Beliefnet
When Howard Dean recently made the gaffe of claiming Job as his favorite New Testament book of the Bible, it was only the latest in a long series of injustices and indignities done to both the legendary figure Job, and the book named after him. Our concern is with the book of Job and we need to say from the outset that it falls into the category of Jewish (not Christian) wisdom literature.

It is certainly one of the most profound reflections in the Bible on the problem of theodicy, namely, if there is indeed an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, why then do the good or the just so often suffer as they do in this world? Why do bad things happen to God's people? The book of Job reflects a time in Israel's history when this question needed to be asked and answered, which is to say during or after the exile. As such, it reflects a social situation very different from what we find in the book of Proverbs.

The Wisdom of Proverbs is wisdom that works when the times are not out of joint and there is a reasonably stable society in which justice is regularly done and injustice is rightly punished. But both the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes reflect a social situation that is very different than that which existed at the height of the monarchy, indeed they reflect a situation when injustice was as likely to happen to God's people as anything remotely just. The issue in Job is not merely why do the good sometimes suffer, but more tellingly why do God's good people often suffer in such egregious and extreme ways? The book of Job probes these sorts of human dilemmas, trying in some way to address the issue of the character and will of God in the bargain.

Scholars have sometimes thought that the so-called happy ending or epilogue in Job 42.7-17 must be by a later hand, because it seems out of character with the rest of the book. They are perhaps comparing Job too closely to Ecclesiastes, and figuring that the author of Job will have shared with Qoheleth his jaundiced view of life in which there are seldom if ever happy endings in such a fallen and dark world. In fact the epilogue makes very good sense in light of the Prologue in Job 1. Job was only to be tested, not destroyed or obliterated by his sufferings. More to the point, the sort of Wisdom expressed in this book is much like that in other late Jewish Wisdom material both of the intertestamental period (i.e. Wisdom of Solomon) and from the New Testament (e,g the book of James and some of the teachings of Jesus). It is also shares something of the apocalyptic perspective we find in books of the Bible like Ezekiel and Daniel. This worldview in essence asserts--- there are many things wrong with the world, which humans themselves can not remedy, but God still cares for his people and in the end God will personally intervene and set things right. This seems to be the perspective of the author of Job.

But there is more to be said. The book of Job in its Prologue introduces us to the character of "Ha Satan," the Adversary, or as we might call him, the Prosecuting (and persecuting) Attorney. The introduction of an angelic figure that would later even be called Satan is telling because it shows that the author has begun to think about the issue of secondary causes. In other words, he operates with a world view in which God does not cause everything that happens to happen. God causes some things to happen, but he allows other things to happen. Suffering is one of those things. In other words, God allows some lesser beings, angels and humans to exercise choice about some matters and this often leads to suffering.

The author of Job then is not a fatalist, and will not blame God as the cause of the world's sufferings. Rather he even suggests that suffering, at least sometimes, is allowed by God to test and indeed even improve the character of God's people. Like a silversmith purifying the dross from silver so the silver may be unalloyed and truly useful, God can use suffering for the good of his saints (Malachi 3.2-3). Job, though he might well be deemed as righteous in various senses of the word, clearly was in need of something of a reality check in the form of a reminder that he did not know all the factors involved which led to his suffering. The book is making the point that before we start pointing fingers at the Almighty, assuming we know what is what in regard to suffering in this world, we had better first swallow a humility pill, and recognize that too often when we pontificate on such issues we are `darkening counsel without knowledge'. Arrogance and ignorance are a bad combination when it comes to evaluating such huge issues as the cause of unrighteous and extreme suffering. Job presumes certain things, and is corrected. This is why the book rightly ends with Job not merely admitting that he was speaking of things he did not fully grasp (42.3), but that his faith in God had been too small. When he sees God face to face, he goes beyond hearsay to direct knowledge of God (42.6) which results in him repenting of his arrogance and ignorance.

It is perhaps too much to hope that Mr. Dean will do a similar about face, but it is clear that he has not grasped the importance of Job 42.7-17 as an integral part of this wonderful book. Our author is telling one and all that true wisdom amounts to this-recognizing that if help and reversal of fortunes is to happen for those in truly dire straits, it must come from the Lord, not from the pundits and arm-chair analysts (Job's so-called comforters). Perhaps also it is worth saying that James, rather than Mr. Dean, was on the right track when he analyzed the same book and said "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." (James. 5.11).

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