Job and God’s justice and providence

April 19, 2007 at 4:45 pm (Religion, Theology)

In the face of tragedy, we seek answers. Like Job, we feel justified in going directly to The Source and asking why He has done what He has done. Like Job, people will bring up divine justice and providence: those who suffer are being punished by God for their sins. But, like Job, we know that this is not true. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people — the Psalms have many such laments — and so it cannot be because of divine punishment. Job did not sin; to put it bluntly, he was given to suffering for no reason. One might say that in Job’s case, as in the case of many people, one’s righteousness is the source of one’s suffering as one is persecuted by the wicked, as one is further tested by God, as one lags behind while bad people take short cuts to success.

Okay. Let’s turn to a new page. Most people know the story of Job. Job, a very righteous man, was quite successful and blessed, presumably because of his righteousness. Satan contended that Job was righteous because he was so successful and secure. Were he in a different condition, he would certainly not be so devout and faithful to God. God let Satan test Job. God said that Job would remain faithful in the midst of suffering. As Satan inflicted suffering on Job, Job’s friends, who came to mourn his losses with him, informed him that these sufferings were undoubtedly punishments for some sins he must have committed. They exhorted him to confess his sins and reprent and return to faithfulness to God. But Job insisted on his innocence. He said, “Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity” (Job 31:6). We know that Job is right and his friends were wrong. Eventually, God does appear. And Job’s prosperity is restored and all is well. God wins. Job wins. Satan loses.

But there is one element that makes the example of Job, and the book named after him, so vexing, perplexing, confusing, and frustrating. You see, Job gets what he demanded: God appears. God says: “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me” (Job 38:3). It seems that the time for Job’s exoneration has come. All Job has to do is answer God’s questions. But God asks nothing about Job’s righteousness or lack thereof. Instead, He asks: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:4). God even challenges Job: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct [him]? he that reproveth God, let him answer it” (Job 40:2). And in this — after God’s long series of questions basically asking how Job can challenge or question God who made everything and who did mighty wonders — Job provides a model for how we should respond, and indeed the only way we can respond: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once I have spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5).

God never directly addresses the actual issue at hand. He answers it indirectly, by essentially saying that His ways and thoughts and deeds are beyond our ability to grasp or comprehend, and so we ought not to question whatever God may do for only He knows why and only He can know why.

God sharply scolds Job’s friends because they unjustly found Job guilty, essentially, where he was guiltless. And, moreover, because they assumed to know why God does what He does. In fact, they found Job guilty because they assumed to know the way God works.

So, the central issues in the example and book of Job — why do bad things happen to good people? why do the righteous suffer? where is God’s justice? where is divine providence? — are answered quite pithily: the ways of God are inscrutable. That is all God gives us.

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6 Comments

  1. Wickedpinto said,

    as one is persecuted by the wicked,
    now thats just unfair.

    First, Mus, let me say, I still visit regularly, but I was so vociferously irritated in previous appearances that I decided that I should shut up a bit.

    Second, concerning the suffering of job, the only thing I don’t like about the story is that he was redeamed and granted the status he had at first. I know sounds counter-intuitive, but I remember a movie or a book that raised the question “what kind of god would punish the innocent this way?” and the response was by someone in the know, “can you imagine a world where every bad thing was your fault?”

    A 100% righteous world is a nightmare, so is a 80% hell, so is a 50%.

    Can you imagine a world where EVERY SINGLE THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU, that scar you got when you were 5, the measles when you were 9 months old, the girl who broke up with you, when EVERY SINGLE THING was a judgement of you by god?

    I’m an atheist, but I think that in terms of the teachings of christ, Job is the best story of the old testament.

    You are not judged in this life, this life is life, it is for us to define for ourselves, and sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it’s someone elses, and it is only gods fault in that he made us human. Once this life is over, we can live with god in perfect joy.

    Okay, done.

    I just wanna re-iterate, I wasn’t dodging you mus, you still rock, and I still read you, I was just. . .well, too wickedpinto-y to be willing to comment here.

    You run a classy place.

  2. Jauhara al kafirah said,

    Mus, this was the best summation for me of Job. I have always thought the story timeless, but it would be an interesting 21st century update to make Job a reality tv show or a television talk show, a la Oprah. You know, Job, his good friends, Dr. Phil, (whose hawking his new book, entitled, “You’ve lost everything and need someone to blame? Blame everyone else!) and standing in for the devil, you guessed it…his advocate…a lawyer…..and of course, what would the whole Job story be without input from the audience? Now for a word from our sponsors.

  3. salahudin said,

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    We’re apostates of Islam with a twist: a sense of humor, unlike Ali Sina type apostates. We’d love to get in touch with you. Feel free to email us: pk_script [at] yahoo

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  4. Paul said,

    Job was a fine spiritual example for all of us. 🙂

  5. Wickedpinto said,

    random bit of curiousity?

    This isn’t a judgement on the parable, but rather a question of the geographical SOURCE of the parable.

    If job could live in a whale, then where did the israelites of that time reside? Not the mediteratian, not the aegean, not in the persian gulf, not in the black or other inland based seas.

    How widespread were the tales of the great oceans in the ancient world that allows for the great wales that MIGHT be great enough to contain job for his life?

    A literal reading (which I understand was common in ancient years) would require a literal reference, and the only literal reference to a wale lives only in either the open sea’s like the Black sea, or in the great oceans.

    I’m sure someone has addressed it, but I haven’t read it, thats actually interesting in a historical perspective.

  6. Wacky Hermit said,

    Whale??? Wickedpinto, I think you’re confusing Job with Jonah. Jonah’s the guy that’s famous for being in the belly of a whale. Job’s the guy famous for his patience and suffering.

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