The REAL Job

If I got to write a story about my own trials in life, I’d write it EXACTLY like the book of Job. 

Wanna know why? 

Too bad! I’m going to tell you anyway.

Job makes his suffering into an epic tale of a God that doesn’t think twice about making bets with Satan, and doesn’t bat an eye at gambling with human lives (1:6-12).

Isn’t that macabre? It gets even better!

The book of Job demonstrates in painstaking detail how human reason, when applied to human suffering, only increases our experience of suffering. When one suffers unjustly, one is tempted to feel they would be much better off just crawling into a hole to die alone. No one has words of comfort for you. Not even God.

There are scholarly commentaries that explore the many layers of the book of Job in depth. This is not one of them. 

I have but one objective here: to call the Sunday school version of Job into question. 

I could write a whole blog series on the dialogues between God and Satan in Job chapters 1 and 2. But I’m not going to. However, this is where the story of Job begins. Suffice it to say, Satan doesn’t appear to be an Adversary of God at all. No, here Satan is more like one of God’s lackeys. Doing for God, with God’s expressed permission, what God is too busy to do Himself. 

Anyway, poor Job’s life is destroyed… Not because of his sin (1:1), or because of some greater Divine plan, but because Satan wagers with God(1:9-11) and God takes him up on his bet!

What was the wager? Satan bet that Job would curse God the moment God withdrew His blessings and protection from Job. 

So, after Job loses his children, possessions, and his health…. Does Job curse God?

Well, technically, Job does not. Although,  in 40:8, God totally calls Job out for condemning the Divine in order to save face… But, we’ll get to that later.

Instead of outright cursing God, Job says exactly what you’ve heard quoted in Sunday school. Job’s friends arrive on the scene. Horrified at Job’s current state, they all go into mourning with him, and are collectively silent for 7 whole days (2:13). 

However…when Job finally speaks again, he starts by cursing the day he was born (3:1). 

Job then goes on to say an awful lot of unflattering things about the God he once praised:

 “The arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison” (6:4)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and not their days like the days of a laborer(… )So I am alotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me” (7:1-3)

“Let me alone, for my days are breath. What are human beings, that you make so much of them (…) test them every moment?” (7:16-18)

“If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?” (7:20)

“If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” (9:19)

“It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.” (9:22-23)

“Bold as a lion you hunt me; you repeat your exploits against me.” (10:16)

“I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called upon God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, I am a laughingstock.” (12:4)

I could go on (and on) here, but I think I made my point. 

The Sunday school Job praises God in suffering. 

The real Job speaks frankly in the bitterness of his soul, because he no longer wants to live (10:1). 

The real Job is incredibly relatable, isn’t he? 

The Sunday school version of Job is like one of Job’s ‘comforters’– he stands as unsympathetic to the experience of human suffering as those crappy friends of his. 

Not that the real Job offers us any insights that would explain why innocent people suffer (if it really is because God has a gambling problem, I don’t want to know). Which is the beauty of this Old Testament book– even when God decides to (finally) answer Job, God doesn’t really say anything that Job doesn’t already know. 

But here’s where the story of Job shines brightest– Job says earlier “This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him.” (13:16)

God coming to Job in chapter 38, proves Job is indeed not counted among the godless. Yay Job!

 Job is humbled, gives up his case against God, and repents (ch 42). God chastises Job’s friends, and gives Job “twice as much as he had before”(42:10).

Um, ok. I guess. 

And then, “all who had known him before (…) showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (42:11-12). Oh, and brought him gold rings and and money. And Job lived a really long time before he died (42:17).

Just….no. 

This is where I start believing the book of Job must be some kind of twisted satire. Here’s our summary:

God has a gambling problem. Job pays for it dearly. God tries to make up for it, and everyone that left Job alone in his pain suddenly shows up and give him stuff and feel sorry for Job. And everything is wonderful, but God commits evil against innocent beings. The End!

If this post’s reflection on the absurdity of the real Job accomplishes anything, I hope it’s to drive you to re-read the Biblical account for yourself;)

And please, whatever you do, let’s put the whole mythology of Job-praising-God-in-suffering to rest, shall we?

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17 thoughts on “The REAL Job

  1. I agree with you that many take Job too lightly. I’ve similarly struggled with its meaning because something does seem out of place–God wagering with Satan. But I don’t interpret it literally. Instead, I read it like a parable–like Satan always wants to harm us (which he does) and this is what would happen if God allowed Satan to do so. And we would go through similar emotions as the human characters struggling with understanding what is going on. And the reality is, with a fallen world, God does in fact apply and withhold His hand of protection (similar to Moses with his raised staff-Exodus 17:11).

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    1. I think to read this with a western Christian perspective (which, obviously, is the understanding most Christians in our little blogosphere would approach with) makes Job’s story even more Kafkaesque. Even as a parable, it counters much of popular ideas of Satan. In The Jewish perspective, “the Satan”, wasn’t viewed as God’s enemy or God’s Adversary, but more like of God is a Judge, Satan would be the prosecuting attorney. Both work for the State, and WE are the ones contending with BOTH.

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  2. The way this has been traditionally interpreted is that once Satan accused Job of being righteous only because it pays, God had to answer.

    At the time, Israel was living under the near-Pavlovian “stimulus, reward” system of the Siniatic covenant: worship me and you get rain for your crops, worship idols and you get invaded, etc. – a far cry from the New Testament system which was almost the reverse. Satan challenged God to prove that humans could respect God even within injustice, and God answered his challenge resoundingly. It was Israel’s prepper for life under the Great Commission, in which his disciples would become prophets themselves and leave the nation’s borders to witness, incurring hate and suffering for the name. They needed to be able to deal with that.

    Just sharing what I’ve been taught. 🙂

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    1. Yup. That’s one of the many scholarly overviews I was talking about in my post… It ties some of the elements in the story of Job firmly to his own time and place, but it does little to bring his experience to life.

      Now, from a literary perspective (which what I’m going for…)– who cares what Satan says about Job outside of Job’s hearing? I mean, I’m pretty sure if God says Job is righteous, it stands. God doesn’t have to ruin Job’s life to prove anything to Satan about Job. Right?

      The fact that the last chapter still has God doing evil things to innocent people gets me EVERY. TIME. There is no resolution. None at all. Life goes on. God is God, and we all move past trying to figure it out.

      We cannot gloss over the fact that this is a story about the human experience of unjust suffering.

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  3. The God of Job is indeed pretty awful. Job is included in the daily lectionary readings over the next few weeks, so I’m going to be reading it steadily, and blogging about it. At the end of chapter one Job is worshipping God despite his grief, which I think is worth considering and explored yesterday. The tone shifts dramatically as it goes, and I’ll be exploring that too. His friends annoy the crap out of me, and the ending is wholly unsatisfying.

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    1. Yup! Third time’s the charm though… Job can endure the loss of all he had and still praise God… and does so twice… But as soon as he enters into his own experience through ritualistic mourning, Job loses the ability to praise God. Which makes me marvel at the fact that even our ability to praise God is something given by God’s own hand!

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  4. So… With the whole Judge and D.A. analogy, Job himself laments about the impossibility of defending ourselves against God. And he sets the stage for the need for a mediator between God and man. Now, we already know, God intends to provide this too. To have the Judge’s Son go to trial in our defense, would be something even blameless, God-fearing Job could not fathom. And in this way, Job’s story points to the incredibly reality of who God is– Not just the all-powerful Deity who “giveth and taketh away”, but the one who has sympathy for all those enduring Job’s plight. Withholding not even His own Son out of His love for us.

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  5. I’ve always been fascinated and disturbed by the book of Job. I love how you’ve distinguished Real Job vs. Sunday School Job – Real Job is incredibly relatable! And I also appreciate that you don’t claim to have the answers and that you encourage us (your readers) to engage in dialogue and think for ourselves. xxx

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    1. Aw, Lily. Thank you for your words of praise!

      I believe so strongly in the Spirit’s power to speak specifically to the Reader through the text, that Id be stepping over my bounds to insist upon knowing its “true” meaning. I didn’t write it, so, how would I know? Lol!
      But in Christ, we have access to the same Wisdom that inspired the Biblical writers. Reading the Bible should never feel like a chore– when it does, we are too by trudging through the text and our hearts can’t hear the very quiet voice of the Spirit as well. Reading the Bible can be like sitting down to coffee with God. Getting to ask questions about certain verses, and how He wants you to read them. I LOVE my Bible time. I don’t get nearly enough of it!

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  6. I think Job is a very fascinating book. I agree too often it’s not taken very seriously. I heard a very young preacher say once “If Job could go through suffering, you can too”. We certainly cannot judge how someone should go through suffering simply because Job did it. I just heard someone preach on Job’s wife. The speaker said something I never heard before. Job’s wife is called foolish, but the speaker said is it possible instead of Job’s wife being foolish, maybe she was devastated? We may never know why we suffer. There are times our own sin will cause our sufferings and there are times the free will of others will cause our suffering. But we cannot simply blow off suffering as something we can all handle because Job did it. But I do not view Job as a book only on suffering. I actually feel it’s more of a reminder that God is in full control and we need not fear the unknown. If we go through suffering of some sort, God allowed it and our response is to seek Him. It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry. But we seek Him and stay in His presence. Sorry I have about four or five points here 🙂 but great post and discussions.

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    1. Thank you for adding your very insightful comments to the discussion!
      Yes, Job’s wife…. That poor gal. No one seems to recognize how all of Job’s suffering was her’s as well!

      You are right to highlight the message of hope sandwiched into Job’s narrative. I completely agree. I used to hate that saying “God is in control”, and I STILL hate it when it is said in response to an experience of suffering. I believe that unjust suffering is Holy ground. It is not time it pat answers, it is time to humbly accompany the suffering in their pain, or if it is ourself that suffers, to be gentle to ourselves. As God is very near.

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