (at first): this means that he's not totally omniscient, and he's officially off the hook for evil.
The Book of Job, in a nutshell, hotly objects that the concept of "benevolence" is even included in the discussion. It announces that the human idea of the "good"is woefully inadequate to understanding any of God's workings or plans. And we learn this because God screams as much at poor Job.
God, from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41, emphasizes his omnipotence and omniscience, while furiously rejecting the moral or ethical evaluation of his actions. The paraphrase: "Do you, oh puny mortal, know how the world works? Then where on earth (literally) do you get the nerve to judge my actions on some scale of good and evil?"
The Book of Job is the most famous theodicy in the Bible, bar none. And it works by contesting the premise of the question (like any good politician): why do bad things happen to good people?
Answer: Who are you to call anything bad and good?
Are You There God? It's Us, Shmoop
Everyone has had the same questions as Job, and this story is able to depict a time when those questions were answered divinely. That's right—God would come right down and answer them.
But wait! Before you get too excited, remember that the moral of the story is that God is totally ungettable, ununderstandable, unknowable…you get the point. So the book of Job gives us a glimpse of what it would be like to be close to God (pretty impressive, that's for sure), and then just takes it all away.
Location, Location, Location
In the Protestant version of the Hebrew Bible, Job pops up right after Esther, a historical story of renewal and politics, and right before Psalms, a collection of poetry praising God's power. In fact, God's name is never mentioned in Esther and then Psalms is all God, all the time. Job is kind of the go-between between man and divine. Makes sense, right?
If you're reading the Bible cover to cover (which we know you are), then the Book of Job gives God some qualifications and street cred. Job essentially asks God to prove himself, and boy does he. But for anyone who's still questioning why we should sing the praises of a guy who punishes the righteous, Psalms comes in with the answer.