Job, God, & Everything In Between
Job—the man of the hour. What can we say? He's "blameless," "upright," "righteous," and seems to have pretty much everything a man could want. Sheep, you say? Yeah, he's got that.
Job's story is part of a larger motif in ancient literature about the righteous man who is punished by God. In a world where God is all-powerful, knows everything, and promises justice, the faithful have to explain why bad things happen to good people. It's just good business.
We're still grappling with this question today, and we're probably nowhere closer to an answer. But it's nice to know that people have been asking that question since before it was weird to own sheep.
The Job in All of Us
Put yourself in Job's shoes. After all the pain—sores all over your body, your family dead, your property burned by skyfire—wouldn't you want some answers? Almost everyone can relate to Job's pain to some extent. Everyone has been sick, everyone has had a loved one pass away, and everyone has lost some of their control over life. And let's be honest: everyone has asked "why me?"
Job curses the day he was born (Chapter 3), notes that he hasn't asked God for anything too big (6:22-30), and reminds us that "humans have a hard service on the earth" (7:1-5). Now he wants to know why, after a lifetime of believing in a benevolent, omnipotent God, things went south for him.
The Proof is in the Pudding
He's definitely asking himself that, and to be honest, so are we. Well, as it goes in literature, it had to happen to someone, right? Otherwise we'd never get the message. And boy do we get it—loud and clear.
It's tough for people to be loyal to God when what they see in everyday life seems pretty nasty. Enter Job. This poor guy gets the short end of the stick, but he allows the biblical writers to express God's might and power to a skeptical populace. Little did they know the skepticism would continue for millennia.
So we've kind of answered the question "why Job?" After all, if it can happen to the best guy ever—heck, he gets an endorsement from God (1:8)—it must just be the way of the world. The writers are telling us that, despite all the seeming unfairness, God is still worthy of worship, he's still master of the universe, and his laws are still just and well worth following.
Thinking It vs. Saying It
When Job first gets hit by Satan's nasty shenanigans, he refuses to blame God for what happened. Pretty impressive, considering how quick we are to blame God for something today—even if we don't believe in him. But no—patient Job's family was wiped out and he doesn't make a peep: "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing" (1:22).
That's what we call self-control.
But not for long. When Job gets hit physically, the line changes to, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (2:10). Progression alert! The writers give us a sneaky example of how doubt can creep into the human mind; if he doesn't sin with his lips, then what is he thinking? Aha.
It seems like the more misery Job endures, the more he starts to think about his life.
All this thinking makes Job a little feisty. Those doubts continue to grow until he decides to demand a hearing with God. That's right—this is like the Supreme Court of the universe. And then some.
It's critical here to remember that Job does not suddenly become an atheist once things go bad. "But wait," you say, "isn't the Book of Job about losing faith?" Well, a lot of people read it that way, but we think it's a bit more complicated.
Job questions his loyalty to God, yes. After all, his faith told him that God rewards the righteous and punishes evildoers, nonbelievers, and sinners. Job is pretty sure he's none of those latter things, so now he wants some answers. And because God is the architect and master of this faith, Job demands a hearing with the Big Guy.
How about that? If you had a problem with your boss, you'd probably go to someone else to complain. But Job goes straight to the source. You see, throughout the story, Job remains within the paradigm of a God-fearing man. He never says, "God is a myth," or "I don't believe in God's power." He just thinks that the terms of the covenant have been violated to some extent, and he wants an explanation.
Every good protagonist needs a purposeful posse, right? Well Job's friends are kind of a pain in the tuchus, but they definitely have a purpose.
It all starts out okay, but Job's so-called friends very quickly start digging into him. In fact, much of the book is devoted to these guys' assertions that Job must have done something wrong. Not the most supportive bunch.
As much as we'd like to make the reference, this isn't Mean Girls-style social drama. (See how we made the reference anyway? Yeah, we're sneaky.) Instead, Job's relationship with these guys functions more as a philosophical dialogue. It allows us to see all sides of the issue—Job is innocent/Job is guilty—and think about it ourselves, too.
He Told You So
It's pretty clear that Job is a good guy. Even God thinks so:
Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (1.8)
But just because he's good, it doesn't mean he's right. Job doesn't think it's fair that God is using his power to punish him, a totally stand-up guy. He declares that, "If I have walked with falsehood […] let me be weighed in a just balance" (31:5-6), but he didn't mess up. So no balance-weighing for him, thankyouverymuch.
Not so fast. Eventually, Job gets put in his place by God and realizes that God is right—surprise surprise. Job doesn't know everything. God does.
We have one last question. In the end, everything goes back to rainbows for Job (ignoring the fact that he's lost his family in the meantime…). No complaining, no lamenting, no faith-questioning. But wait. Of course he's not questioning his faith anymore—things are looking great for him again.
And that's our question. Nobody questions their faith when things are hunky-dory. How does that change the way you read Job's character?