We started a two-part series on faith and hope in the life of Job last week. The book of Job contains over 38 chapters of poetry, including all the dialogue between Job and his friends and God’s response. The structure and content of the book suggest that this is a work of fiction written to illustrate truths about God. It’s possible it’s based on a true story, but the story itself doesn’t appear to be literally true. I don’t believe it is historical, though I’m open to the possibility that it is. I do believe that Genesis through Nehemiah are historical, along with the Gospels and Epistles. To apply the term historical or literal to Biblical literature that falls in the genres of Wisdom, Prophetic, or Apocalyptic is something that doesn’t make sense to me. It highly depends what definitions of historical and literal are used. The very notion of interpreting a poem literally sounds like an oxymoron. I believe Robert Frost wrote “The Road Less Traveled,” but I don’t view the poem as historical or literal. Anyway, I invite anyone who has more insight on this than I do to explain it to me.
Job includes a troubling prologue where God has a conversation with the Accuser, the Adversary, Ha-Satan, or Satan, which takes place in heaven. Here, God (YHWH) points out Job to Satan and gives Satan permission to make Job suffer to see if Job will curse (turn away) from God. Job is said to be ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” He is tested by having his family (except his wife) and livestock taken away in a moment, and then by having his health taken away. The third test is when the person closest to him, his wife, tells him to curse God. He passes the first three tests.
The book covers some major themes. Is there such a thing as trusting God totally when He does nothing for us in this life? Can we be faithful regardless of what happens? Is this can happen to a person like Job, how do we deal with it? It includes most of the human arguments about suffering, and it essentially a drama in which 3 friends come and say what everything else is thinking.
We are sometimes given the impression within Christendom that if we don’t sin, pray right, act in faith, that things will go well for us, that making the right decisions can make it so we can avoid suffering and not make mistakes. The Old Testament as a whole paints a picture that the path of righteousness is better than wickedness, and more often leads to blessings (at least, to what we consider to be blessings). Books like Job and Ecclesiastes dispel the notions that we can demand God do certain things for us and that we can avoid suffering as Christians. We can influence Him through prayer, but we can’t manipulate Him. God will do what He chooses to do, and we may not always understand why this side of heaven.