by John Thomas Lowe
Job was faithful to God, even when he lost absolutely everything that had been important to him.
This legend concerns Job, a prosperous man of outstanding piety. Satan acts as an agent provocateur to test whether or not Job's piety is rooted merely in his prosperity. However, Job still refuses to curse God when faced with the appalling loss of his possessions, children, and health.
Why is the story of Job important, and why did God put it in the Bible in the first place? I think there are three answers to these questions.
There is an important reason that the Book of Job is in the Bible:
1. because the virtual community of faith, in this case, the Hebrew community of faith, acknowledges that innocent suffering exists. Job represents innocent suffering.
2. This legend concerns the man called Job, a prosperous man of outstanding piety. However, Job still refuses to curse God when faced with the appalling loss of his possessions, children, and health. Satan acts as an agent provocateur1to test whether or not Job's piety is rooted merely in his prosperity.
3. It is vital to Jews that they make good choices in their lives and try to relieve suffering. Jews may turn to the Book of Job in times of suffering, where God allows Satan to test Job. Satan suggests that Job would not worship God if God did not protect him.
4. Many of us think that the Book of Job is meant to teach us patience. However, if we read the Book of Job, we do not read much about patience. The Book of Job is forty-two chapters long, with a small introductory section of two chapters and an even smaller conclusion that is only one chapter. The vast bulk of the book, thirty-nine chapters, is poetic, and I consider that poem the actual Book of Job. It is a long poem, in verse, with striking and overwhelming images. And all of those images, all those lines, are about lament and Even if we have not read the Book of Job, we know that name. Job: the very name evokes suffering in us. The mere name seems to mean innocent and undeserved suffering.
5. Moreover, there is no example of patience. In Job 3:3, Job says, "Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man-child is conceived.'" And then, at Job 6:11, Job asks, "What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?" At Job 10:1, Job cries out, "I loathe my life," and therefore, "I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul."
1. His three friends, trying to offer advice and justification, end up making things much worse. They try to justify God, and they fail. Job knows that they fail, too. No words, no justification, no answer serves to satisfy Job, or the reader, for that matter.
2. Job, understandably, becomes quite impatient. He demands an audience with God: "Oh, that I knew where to find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments" (Job 23:3-4). In chapter 31, Job makes his case, listing all the sins he might have done to merit such suffering, but he is innocent of them.
3. The Book of Job is not much about patience at all. It is about endurance. In the New Testament, when the Book of James talks about suffering, James 5:11 cites the "endurance" of Job – not his patience.
4. There is no way I can adequately describe Job's pain and suffering, just as there is probably no way for us to describe innocent suffering, whether that suffering is being experienced by our friends or by us. Words rarely explain suffering. Just ask Job's friends.
5. Job suffers. Can there be anything worse than pouring out our pain to God and getting no answer? Can there be anything worse than lamenting to God and hearing nothing in reply?
6. Yes, there is something worse! Job suffers. Job does pour out his lamentation to God, and—here is the worse thing—God does reply, but he replies in sarcasm and almost anger!
7. What? Yes, Job suffers, and then God, God himself, as if to add to Job's suffering, rails back at Job. Here is Job 38:
8. Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?
Tell me if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:1-5)
9. Wow. "Who are you to complain back to me?" God asks. "Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge?" The voice of God is dominating and powerful, and seemingly insensitive. Why is this even in the Bible?
10. I believe all this is in the Bible because this is precisely what suffering is! Suffering would not be suffering if it had an easy solution. Job is a beautiful poem, a beautiful piece of literature because it gets suffering right. The Book of Job probes the physical and psychological depths and even the spiritual depths. Job is so innocent that even God rails against him. His friends abandon Job, and God even chastises him for no reason. Wow.
11. There is a fundamental reason that the Book of Job is in the Bible: because the authentic community of faith, in this case, the Hebrew community of faith, acknowledges that innocent suffering does exist. Job represents innocent suffering. That suffering is authentic because it is not covered up, solved, answered, or tidied up at the end. (Remember: the prose conclusion is not part of the poem! Poetry says that God does not guarantee happy endings; prose says God does.) Authentic, healthy communities of faith acknowledge pain and suffering.
12. Could there ever be someone who suffers as much as Job? Well, some of us have. We Christians present Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, as the answer to Job. We might even say that Jesus of Nazareth is the New Testament version of Job. Both suffer innocently. Both cry out, moaning and lamenting to God.
13. Remember how Jesus cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus was quoting another piece of poetry there, the twenty-second Psalm (Psalm 22:1).
14. Moreover, that lament of Jesus, to God, my God, is precisely the comparison point with Job. Job and Jesus demonstrate a critical element of suffering, spiritual suffering: They stay in a relationship with God.
15. Stay in a relationship with God. I do not want to offer that line as superficial advice because it would seem shallow in the face of real suffering. However, I want to note the similarity between Job and Jesus in this regard. They both suffer spiritually by staying in a relationship with God, even when God is absent and even when God seems angry.
16. Furthermore, even when they are angry, they stay connected. Maybe that is my advice: Please be angry with God! Please moan and yell out to God! Your anger is evidence that you are in a relationship.
17. I believe that is why the Book of Job is in the Bible. It is not God speaking to us, giving us advice and counsel about the problem of innocent suffering. The Book of Job is in the Bible because it witnesses authentic community speaking to itself, authentic community speaking to ourselves.
18. Authentic communities acknowledge the pain and innocent suffering. They do not try to avoid it or explain it away. They bear witness to suffering.
19. So, authentic communities read from the Book of Job. Make sure you belong to a religion, an authentic community, and read the poetry of the Book of Job. Make sure you belong to an authentic community that keeps sacred literature like the Book of Job. Make sure the Book of Job is in your Bible. Make sure you bear witness to suffering.
20. Stay in a relationship with God. I do not want to offer that line as facile (simplistic) advice because it would seem shallow in the face of real suffering. But I want to note the similarity between Job and Jesus in this regard. They both suffer spiritually by staying in a relationship with God, even when God is absent and even when God seems angry.
21. Moreover, even when they are angry, they stay connected. Maybe that is my advice: Please be angry with God! Please moan and yell out to God! Your anger is evidence that you are in a relationship.
22. Authentic communities acknowledge the pain and innocent suffering. They do not try to avoid it or explain it away. They bear witness to suffering.