It’s easy to follow God when things are good, but how do you handle life when it is difficult?
The book of Job is included among the wisdom books in old testament of the Bible. This had confused me in the past as it seemed to be recounting history. Now upon reflection, I realize that it was (I assume) understood to be a story used to teach.
The main question which the book of Job brings up is the so called “problem of pain”: why do bad things happen to good people (and good things happen to bad people)? Up until the intertestamental period (the time between the old and new testaments), the Israelites didn’t have a well developed concept of an afterlife. Specifically, they didn’t have a concept of a postmortem judgement resulting in reward or punishment (heaven or hell). A result of this is that in order for God to be just, he must punish the wicked and bless the righteous in their present life.
One of the things that struck me about Job is the fact the every person in the story seems to believe that everything which happens in the world is more or less the direct result of God’s doing. The result of this (combined with the aforementioned belief in God enacting justice in this life) led Job’s friends to a simple, logical conclusion: Job is suffering, therefore he obviously must have sins for which God is punishing him.
Job actually shares this worldview with his friends. But this led him to a dilemma. Job knew that he was not guilty of anything of which he was aware. To the best of his knowledge and understanding, he was innocent before God. This led him to question. He asks God the reason for his suffering. He also, in a couple of passages in the middle of the book, even questions if God is really just. He observes the reality that there are many wicked people whom seem to prosper, while there are others whom apparently suffer unjustly.
Apparently, as best as I can tell, Job is commended for his honesty. One commentary I read suggested that his friends were pressuring him to beg God for mercy, in a sort of “appease the gods” move. However Job insisted in keeping his integrity by not admitting to sins he didn’t believe he had committed. Job is however criticized for justifying himself at the expense of God, claiming that God had wronged him.
At the end of the book, God shows up and addresses Job. The answer given seems to basically be that we can’t understand why things happen the way they do. This causes me to wonder if the point of Job is more to raise questions for reflection rather than provide a “moral of the story”. I admit that the conclusion of the book leaves me dissatisfied. I would like for an actual explanation, just as Job requested. But perhaps this is the most accurate answer to be given. Perhaps the point is that simple, even reasonable answers aren’t always sufficient to explain the complexities of life.
After reading Job, consider these questions: Is God in control? Is he/she just? Does he/she love us? How do you handle life when it is difficult?
Please see my outline of Job, which includes a summary of the dialog.