The Bible In Our World (Part 17)

Suffering and the Book of Job

By Don Ruhl

Suffering is a fact of life. Much suffering seems to come from nowhere. Yet, we want to know why we suffer.

In the Book of Job, a man put God on trial for allegedly causing suffering. Do people do the same thing today? Yes, even people who normally have no thoughts of God, suddenly have questions for Him when suffering arrives inexplicably.

The narrative of the Book of Job shows a man tested for the way he lived, and two reversals of His life.

The Book of Job addresses the issue of why an all-powerful God allows evil and suffering.

Introducing the Man 

The narration begins (1.1–5), with the delightful presentation of Job, namely, of his spirituality, his children, his possessions, and the love in his family. From there the narrator transports us to heaven where we view a confrontation between God and Satan. God then allowed Satan to torment Job without touching him personally.

Job Wanted to Give Up 

After Satan attacked all that Job had, he remained loyal to the Lord, not cursing Him as Satan had hoped,

And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
(Job 1.21)

Since Satan failed in his first attack, he wanted another opportunity at Job, but the second time, Satan wanted to attack Job himself. Then with his body covered in boils, the man refused to curse God, although Job’s wife, who also suffered, encouraged him to curse God, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2.9, 10).

Job was a patient man, waiting for his vindication and reversal of fortune. Yet, along the way, he became very depressed (See Job 3.3, 4, 11, 25, 26; 14.1, 2, 7, 10). While Job still refused to curse God or to take his own life, he did challenge God, wanting an explanation for his suffering.

Questions 

Three of Job’s friends sought to comfort him, but they accused him of unseen sin instead. As Eliphaz stressed the sinfulness of humanity and of Job, and as Bildad spoke of God’s justice against Job, and as Zophar declared the inability to know God, Job considered all those things, and wondered how that was a help to him,

“How have you helped him who is without power?
How have you saved the arm that has no strength?
How have you counseled one who has no wisdom?
And how have you declared sound advice to many?
To whom have you uttered words?
And whose spirit came from you?”
(Job 26.2–4)

Assume that you do not know the narrative of the confrontation between God and Satan. What would you think of Job’s suffering? The way everything was timed, it is obvious that his suffering was not haphazard, but that someone behind the scenes orchestrated Job’s suffering.

The questions are:

  1. Who caused these things to happen?
  2. Why did they happen?

As Job responded to his friends, he often turned his attention to God, asking the One who runs all things what had happened,

“Have I sinned?
What have I done to You, O watcher of men?
Why have You set me as Your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
Why then do You not pardon my transgression,
And take away my iniquity?
For now I will lie down in the dust,
And You will seek me diligently,
But I will no longer be.”
(Job 7.20, 21)

Job knew that he could not win an argument with God,

“Truly I know it is so,
But how can a man be righteous before God?
If one wished to contend with Him,
He could not answer Him one time out of a thousand.”
(Job 9.2, 3)

Nevertheless, Job did put God on trial. Job did that because he knew of God’s power and goodness, not that Job doubted God. Job knew that he was treading dangerous territory, but he still pressed on,

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.”
(Job 13.15)

God Challenged Job 

Job challenged God, then God challenged Job (Job 38.1–3). Rather than defending Himself before Job, God cross-examined His accuser (Job 38.4–7). God finished speaking for a while and Job knew he could not respond (Job 40.4, 5)

A Happy Ending 

When God concluded, Job repented of speaking beyond his ability to know, and abhorred himself. Amazingly, God did not condemn Job, but blessed him mightily, giving him ten more children and twice as many possessions as before. However, that happened after Job sacrificed for his friends and prayed for them (Job 42.8–10). In the end, things changed for him dramatically (42.11–17).

Job and Herman Melville 

Photo of Herman Melville

Photo of Herman Melville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The seemingly simple story of a New England whaling ship’s last voyage is layered whit symbolism and rich with biblical allusion…

Moby-Dick may be read as a uniquely American, inverted version of the Book of Job. The connection is signaled early in the novel, when we learn that one of the Pequod’s prosperous, smug backers is a hypocritical Christian named Bildad. Like the “comforter” of Job with whom he shares a name, but Melville’s Bildad favors a harsh and judgmental interpretation of the Scriptures. “For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was certainly rather had-hearted, to say the the least.”…

Moby-Dick’s inversion of the biblical text centers on Captain Ahab, who can be seen as a kind of anti-Job. Where Job questions and complains but never succumbs to his wife’s injunction to “curse God and die,” Ahab defiantly rejects any authority but his own mad will. Where Job eventually concedes God’s power and repents his lack of humility, Ahab refuses to bend before the whale, who has become both god and devil to him…

Moby-Dick ends where the Book of Job begins, in violent destruction and death. The novel’s last words are Ishmael’s. He is the sole survivor of the Pequod, and he prefaces the end of his story with the words of the messenger of doom from Job 1:16: “I alone have escaped to tell you” (The Bible and Its Influence).

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