Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:
2 “Are all these words to go unanswered?
Is this talker to be vindicated?
3 Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’
5 Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
6 and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.
10 “If he comes along and confines you in prison
and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
11 Surely he recognizes deceivers;
and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
12 But the witless can no more become wise
than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human.
13 “Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
and escape will elude them;
their hope will become a dying gasp.”
The more I read Job (and read about Job), the less I think it is about theodicy – the justice of God existing alongside the existence of evil – and more about endurance of faith. I think this seed was planted long ago. The same pastor I mentioned two posts back also told me she thought that “the patience of Job” should really be “the endurance of Job,” because he really isn’t very patient with his loud complaints and bitter responses to his friends, but he does endure through his whole ordeal.
Then, a week or so ago, I was perusing through online writings on Job. I’m sorry I can’t remember if it was on Instagram with the hashtag #bookofJob, or a blog article, or what because I’d really love to link to it and give the author credit (to that person: if you find me, holler!), but the thrust of their message was, Job’s suffering was all worth it because it meant (spoiler alert) he got to meet God. Yes, he gets his stuff and family and everything back, too, but even more than the worldly goods his faith is rewarded by the presence of God. So, is Job’s test more of a quest, almost like a knight? Job didn’t get to pick his quest quite like a knight does, but just like a King Arthur style tale, he is tried and tested and faces hardship but wins a glorious prize for his endurance in the end.
Finally, earlier this week, I came across an article in my favorite academic journal, Vetus Testamentum. In it, author Andrew E. Steinmann argues that the central theme of Job is not theodicy, but rather Job’s “struggle to maintain his integrity and his battle to hang onto his trust in God, rather than the problem of his suffering.” Steinmann goes on to argue that the theme of theodicy is secondary and the only safe conclusion we can draw, again to quote the author, is that “theodicy is an irrelevant exercise for human beings. They cannot explain God’s actions because they do not have access to God’s wisdom in the heavenly court. They can only dangerously attempt deductions that are as unreliable as the deductions made by Job’s friends.” (All this from “The Structure and Message of the Book of Job, Andrew E. Steinmann, Vol. 46 Fasc. 1 of Vetus Testamentum, Jan. 1996)
Following this theme of the endurance of Job, or the endurance of the faith of Job, we can see his friends test him with their false piety, impatience and indignation. This speech of Zophar’s is the most impatient and indignant yet. Add his wife to the mix when she says “curse God and die,” (2:9) and we have temptation (it’s a morbid desire, but still, Job desires the grave above all else at this point – and his wife is saying he will die if he just curses God). So Job’s faith is tried in every manner: loss, suffering, trying attitudes, and temptation. But he endures, his faith endures.
I find this a much more satisfying explanation of the book of Job than one based solely on theodicy, exactly because there is suffering in the world. The truth is, we don’t know why God allows suffering. But that doesn’t mean Xe doesn’t love us, it just means we lack a full comprehension of God. I think I’ve used this analogy before: but it helps me to think of it like kids on the playground. When I take my girls to the playground, I am watching over them, helping them. But even under careful guidance, they occasionally hurt themselves. It’s not that I don’t care about them, it’s just part of growing up, learning their abilities, and striving for the next monkey bar. I patch up their boo-boos, give them hugs and kisses, and send them back out there. If Earth is our proverbial playground, could God be doing the same for us? Watching over us, maybe even letting us make some mistakes, in the hopes that we are growing, not just individually, but collectively? I like to think so. I know I’ve mentioned this before (maybe multiple times), but my all-time favorite church sign is “God didn’t promise a smooth ride, but rather a soft landing.” This encapsulates what I think is the most important takeaway from Job: That all of life is a quest, just like Job’s suffering was. It is a quest of faith, a battle of endurance in which we must hold fast to God. We may get scraped up from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon our faith. Stay faithful, and the reward is everlasting peace in the life to come.