Bible Reading Plan – May 21-27

Job

Bible Project Reading Plan (May 21-27):
Job 4-31, Psalms 136-142


The book of Job is both difficult and rewarding. Its difficulty lies in the condensed philosophical discussions, made all the more arduous for the use of poetic language throughout. Unlike many typical discussions of suffering, Job is unflinching and unwavering in its steadfast unwillingness to provide pat answers.

Job isn’t an evolutionist. Suffering is not simply a factor of the nature of the world, built into the whoop and wharf of the way that humans must live and propagate. The book of Job refuses to see his suffering as causeless, the way that evolutionists must. For atheists, suffering and death are just parts of the world, built into our existence, as normal as gravity and light. We may find such things unfortunate, but they are not travesties in the larger sense. These things just happen, after all. But Job refuses to present the world that way; such sufferings don’t just happen, but are planned, allowed, ordained. Such a simple answer will not suffice.

But Job is also not content to allow God to have what on its face would seem like an easy out. Job does not present God as though he is caught unaware by the suffering that he goes through. Neither does the book present God as a worrying mother, who would rather her son not face the suffering that he presently does, but frets over the little that she can do. God both ordains Job’s suffering, and given the ending of the book, can alleviate it at any time. But he does not.

Further, Job refuses to let us see God as some sort of great computer program, whose decisions are decided by a strict code of rules – what commands you type in determine the kind of response you get out. In the program of suffering, the code is very easy to determine. If you sin, you suffer. Those who are blessed and don’t suffer haven’t sinned. This problem lies at the heart of Job’s psuedo-friends’ responses. Continually they put before him a type of syllogistic argument for his suffering:

  • God punishes sinners
  • God doesn’t punish the righteous
  • God punishes Job
  • Therefore, Job must not be righteous but a sinner

The early response of Zophar sets the tone throughout:

If he passes by and throws someone in prison or convenes a court,
who can stop him?
Surely he knows which people are worthless.
If he sees iniquity, will he not take note of it?
But a stupid person will gain understanding
as soon as a wild donkey is born a human!

As for you, if you redirect your heart and spread out your hands to him in prayer–
if there is iniquity in your hand, remove it,
and don’t allow injustice to dwell in your tents–
then you will hold your head high,
free from fault.

You will be firmly established and unafraid.
For you will forget your suffering,
recalling it only as water that has flowed by.
Your life will be brighter than noonday;
its darkness will be like the morning.
You will be confident, because there is hope.
You will look carefully about and lie down in safety.
You will lie down with no one to frighten you,
and many will seek your favor.

But the sight of the wicked will fail.
Their way of escape will be cut off,
and their only hope is their last breath.

Job 11:10-20 (CSB17)

While the poetry tends to hide the argument, it’s there. If Job would only pray to God, remove his iniquity, then his suffering would move on, like water down a river. In other words, the suffering is from sin, and only through the acknowledgment of the sin will allow God to remedy the problem, and give back Job the good life.

While Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz have more to say to Job than that, and Job’s responses are much more complicated themselves, such thoughts lie close to the heart of the argument of the book of Job. Why does suffering happen? What is the purpose of the suffering, and if God is sovereign over the whole thing, and Job is indeed righteous, what is the point? How does God justify himself?

Here’s where the book provides an even deeper sense of difficulty: God never really tells us the reasons why. The book of Job waits 37 chapters for the appearance of God and the explanation of the events and words we have read. These serve, more than anything, to heighten and dramatize God’s appearance, working rhetorically like Elijah throwing water on the wood before calling down God’s fire on it. This response had better be good; the questions raised need an answer; Job, frankly we think, deserves an answer.

The answer we get, therefore, is all the more puzzling for all this set-up. In movies and books, when things get harder and more difficult, we expect the hero to rise above, overcome the odds, all the while providing the ending that we had thought was coming. But not here; our expectation isn’t met, making the answer all the more powerful and confusing.

God simply says: I’m God. You cannot fathom my reasons. For two chapters God asks Job if he knows what it is like to be God: can he understand the mysteries of the cosmos; the nature of creation; the day-to-day operations of the Almighty One. Of course, Job is a small and feeble man, who can give no answers to such questions, and finally realizes his place before God:

I am so insignificant.
How can I answer you?
I place my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not reply;
twice, but now I can add nothing.

Job 40:4-5 (CSB17)

Even after this, God goes on for a second round of questions! Job understands what he is meant to understand:

I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, “Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?”
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wondrous for me to know.
You said, “Listen now, and I will speak.
When I question you, you will inform me.”
I had heard reports about you,
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them;
I am dust and ashes.

Job 42:2-6 (CSB17)

The real question is: do we?