Book of Job
God is, as always, a rather hard guy to pin down. To make things a little easier, we'll take a look at him in two sections: God in the frame story and God in the poetry. For more thoughts on the two sections, check out the "Genre" section.
God in the Frame Prose Narrative
Did you notice that the God we see in the frame tale is pretty much the opposite of everything else we're told throughout the rest of the story? God is supposed to be just, merciful, and forgiving, right? Sure he can be a bit harsh sometimes, but what he does in the first two chapters is just plain nuts.
The Divine Boys' Club
At the beginning of the story, God is just sitting in the divine assembly dealing with creatures like Satan. No big deal, right? Wrong. We rarely get images like this in the Hebrew Bible. Many characters—think Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Noah—have a direct line to God and talk to him about their lives, but we almost never see the inner workings of heaven.
And what do we get up in God's realm? A total boys' club. It's basically a bunch of boys sitting around the campfire bragging to each other. God uses Job as ammunition for how awesome his people are: "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth" (1:8). Satan doesn't buy it, though. He counters that Job is only chill because he's in such good shape.
When God says "prove it" (not really), Satan destroys Job's property, possessions, and family: "all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" (1:12). That's right, God gives Satan permission to mess with Job.
All About The Greeks
This isn't a mature God, that's for sure. Nope, it's an all-powerful deity who plays with humans. In fact, it looks a lot more like Zeus than the God of Exodus.
Wait a second. Zeus sleeps with human women and interacts with and among humans in a way that God in the Hebrew Bible just doesn't. But we can't help but make the comparison. After all, at the end of the frame story (Chapter 42), God restores Job to his former glory. This is exactly the kind of thing a Greek god would do after messing up your life to win a bet, don't you think?
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Talk about undermining God's power. He's acting human for crying out loud. And as we know, that's a behavioral mode that is (a) understandable and (b) condemnable. But the God of the frame story is just that: an enlarged human with supernatural powers—he brags, he bets, and he fixes the havoc he wrought.
The God of the poetry section doesn't do any of that. In fact, the writers of poetry Job really lay it on thick. Job, his three friends, Elihu, and even God himself spend all of their time talking about how powerful God is and how he follows a different set of rules. He's divine, plain and simple.
Who cares? Um, we do. After all, we get both of those story lines (God is no better than a human, God is untouchable) in the same narrative. Most likely, they were written by two different groups of people in two different times. Ideas about what God is like change over time, and the literature changes right along with it. So when writers try to combine stories with different ideas, it shows.
God in the Poetry Narrative
Now let's get poetic. The God of the poetry section may not be a Vegas-going bro, but he's still kind of tough to love. If you're righteous, you're promised a good and happy life, but the whole point of the Book of Job is that that doesn't always happen.
I'll Be Watching You
"I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me." (30:20)
Is it just us, or does this sound like a really tragic conversation between two people in a not-so-healthy relationship?
Sure, Job and God might have a strange relationship, but the thing to note here is that God is everywhere, all the time. He has enormous power over men's bodies (16:12-17, 26:4-12) and the natural world (37:18, 38-39), and he always has his eyes on us mortals (34:21-24). Job even calls God his best "witness" in asserting that Job has been righteous (16:19).
This isn't Big Brother (right?), but it does give God a majorly upper hand. Not that it stops Job from complaining.
The best part of all this? God totally knows how powerful he is. Think about his speech to Job, where he promotes the fact that he can see whole life spectrum of humans all at once: "Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open; they go forth, and do not return to them" (39:4). That's a lot of film to watch—every human, every moment, all the time. And we had trouble getting through all of Lost in one week. (Don't worry, we made it.)
Just to make his point, God challenges Job with some sarcastic rhetorical questions. How's this one for poetic?: "Who laid [the earth's] cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?" (38:4-7). Answer: God.
What's the point of these questions? To make humans shut their traps. When it comes down to it, any human listening—or in our case, reading—has to admit powerlessness in the face of all these questions. The depth of God's control in the text—over physics, time, and emotion—is so vast that humanity could not possibly hope to understand it.
God's point to Job is that yes, you feel pain, you experience the laws of physics, you live in nature. But you cannot comprehend the whole. That's what God is for.
Prose God vs. Poetry God: The Showdown
Now we know that the God of the frame story and the God of the poetic narrative are pretty different figures. The frame reads like a romp in the fields with God and friends: "One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came along with them" (1:6). No big deal. The poetic narrative, on the other hand, is philosophical, pensive, and likes to stick its nose into deep topics like depression and misery.
But why? Shmoop has two possible answers for you:
(1) The frame story was designed to help the audience understand just how intense God's power can be. It's kind of like a watch-out-suckers to all of us mortals reading. Having God and Satan play with Job like a pawn makes us feel as powerless as can be. Open and shut case.
(2) What if the frame story and poetic narrative were written at different times with different agendas?
Imagine you're a wise dude living in the aftermath of the exile, trying to puzzle how Israel (God's chosen people, we were told) could've been so thoroughly conquered by a foreign empire. The standard party line is that Israel didn't live up to their covenantal responsibility...but what if they did? The author doesn't think the Israelites are all that bad—there are some whiners, but they're overall good peeps. So, why did this bad thing happen to good people?
You remember a much older folk tale, about a guy who loses everything, apparently for no reason, which really strikes a chord. So you start writing an epic poem to try to tease out the implications of this story and sketch a version of God that jibes with your experience and your faith. And you keep your inspiration, using it as the frame story for your work on the whole.
Sound familiar? That's because it's what George Lucas did with the original Star Wars movies when CGI got big. Only difference? George Lucas kind of screwed the pooch.
Scholars tend to consider option #2 the more likely candidate. Why? Because the Hebrew text uses different names for God in the different sections. Not the most cut and dry defense, but it's something.