What Job teaches us (First of three parts)
I loved reading through the book of Job recently. You may recall I am slowly working myself through the Bible. (This will be a blog post in three parts and a little different from my normal posts, without a lot of photos. You may want to read Job 1 for more background.)
Job is a great book, one of the best in the Bible, in my opinion, and interesting from a number of viewpoints (poetically, philosophically and theologically). And I love the finish—not just when dear Job gets his life back, but the part right before when God finally “answers” Job, but more about another time.
I’m not a Biblical scholar or theologian nor have I read all the commentaries and expositions on the meaning of Job but I do know that the questions it wrestles with are the basic questions tripping up millions as a roadblock to faith in God.
The basic question being, if God is so good, how could God allow the suffering that goes on in our world?
I love the way Job starts out and I don’t know if this ever hit me particularly before. But the rhythm of how the story happens in threes makes you think that ok, this is set up by a great storyteller. (Even many jokes start in threes: A rabbi, a priest and a minister. Or, a barber, a bald man and an absent-minded professor—one example on Wikipedia).
My “is-this-a-fable-meter” rises as I read the very first line: “There was a man named Job, living in the land of Uz (and my Bible footnotes tell me Uz is “an area whose exact location is unknown.” Hmm. Is this where the writer of Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum got his idea? No, but according to Wikipedia, an Israeli translator in translating Wizard of Oz to Hebrew thought of the same thing and used Hebrew words for “Land of Uz” in that children’s novel. Uz is also related to Oz meaning East. Sounds reasonable. But the repetition of sevens and threes in the counts of sons, daughters, sheep, camels and the summary of “richest man in the East” sounds like a great way to begin a fairy tale. Not that I think it is. (A pretty good further explanation of this can be found here, and while I cannot vouch for the whole website, it looks pretty middle of the road in terms of theology and interpretation.) From my view, I believe Job was a real man who existed and suffered extensively, but the storytellers about him through the ages added their embellishments, like any good story based on a real character.
So the tests of Job start with the Lord asking Satan what he’s been doing and Satan goes ,“Well, I’ve been walking here and there roaming the earth” (1:7). Satan’s challenge to God sets off a horrible chain of events where Job’s children are having a feast when a messenger comes running to Job (not at the feast) and tells him that out among Job’s oxen and donkeys, a neighboring tribe destroys the animals and all of the servants except “I am the only one who escaped to tell you” (verse 15). This occurs a total of three times with more servants reporting a new attack even …“before he had finished speaking.” The storyteller in Job has got his art down beautifully. Which makes for a great read, even though the awfulness of losing all ten of his sons and daughters in one storm is just horrifying, beyond what anyone should ever bear.
Job thinks so too and goes into immense grief. He laments and grieves but responds with “The Lord gave, and now the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
In chapter 2, again Satan has been “walking here and there roaming the earth” and this time Satan gets permission to “attack” Job himself but not to kill the good man.
The drama is set up. Act 2 to be continued.
How do you read Job? What do you like about the book? What don’t you like? Does it matter what we like or don’t like about the Bible?
I wrote a little about Job in my Another Way column last fall, referencing a newish book about Job, The Book of Job: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2013), written by Mark Larrimore.