The Book of Job is a challenge. For the longest time I have had a habit of ignoring it because it just seemed wrong.
Recently, I tried it again and I found a way to read it. It’s very simple – do not read it as an actual story that happened, instead take it as a philosophical work. Essentially it is a book that wants to discuss a real-world issue: Why do very bad things sometimes happen to very good people. More specifically, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people.
The prologue to the story is very important because God boasts to Satan about how pious and good Job is. Satan challenges – “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He says that the relationship is transactional, that Job’s goodness is because God is protecting him and giving him a great life. Satan says Job will curse God if he is afflicted with enough suffering. God says he should try it and see. The dialogue is wrong ([on so many levels] to me[which is why I argue it’s not true]) but it does an excellent job of framing the story. The reader is very clear about one thing – Job is absolutely blameless before God.
Promptly, Job loses all his wealth and then his seven sons and three daughters were killed when a building collapsed. After that he was physically afflicted, his body was covered in painful boils and sores. He did not curse God.
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, Job’s friends, come into the picture to console Job and their dialogues are the core of the story. He laments to them and tells them that he wishes he had never been born. They all tell him the same thing, that he has sinned and God is punishing him so he needs to repent and seek God’s mercy. He replies that he is righteous before God and that what is happening to him is not Just. The dialogue goes back and forth. Their problem is that they cannot reconcile a Just God with what Job is telling them but he insists that he is blameless and has done nothing to deserve his travails.
For though I were righteous, I could not answer.
I must appeal for mercy to my Opponent and Judge.
“I hold fast my uprightness and my right standing with God and I will not let them go;
My heart does not reproach me for any of my days.
The essence of what Job is saying is that in court he would win against God.
Then God answers Job. With a barrage of questions and a mocking challenge. Job is understandably scared and very contrite. The gist of the response is that Job cannot challenge God or comprehend what he is doing. Job agrees at the speed of light. God does NOT give Job an explanation for what has happened to him.
God responds to Job’s friends and scolds them for what they have been telling Job.
The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.
This is of course the crux of the matter. That what Job has been saying all along, about God, was true. That bad experiences in life need not be seen as punishments for some evil done. That living as a good person does not guarantee good results. That bad people can thrive on this earth. The idea of the pre-suffering Job as the template of a godly man is fake, the kind, godly multi-millionaire who is well thought of by everybody is not an ideal to be sought after. The ideal is to be what Job was before and after – a person whose life is centred around God.
I’m not saying you should expect suffering in your life, but I am suggesting that when you see another person’s struggle
you should not rush to give some dishonest religious explanation.
Why did that bad thing happen to that good person? I don’t know.