Thursday, May 6, 2010

Job & Co.

I read from the Bible every day. At least I try to. Last Friday I re-read the Book of Job. I do not know how many times I have read that book now. I love it. It is a wonderful, deep, philosophical treatise on theodicy, that is, the problem of unjust suffering.

The book begins with a prose prologue describing Job as a wealthy and righteous man. God loves Job, but Satan, who in this book is a member of the heavenly court, argues that it is easy for Job to be righteous. Take away Job's material blessings, Satan says, and Job will curse God. God allows Satan to do what he proposes and, in a series of disasters, Job loses everything: flocks, herds, servants, even his ten children, and finally his health. Job is reduced to sitting on a dungheap, scraping his festering skin with a potsherd. His wife advises him to "curse God and die." In spite of all this Job does no wrong.

Three of Job's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to sit with their sick companion. After a week of mournful silence, Job speaks and the book begins in earnest. What follows is a series of poetic dialogues in which Job's friends defend the idea, found in Deuteronomy and the related literature of the Hebrew Bible, that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Job must have done some wrong, they say. Job, in reply, defends his innocence and cries out to understand his suffering.

After Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have had their say, a fourth companion, a young man named Elihu speaks. Since Elihu is not mentioned before this point in the story, nor is he mentioned again after his speech, scholars think that his part was inserted by a later hand. Elihu scolds both Job and his companions and defends God in words that foreshadow what comes next.

After Elihu's speech, the Lord speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. God never answers the question of why Job has suffered. Rather, the speech is a statement of the creator God's sovereignty. Some readers find this satisfying. Other readers think that God dodges the question.

The last section of the book is an epilogue, again in prose. God restores Job's health and double his fortune. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are put in their place. Job lives a long and righteous life.

I love the book of Job with its penetrating questions, its soaring poetry and its grand theophany. When I finished reading it again last week, I found myself wondering why such a wonderful theological book of the Bible is so little used by Christians.

I will take that up in my next post.

The picture of Job and his friends was painted by Guy Rowe. I found it here.

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