Theological Themes in Job
Answers–helpful or hurtful
Job’s friends come to Job with the intention of bringing comfort. In their effort to accomplish this, they think back to what they have been taught and try various ways to interpret the meaning of Job’s suffering. The main answers they bring are that Job deserves his suffering, that all humans are sinners so even good people are not immune from suffering, and that God may use suffering to teach us something. All these are common answers, even in our day, to questions about suffering and may be helpful to some people. But they can be hurtful rather than helpful to others.
Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and…
In the God speeches, God speaks proudly about the creation, interspersed with comments that humans cannot do what only God can do. Clearly the point being made is that “only God can make a tree.” But there is also something revealing about a God who creates and sustains such a wonderful world.
Crisis of faith
Many have experienced a crisis of faith when terrible things happen to them or their loved ones. They ask how a good God could either cause or permit such things to occur. Since such disasters tend to deny that a good and just God is at work in the world, the sufferer may need God to act to restore the broken relationship.
Educational value of suffering
Perhaps suffering is intended to teach the sufferer, to bring one back to a proper sense of priorities, to provide warning that to continue such behavior may lead to even worse calamities. This is one common understanding of suffering in both Old and New Testaments. It gives a more positive view than to regard suffering only as punishment. Both Eliphaz (5:17-27) and Elihu (36:8-12) try to apply this answer to Job.
Satan in Job 1-2 is not the same as the devil in later Scriptures, though Satan does seem to want to stir up trouble. The A behemoth is a large swamp monster. Such a beast, often identified as a hippopotamus, is part of the narrative in the book of Job where the Lord claims to have created both behemoth and Job himself. (chapter 40) and Leviathan is a biblical sea monster. Often mistakenly identified as a whale, this creature is perceived as larger and meaner than a whale. Leviathan is mentioned in Job, Psalms, and Isaiah as an example of enormity, who is eclipsed only by the enormity and power… (chapter 41) represent a common Old Testament way of personifying the presence of evil in the world. The sea and the monsters that live in the sea provide symbolic or mythic ways to identify the reality of evil at work in the world. Without God’s help, we would be completely vulnerable in any encounter with such monsters.
God’s constant presence
Many find comfort in the belief that God is present with them in their suffering. Job, however, reminds us that even assuring words of God’s presence can have a negative effect. Job wishes that God would leave him alone, get off his back, and not be so preoccupied with the trivial sins of humanity (Job 7:16-21). Under the stress of great suffering, even a word intended as comfort can be turned upside down.
God’s control of all that happens
Both Job and his counselors are certain that everything that happens, both good and bad, is the will of God. God has ultimate control, even when human beings (as in Job 1:13-15) are the ones who cause the suffering. To believe in God as the instigator of all that happens makes it more difficult to trust God when one is in the midst of a series of terrible events. It is a great theological dilemma to maintain that God is in control of all that happens and at the same time grant that humans often act in defiance of God’s will. Finally, God’s “control” in Job is not simplistic, but mysterious, hidden, and complex.
Is there any hope at the end of the book of Job? God has listened to Job and responded, though not to answer the questions that Job has asked. In the last few verses of the book, Job receives double what he has lost. Unfortunately, that is not the outcome that every sufferer can expect. People do not always have their hopes fulfilled in such a positive way. The greater hope may come simply in the reality of God’s showing up to address Job, as Job implies in 42:5.
Obviously, humans cannot control all the forces that can hurt them. Further, there is a limit to their understanding because only God knows Wisdom encompasses the qualities of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. The Old Testament book of Proverbs, which sometimes invokes a Woman as the personification of Wisdom, is a collection of aphorisms and moral teachings. Along with other biblical passages, it teaches, “The fear of the…. Sometimes humans act as if they can control what is beyond their capacity. At other times, they do not live up to the potential that they already have.
Life after death
Like most of the Old Testament, Job does not have a strong belief that there is a life for individuals after this life that we can see. Job’s big problem with God’s justice is that good people suffer in this life, wicked people prosper, and there is nothing after we die to make right what was an injustice in this life. In two places, Job seems temporarily to break through this skepticism. He sees the rebirth of a tree stump when watered and wonders why humans cannot be so revived (14:7-17). He hopes that a A redeemer is someone who literally buys back, wins back, or frees from distress. The Hebrew term for redeemer (go’el) means to deliver or rescue. It may be a person or God who performs the act of redemption. will vindicate his good name and that he will see it, even if he has already died (19:23-27).
Throughout the Bible there is a strong connection between sin and suffering. Many biblical narratives (such as the downfall of the nation of Judah was the name of Jacob’s fourth son and one of the 12 tribes.) point to the sin of the people as the reason for their trouble. Sinful behavior does have consequences, but, as shown in the book of Job, not all suffering should be understood as the result of the sufferer’s sin.
Who is this Satan who appears in chapters 1-2? God allows Satan to hurt Job to prove a point. A large question for believers is to try to understand how God relates to hostile cosmic opposition, whether called Satan, evil spirits, the devil, or the ferocious beasts in Job 40-41. Christians live in hope that some day God will finally destroy all such representations of evil.
Sinful nature of all humans
Job is a tough problem for those who think of suffering as retribution for one’s sins. Job is, obviously, a good man, and there are many worse sinners around. Eliphaz, in particular, solves this problem by declaring his low estimation of all humans (see 4:17-19 and 15:14-16). Since all are sinners, no one can claim to be innocent and immune from suffering as a consequence of sinful behavior. This idea does not explain why some suffer and others do not.
Speaking the truth
Job urges his friends to speak the truth about God and human sin. He is convinced that they are so desperate to defend God’s good name that they are willing to tell lies about Job (13:1-12), thus making what looks like an injustice against Job into an example of God’s justice. Pious words about God that gloss over the reality of earth’s turmoil and pain are not helpful to the sufferer. Suppression of lament is all too common among religious folk.
The usual understanding of Job 42:1-6 is that Job now accepts his limits, turns away from his earlier angry statements about God, and puts his trust back on the one and only God. For many, in times of suffering, it is hard to continue to trust in a good, powerful, gracious God when there seems to be little evidence that God has heard and acted on one’s behalf. Job’s trust seems to be renewed when God addresses him directly.