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  • The book of Job. It's a profound and very unique book in the Bible for lots of

  • reasons. The story is set in a very obscure land that's far away from Israel, Uz.

  • The main character, Job, he's not even an Israelite. And the author, who's anonymous,

  • doesn't even set the story in any clear period of ancient history. This all seems

  • intentional though. It's like the author doesn't want us to be distracted by

  • historical questions but rather to focus simply on the story of Job and on the

  • questions raised by his experience of suffering. The book of Job has a very

  • clear literary design. It opens and closes with a short narrative prologue

  • and then epilogue. And then the central body of the book is dense Hebrew poetry,

  • representing conversations between Job and four dialogue partners called "the

  • friends." These conversations are then concluded by a series of poetic speeches

  • given by God to Job. Let's dive in to see how it works together. The prologue

  • introduces us to Job and we're told that he's the blameless, upright man who

  • honors God. He's a super good guy. And then all of a sudden were transported

  • into the heavenly realms and God is holding court with his staff team. It's a

  • very common image in the Old Testament describing how God runs the world. And

  • among the heavenly beings is a figure called "the Satan," which in hebrew

  • means "the Accuser" or "the Prosecutor." It's like we're watching a court scene.

  • God presents Job as a truly righteous man and then the accuser challenges

  • God's policy of rewarding righteous people like Job. He says the only reason Job

  • obeys you is because you bless him with prosperity. Let Job suffer-- then we'll

  • see how righteous he actually is. And then God agrees to let the accuser inflict

  • suffering on Job. Now it's at this point in the story that most of us go, "What? Why

  • did God do that?" and then we assume that this book is going to answer that

  • question--why God allows good people to suffer. But as you read on, the book

  • doesn't answer that question. Nothing in the book ever answers that question.

  • The prologue is setting up the real questions this book is trying to get at.

  • Questions about God's justice and whether God operates the universe

  • according to the strict principle of justice. And the response to those

  • questions comes as you read through to the end of the book, not at the beginning.

  • The ultimate reason for Job suffering is simply never revealed. So the prologue

  • concludes with a suffering and bewildered Job who's rebuked by his wife

  • and he's approached by three friends who are going to try and provide wisdom and

  • counsel. Their names are Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.

  • They are all non-Israelites, like Job.

  • And they represent the best of ancient Near Eastern thinking

  • about God and suffering in the human condition. And this moves into the main

  • part of the book. First Job speaks. This is how this section of the book works:

  • first, Job is going to speak and then will follow a response from a friend.

  • Then Job will respond to that friend and then another friend will respond to Job's

  • response and so on, back and forth for three cycles. And this whole

  • debate has focused on three questions: "Is God truly just in character?" and "Does God

  • run the universe on the strict principle of justice?" And if so, then how is Job's

  • suffering to be explained? As we're going to see, Job and the friends, they're

  • working from a huge assumption about what God's justice ought to look like in

  • the world, namely that every single thing that happens in the universe should

  • operate according to the strict principle of justice. So if you're a wise,

  • good person and you honor God, good things will happen to you. God will

  • reward you. But if you're evil and stupid and do sinful things, bad things will

  • happen to you. God will punish you. Now Job's constant arguments throughout his

  • speeches is this: first of all, that he's innocent and so the implication of that

  • is that his suffering is not a divine punishment. Now we know from the prologue,

  • both of these things are true. Remember, God Himself said Job is righteous and

  • blameless. And so Job concludes his argument by accusing God. God either doesn't run

  • the world according to justice, or even worse, God Himself is simply unjust. The

  • friends, on the other hand, they beg to differ.

  • Their argument is that God is just. The implication being that God always runs

  • the world according to justice in this way and so they conclude by accusing not

  • God, but Job. Job must have done something really, really bad for God to

  • punish him like this. They even start making up possible sins that Job must

  • have committed. Job protests all of this. In fact, he gets so fed up with the

  • friends that he eventually just gives up on them. He takes up his case directly

  • with God. Now something to be aware of is that Job, he's on an emotional roller

  • coaster in these poems. He used to think that God is just, but now he can't

  • reconcile that with his suffering. And so, in some outbursts Job will accuse God

  • of being a bully. Once he even declares that God has orchestrated all the injustice

  • in the world. But the moment he utters that thought, he's terrified of it because he

  • wants to hope and believe that God is truly just. Job is all over the place in

  • this section. And so he makes one last statement of his innocence and then he

  • demands that God show up personally to explain himself. Now it's at this point

  • that a surprise friend shows up,

  • Elihu the Buzite. Now, he's not an Israelite but he does have a Hebrew name.

  • And Elihu has the same assumption as Job and the friends. . He argues that God

  • is just and that that implies that God always operates the universe according

  • to justice. But then Elihu draws a more sophisticated conclusion about why good

  • people suffer. It may not be punishment for sin in the past.

  • God might inflict suffering as a warning to help people avoid sin in the future. Or

  • God might use pain and suffering to build character or to teach people valuable

  • lessons. Elihu doesn't claim to know why Job is suffering but one thing he is certain

  • of: Job is wrong to accuse God of being unjust. Job doesn't even respond to Elihu and

  • the dialogues come to a close . It's like the wisdom of the Ancients has been

  • spent and the mystery remains. And then all of a sudden God shows up in a

  • whirlwind and he responds to Job personally. He first responds to Job's

  • accusation that he is unjust and incompetent at running the universe. So

  • God takes Job on a virtual tour of the universe and he starts asking him all these

  • questions about the order and origins of the cosmos. Was Job ever around when God

  • architected the earth or organized the constellations? Has Job ever commanded

  • the sunrise or controlled the weather?

  • God has his eyes on all of these cosmic details that Job has never even

  • conceived of. Then God starts going into detail describing the grazing habits of

  • mountain goats and how deer give birth, or the feeding patterns of lions and

  • wild donkeys. What's the point of all this? Remember the assumption of Job and

  • his friends about what it looks like for God to run the world according to

  • justice.

  • Underneath that assumption is a deeper one that Job and his friends have a wide

  • enough perspective on life to make such a claim about how God ought to run the world.

  • And God's response with this virtual tour, it deconstructs all of these assumptions.

  • It first of all shows that the universe is a vast, complex place and

  • that God has his eyes on all of it--every detail. Job on the other hand, has only

  • the small horizon of his life experience to draw from. His view of the world is

  • very limited and so what looks like divine injustice from Job's point of

  • view needs to be seen in an infinitely larger context. Job is simply not in a

  • position to make such a huge accusation about God. After the virtual tour, God

  • asks Job if he would like to micromanage the world for a day according to the

  • strict principle of justice that Job and his friends assume; punishing every evil deed of

  • every person at every moment with precise retribution.

  • The fact is that carrying out justice in a world like ours, it's extremely complex.

  • It's never black and white like Job and the friends seem to think. Which leads to

  • God's last point. He starts describing these two fantastic creatures, Behemoth

  • and Leviathan, which some people think are poetic depictions of the hippo and

  • crocodile. More likely they refer to well-known creatures from ancient Near

  • Eastern mythology that are used elsewhere in the Bible as symbols of the

  • disorder and danger that exists in God's good world. These creatures, they're not

  • evil. God is actually quite proud of them. But they're not safe either. The point is

  • that God's world is amazing

  • and very good but it's not perfect or always safe. God's world has order and

  • beauty but it's also wild and sometimes dangerous, just like these two

  • fantastic creatures. And so we come back to the big question of Job's suffering.

  • Why is there suffering in God's world-- whether it's from earthquakes or wild

  • animals or from other humans. God doesn't explain why. What he says is that

  • we live in an extremely complex, amazing world that at this stage at least is not

  • designed to prevent suffering. And that's God's response. Job challenged God's

  • justice. God responds that Job doesn't have sufficient knowledge about our

  • universe to make such a claim.

  • Job demanded a full explanation from God and what God asked Job for is trust

  • in His wisdom and character. And so, Job responds with humility and repentance. He

  • apologizes for accusing God and he acknowledges that he's overstepped his

  • bounds. Then all of a sudden the book concludes with a short epilogue. First

  • God says that the friends were wrong, that their ideas about God's justice

  • were just too simple-- not true to the complexity of the world or God's wisdom.

  • And then God says that Job has spoken rightly about him. Now this is surprising

  • because it can't apply to everything

  • Job said. I mean we know Job drew hasty and wrong conclusions, but God still

  • approves of Job's wrestling. How Job came honestly before God with all of his

  • emotion and pain and simply wanted to talk to God himself. And God says that's

  • the right way to process through all of this, through the struggle of prayer. The book

  • concludes with Job having his health, his family, his wealth,

  • all restored-- not as a reward for good behavior but simply as a generous gift

  • from God. And that's the end of the book. The book of Job, it doesn't unlock the

  • puzzle of why bad things happen to good people. Rather it does invite us to trust

  • God's wisdom when we do encounter suffering rather than try and figure out

  • the reason for it. When we search for reasons we tend to either simplify

  • God--like the friends-- or like Job, accuse God, but based on limited

  • evidence. And so the book is inviting us to honestly bring our pain and our grief to God and

  • to trust that God actually cares and that he knows what he's doing. And that's

  • what the book of Job is all about.

The book of Job. It's a profound and very unique book in the Bible for lots of

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B1 INT US god job suffering justice universe prologue

Read Scripture Series: Job

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    sophia   posted on 2016/11/29
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