God versus Job, take two

A blog isn’t the best place to discuss the Book of Job (which we started yesterday) because there’s so much in there. But let’s take the disturbing aspect: God pretty much baits the adversary into testing Job.

Job 1: The adversary shows up, says he’s been patrolling the earth, and God says, “Have you noticed Job? He’s awesome.” The adversary says (and it makes me laugh) “Does he fear God for nothing?” Because, he continues, God has blessed and protected Job, so of course Job would be pleased with God. To which God replies, well, I hereby unbless and unprotect him. Do whatever you want. This happens again in Job 2.

In other words, Job himself wasn’t on the adversary’s radar until God said something about him, and then God gave permission for the adversary to test him. If God hadn’t incited the whole course of events, it wouldn’t have taken place.

At the time Job was written, Israel was in exile. Israel was within the empire of Babylon and was picking up influences from Zoroastrianism (which the Bible was then stepping forward to combat) and we also see the development of angelology and, most importantly, the theology of a Messiah and the theology of meritorious suffering.

There’s no messiah theology showing up in Job. The other three are present in spades.

At first we see the obvious explanation for suffering: God is allowing his people to be tested, but it’s not God doing it, only God’s servant with God’s permission. This is to combat the idea that there are two equal deities, one good and one evil, at work.

Moreover, when Job is first struck, he asks if he should accept good from the Lord and not evil, in case we’re especially dense and didn’t realize God was behind it all. (And that verse, by the way, got me through the days after Emily was diagnosed with anencephaly.)

There’s more to it, though. It’s not just that God tested Job. It’s not just that Israel needed an explanation for why the good should suffer.

It seems to me, reading it now, that God wanted an excuse to bless Job even more than he already had. So he gave Job a chance: keep going, and I’ll bless you twice as much as before.

That’s not explicit. It’s implicit in the way things work out: the doubling of Job’s possessions, the resurrection of his children. Looking at it now, I really believe God set it up — pointed the adversary at Job the way you’d fire a gun, then let it work out, then stepped back in to call the game — for a reason to give Job even more than before, including the gift of a direct conversation with the Almighty. All blessings he wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t been put to the test.

Something I ask myself whenever I get put through the wringer: What changes does God want this to make in me, and how will he use it as a blessing?


  1. tiphaine

    very good point. Once I read a book about the “problem of Evil” it was called ” God, without any idea of Evil” stating that God can’t see the evil, all he sees is the lack of good… It all made sense to me then, but for some reason I can’t seem to grip on the whole “evil” part of the world. Why bad stuff happens, if God knows about it or not, if he can do something about it, if he let you suffer for bigger rewards or if it’s just sin in the world and our freedom meeting… I’m still very confused.
    I love the book of Job though. He seems as confused as me, but he keeps trusting (and I am doing my best to keep trusting too!)

    1. philangelus

      If we posit the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent God, then he has to know about evil. That would be within the definition. 🙂

      What I’ve noticed is that evangelical Christianity seems not to value personal suffering whereas Catholicism does. In fact, Thomas Nelson is making huge waves with a book called “The Hole In Our Gospel” where one writer has made the stunning realization that God loves the poor and wants everyone to minister to them.

      Catholicism has always embraced suffering as a means to become closer to God, that positive change comes through suffering and that willingly suffering for God is a way of honoring and loving him. Not seeking it out — just embracing the suffering that naturally comes our way in a fallen world. As in Colossians, we’re making up for whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, joining ourselves to him rather than trying to be better than him. Mystics seem to gravitate toward that understanding too.

      My understanding is that suffering is going to happen to us, by reason that sin is in this fallen world and people act selfishly. But when that comes, God can act through us if we cooperate in order to transform us, making us closer to the people he intended us to be. For example, when my daughter Emily died, I could have fallen into despair and hatred. Instead God used that time to turn me into a better parent and have me help other parents going through the same thing, teaching me better ways to pray and better means of connecting with others.

      Others may find the same experience. But we can either cooperate with suffering or merely endure it, or we can be crushed by it.

  2. Pat

    Were his children resurrected, or did he just have more? I suppose it may reflect an attitude that children are a blessing in the abstract, so as long as you have some, they are interchangeable – that part has always bothered me.

    Job and the Psalms are great about facing evil head-on, though. Much better than the mealy-mouthed type of devotional that basically promises “Just pray, and your life will be all roses.”

    1. philangelus

      Because everything else of Job’s was doubled (the number of sheep, etc) but the number of children remained the same, there are quite a few Biblical commentators who believe the implication was that they were resurrected. I like that theory, myself. 🙂

  3. Hannah

    Great commentary Jane! I really enjoyed it. 🙂

    Regarding the lack of messiah theology, I think it’s implied, because–and I’ve read this somewhere probably Fr. Patrick Reordan’s book–Job is the messiah figure. I think both the beginning and the end of the story finds Job offering sacrifices for family and friends, and in fact God tells him to sacrifice for his friends who incurred His wrath.

    1. philangelus

      I don’t think Job needs a messianic figure, to be honest. Job could function as one, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. He was innocent, yes, but his testing didn’t serve to redeem anything, only to prove to the adversary that there was good in him.

  4. Hannah

    Jane, If it was my own personal insight I’d agree with you. Unless you mean something like did Jews consider Job to be a messiah figure that I don’t know. Job is most certainly a type of Christ or Christ figure.

    Try here (Job, a type of Christ and His Church
    13 similarities of foreshadows or symbols or prefigurements):

    Or here:
    (3) In the epilogue Yahweh bears witness in a striking manner to the innocence of His servant, that is to Job’s freedom from gross transgression. The three friends are commanded to obtain Job’s intercession, otherwise they will be severely punished for their uncharitable complaints against the pious sufferer. Yahweh forgives the three at the entreaty of Job, who is restored to double his former prosperity.

    I wouldn’t have noticed it but it becomes obvious when it’s pointed out.

    1. philangelus

      It certainly wasn’t obvious to the writer, was my first thought. I’ll check out the links.

      But if Job is really a Messiah pre-figure (or a “type” is more the correct term) then what we talked about in the previous entry, is about 50 times more disturbing — that the frame-story isn’t closed by having the adversary say, “Yes, he stayed faithful.” Paul says that before Jesus, every knee must bend, so then why the silence?

      It did occur to me this morning that by God showing up at the end, he gives Job the opportunity to do exactly what the adversary said, and “curse him to his face.” Job couldn’t do that unless God showed his face. So all the criteria were present, and Job passed. We just need the admission that there’s goodness in the heart of humanity and the story would close perfectly, but we’re denied that. Why?

  5. Ken Rolph

    “one writer has made the stunning realization that God loves the poor and wants everyone to minister to them.”

    This seems an odd thing to say, and does not match my experience. I’ve seen a half century of ministering to the poor from many quarters. If it did come down to a contest about who is best at standing by the poor, the Salvation Army would outdo us all.

    It may be true that evangelicals have a low tolerance for suffering if something can be done about it. Slavery for example. Or you may just have in mind the recent crop of pentecostal prosperity-mongers. They seem to have kidnapped the word “evangelical”.

    1. philangelus

      I”m thinking of the book “The Hole In Our Gospel,” recently published by Thomas Nelson.

      This is from the book’s press release:
      “Stearns believes there is a glaring hole in Christianity as it is practiced in the United States. What’s missing? An active concern for people affected by poverty and injustice. Quoting extensively from scripture, Stearns illuminates God’s commitment to aid the poor and leaves no doubt that God expects his followers to do the same. ”

      That’s right: the cornerstone of centuries of Christian thought is now astonishing enough that someone had to write a book about it explaining that hey, when Jesus said he loved the poor, he *meant* it.

      The comments in reviews at Amazon and over at the Nelson blogger spot are all things like “WOW! If only this were clearer in the Bible! If only the prophet Amos had written things like this!” etc. Makes me cringe.

      1. Ken Rolph

        You know, when publishers bring out a book they are always going to over-hype the need for it. Do you think the real situation is that dire? Maybe my problem is that I’ve been around too long and seen too much. I’m old enough to remember the Peace Corps, when the presence of young Americans around the world meant something positive.

        In the sixties cocooning yourself in a rich ghetto was not a priority. Perhaps that’s changed. I bounced your comments off Jan and she says that for her affluent senior students the world begins and ends with the Castle Towers shopping mall. Their world seems a lot smaller than ours. There was a newspaper report that in all of Australia the most affluent, spendthrift, active, dedicated shoppers were in Sydney’s Hills district. The kids in school were extremely proud of that. Jan says they read the Bible most selectively.

        So perhaps you’re right and the world has gone that way. We don’t live in that area, so I guess I don’t see it.

        1. philangelus

          You’re right that a publisher is going to hype the perceived need for any book. What’s shocked me more is the commentary from readers of the book, who presumably are the target audience. And consider, before they published this book, the author needed to convince the publisher such a need was necessary.

          I do know that among the local churches, it’s the evangelical church that runs the food pantry and the other two which merely contribute. So it was unfair of me to paint them all with the same brush. There’s a lot of good being done for the poor in Christ’s name, and it’s spread out over all the churches.

          Prosperity Gospel is an evil thing which has to ignore or distort over half of the things Jesus said — absolutely. But the reason it was able to take root at all was that overall, Americans have become accustomed to taking care of poverty by writing a check and ignoring the rest. And really, doesn’t it feel better inside to think “Those people are poor because they’re sinful” rather than “Those people are poor and God made my life intersect with their so I can do something about it”?

          I’m vaguely remembering a quote from one of the church fathers to the effect that the rich exist so they can aid the poor, and the poor exist so they can bring salvation to the rich. I wish I could come up with the exact wording.

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