Here we go. Here is the one book of the Bible that even the harshest critic of Christianity cannot ignore. The Book of Job. I mentioned this book in passing at the beginning of my previous blog series, “Where is God”, but this made me realize that my knowledge of Job was quite minimal. I have highly desired to understand this book of the Bible for a long time now, but I was always too afraid to read it for fear of not liking what I might find. However, I feel that now is as good a time as any to try to understand this story – one of the most confusing stories of the whole Bible.
This book seems to contain every difficult question we have – questions about why terrible things happen to good people, why suffering is allowed in the world, and what God has to do with all of it. None of these things make any sense to us today; but perhaps if we look at what God’s Word has to say about them, we may be able to grasp a better understanding.
Now, I am certainly no expert and have not even had a lick of seminary experience, so do not take my words as though I know exactly what I am talking about, because I don’t. But the advantage that I do have is that I desperately desire to understand this book so that I can hopefully reap comfort from it and be able to share that comfort with others. Will that be the result? I don’t know.
That being said, let’s dive into the abyss of pain and uncertainty.
In the beginning of the book of Job, God gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the spiritual realm during a specific time of suffering. First, we read about Job, who was an upright man, very rich, and highly respected by those who knew him. His kids on the other hand were not so upright, yet Job constantly made sacrifices on their behalf in an effort to save them. So yeah, Job was a pretty upstanding guy, which is why he is the hero of our story.
Next, we read about the antagonistic plot against Job which took place in heaven. This is where two common misconceptions take place.
Misconception 1 – God cursed Job.
No Satan did these things to Job. This is apparent from the very first chapter:
Satan went to God and God asked him a strange question, “Where have you come from?” as if He didn’t already know – which of course He did. Satan told God that he had been walking around on the earth, and then God said, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (1:8). Then God goes on to mention how Job was basically awesome in every way.
Then Satan challenged God, saying that God did all these good things for Job and that if God would just let Job suffer a little bit, he would certainly abandon his loyalty to God. So God consented to Satan’s bringing suffering on Job’s life, but He forbade Satan from touching Job.
So Satan, not God, went out and killed all of Job’s livestock, all his donkeys, all his camels, most of his servants, and all of his children – 7 men and 3 women. But Job did not sin against God in this instance. In fact he instead proclaimed, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the Name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21)
After this, Satan returned to God and the same exchange from before occurred. This then ended with Satan whining that God didn’t let him touch Job, and that was why Job didn’t sin against God, so God consented to Satan’s harming Job’s body without killing him.
Therefore, Satan (again, not God) gave Job painful boils. Job tore his clothes and sat in ashes scratching at his wounds with broken pottery and looking like the poster child for pitiful. “The greatest man among all the people of the East” (1:3) had been reduced to nothing – a mere mockery of those far lesser than he.
And this brings us to the second, and very controversial, misconception.
Misconception 2 – God and Satan placed a bet concerning Job
This is only half a bet. One side seems to think that this is a wager while the other side seems to know something much more important…
Twice, God and Satan had a little conversation concerning Job. Twice it ended with Job being hurt in some way. And twice, it seemed as if Satan was placing a bet with God concerning Job’s upcoming misery. If God claims to love us so much, how could He do such a heartless thing as place a bet with Satan over a man’s life?
I’ve read several books now that at least briefly talk about Job and this “wager”. These were books by modern theologians who are much smarter than I. Yet they refer to this scene in heaven as a “Great Wager.” At this, I have to draw a line, because I think they are wrong.
The “Great Half-Wager”
First off, people tend to use the phrase said by God, “Have you considered my servant Job?” as if it is God offering Job up for a bet. But I don’t think this is the case. Read these two similar conversations again.
Satan came to God and God basically said “Where the hell did you come from?”(Get it? Hell? Haha…ha…no? Fine). Satan replied, “Oh, ya know, I just arrived from Earth – been walking around down there being a loser.” And then God said this phrase that sounds like He was offering Job up to Satan.
But the way God used the terms “considered” doesn’t convey a meaning of God offering up Job to be cursed by Satan. This use of the word “considered” actually seems more similar to a meaning like “observed”, as in “Have you observed my servant Job?” It’s kind of like what we do when we find out that someone has just been in the vicinity of a project we just completed.
“Oh you came from church? Did you see the new stage? Yeah, I helped build that.”
“Oh you came from the park? Did you see the new mural? Yeah I painted that.”
“Oh you came from Earth? Did you see that guy, Job? Yeah I made him.”
God was bragging about Job! God was actually flaunting Job in Satan’s face! How cool is that? Man, I’d love to have God talk about me like that, even if it means my life after that is completely altered.
Of course, as Thomas Moore once said, “The devil…the proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.” So obviously Satan was going to come back and challenge God. And God, being omniscient, had to see this coming; so why would He mention Job in the first place when He knew that Satan would bite?
This is the second argument I find in defense of this exchange between God and Satan being a wager, but the answer to it ties in with the third and final argument, so I will answer both at the same time.
The third argument occurs a few sentences later. When God accepted both of Satan’s challenges concerning Job and allowed Satan to kill Job’s herds, camels, servants, children, and donkeys, and strike Job with painful boils, this really seems like God accepted a bet that Satan proposed.
This is probably what Satan thought too. But only God knows all things.
What Satan probably considered to be a wager against God, God considered to be so much more.
Think about this: Why is Job in the Bible? Why was it included? Why did God want it there? And how could it have gotten there if the events of Job hadn’t happened? God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Don’t you think He has a reason? And Job would have never known that reason, and neither would Satan, because both characters are finite beings, unable to comprehend God. But now, 4000 years later, we are able to physically read the story of Job and are able to take lessons from it. Maybe, just maybe, God wanted the events of Job to happen such a long time ago so that you and I could learn something today.
Move aside, Doctor Who. This is supernatural timey-wimey, wibbly- wobbly, spacey-wacey…stuff.
So God had a plan all along in Job’s suffering! That is that many, many hundreds of millions of people would be able to learn from Job’s story.
Now the question is…what does God want us to learn here? This can only happen if you ask questions though. So go ahead. Wonder away: “But this still isn’t fair to Job!” “But Job’s kids are still dead!” “How in the world could this apply to us today?”
I’ll get into those lessons as we continue through Job, but for now, think about what purposes God could possibly have for the trials in your life. Now due to my limited Internet connectivity here in Africa, I won’t be able to post my blogs on Job but once or twice a month. Be on the lookout for them, though, because I am really excited about sharing the things I have learned with all of you.
For now, I pray that you have joy.