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Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Book of Job

The general take on the book of Job seems to be that it's central question is "Why do the righteous suffer?" or, as Rabbi Kushner put it, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" That's a good question, but I don't believe it is the question of the book of Job.

The real question of the book, I think, comes off the lips of Satan in the opening chapter in verse 9-11. God has been bragging on Job and his righteousness and Satan retorts, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face."

"Does Job fear God for nothing?" I don't think the book is trying to answer why the righteous suffer. I think it is asking why the righteous are good in the first place. The book is probing whether people are good only because that's a way of ensuring wealth and prosperity or is it possible for people to love God for God's own sake.

I think that is a much more relevant question. If we are good only when things go well for us, then our faith proves pretty shallow. If I am loving only when I get my way in life, I wonder if I am really being loving at all. If I give you care only if I receive a reward, is it really a caring act or is it merely a veiled form of self-service? What is the root of good behavior?

The test that forms the structure for the book of Job...making life rotten for Job to see if he loses probing what it means to be good, not what it means to suffer. We do get a picture of suffering in it, and I value Job greatly for showing me what sort of thoughts haunt even the blameless in the face of intense suffering. But I wish people would quit trashing the book because it doesn't answer the question of innocent suffering, when an equally relevant question is being raised and answered.

Is there any such thing as a person who worships God simply because God is worthy of worship and not as some sort of exchange for wealth or protection? The answer is, "yes." Job passes the test...suffering tests his faith but does not break it, giving us a wonderful model of faithfulness. This test, sooner or later, hits every person who lives beyond infancy. Suffering, in one form or another, comes to us all. All of us must choose how we will respond to it. The book of Job gets at the issue of whether we are centered on ourselves and our own comfort or on God.

God does not disdain our happiness. We see that God, from the beginning, has indeed celebrated Job's faithfulness with blessings of all sorts; and at the end that state of blessing is returned to him. But God allows us to follow the path of a blameless man through the trials of the wilderness in order that we might ask the same question of ourselves. Why am I good...really? Suppose I didn't feel that God was taking care of me at all and I lost everything near and dear to me? Would I still give God my allegiance? Would I still follow God's way? If doing good reaped only sorrow, would I turn, curse God, and go my own way? It is still a question worth asking.


At 12:41 PM, Robert Sutherland said...

You might be interested in this website and companion book "Putting God on Trial- The Biblical Book of Job" ( This commentary treats the Book of Job as a Hegelian theodicy and has been highly praised by some of the world's leading authorities on Job and by the Review of Biblical Literature. The author is a Canadian Anglican and criminal defense lawyer. The entire manuscript is online.

Robert Sutherland


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