Connections 10.07.2018: The Problem of Job

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

What do we do with Job? For centuries, biblical scholars, critics, interpreters, and also the average person—not so different from you and me—have tried to answer that question. Job is fairly unique in the Bible.

We have Old Testament Scriptures that attribute war, famine, plagues, and all kinds of death and destruction to God. Most of them suggest that God did these things because people needed to be punished. We have New Testament Scriptures that attribute suffering to a fallen world that Jesus Christ came to redeem. These Scriptures also promise us a day of no more tears, when death itself will die.

And then we have Job. In this book, God doesn’t directly cause suffering. Satan does. The kicker is that Satan causes suffering with God’s permission and, indeed, with God’s blessing. In a repeat from chapter 1, where God first recommends his faithful servant Job to Satan (see vv. 8, 12), we read God’s similar words to Satan in 2:3, 6: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. …Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

What? The Almighty Lord God, creator and ruler of heaven and earth, author of all that was and all that is and all that will be, the Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Lion of Judah, makes a deal with Satan, prince of darkness, fallen angel, rebel against God, cheater, liar, sneak, death bringer?

What do we do with Job? In all my years working as an editor of commentary on the Bible, I’ve only read one answer for Job that makes any sense to me. Several writers have come to this conclusion, but I’ll quote Mark McEntire as an example:

[Block]The ultimate concern of the book of Job is how we talk about God in the midst of suffering. The “friends” blame the victim, while Job, the victim, demands and receives a divine encounter. The quest for this encounter does not resolve the problem of suffering, but it keeps Job’s life pointed in the right direction.[/Block]

Here’s what I do with Job: I read it as one writer’s desperate attempt to find meaning in the terrible suffering that has been evident in the world since some of the earliest days after creation. Sometimes it seems like the only way to explain what people must endure—from war to poverty to illness to abuse to oppression to any number of other difficulties—is to claim God’s presence within it in spite of all evidence to the contrary. So when we look at everything poor Job goes through—which covers much of the list I just offered—the only way it makes any sense is that God must be there with him.

Now, whether God gives Satan permission to wreak havoc on human lives is beyond me to prove, but I do agree with McEntire and many others that our best reaction to suffering is to go straight to God, even if it’s to demand an encounter. That’s what Job does time and time again, no matter what happens in his life.

May we do the same. May we be able to watch children battle cancer, see news reports of starvation in undeveloped countries, hear about people enduring abuse, and even walk through our own trials and still be willing to demand an encounter with God. I am certain that, like Job, we will receive it.

Source: Mark McEntire, Raising Cain, Fleeing Egypt, and Fighting Philistines: The Old Testament in Popular Music (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2013).

Discussion

1. How do you feel when you think about or personally experience suffering?
2. How do you think suffering relates to God?
3. What does the Bible tell us about God’s involvement in people’s suffering? Which Scriptures are most affirming to you in times of difficulty? What explanation for suffering does the story of Job offer to us, and is that good enough for you?
4. How do you feel about Mark McEntire’s insistence that “how we talk about God in the midst of suffering” is what matters the most? How have you talked about God in the midst of suffering, whether it directly involves you or is happening to someone else?
5. What does it mean to demand an encounter with God, and how might it feel when you receive that encounter? What examples do you or people you know have of such an encounter with God?

Reference Shelf

At the outset, a number of verbal and thematic parallels between the prologue and Genesis 1-2 suggest that life in the land of Uz will conform to what we would expect based on the primeval account. Job’s world is idyllic, a seemingly perfect recapitulation of primordial Eden. Like Adam, Job is a unique human being. He is “blameless” and “upright,” one who “fears God” and “turns away from evil. ” By God’s own assessment, “there is no one like him on the earth” (1:8; 2:3). His exemplary status is confirmed by his full family and his contingent of servants and possessions (1:2-3). Like Adam, Job has received and realized the creational commission to “be fruitful and multiply” and to have “dominion” over that which has been entrusted to him (cf. Gen 1:22, 28). In Job’s world, everything seems to be in place for building a life that is in complete harmony with God’s cosmic design.

Job’s paradise, however, is unexpectedly shattered, and his story of what it means to live in accordance with God’s design for life takes a radical turn. The loss of his wealth and his possessions, the inexplicable death of his children, and the affliction of horrible physical suffering suggest that the forces of the cosmos have been unleashed against this servant of God. Still more unsettling is the report that unlike Adam, whose transgressions justified God’s punishment, Job’s world has been undone “for no reason,” other than that God has been “provoked” by the satan (2:3). It is not Job’s sin that merits divine reprisal. It is rather Job’s righteousness that makes him the target for a divine gambit.

How will Job respond to this world of brokenness and loss, where the harmony of creation’s design yields to unexpected and unwarranted assault? The prologue strains to insist that Job blesses, not curses, God (1:21). Even so, it acknowledges that Job’s journey from prosperity to affliction winds its way finally past blessing to silence (2:13).

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 42.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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