Saturday, January 10, 2009

Job and God's Character

If any of you are actively following a Bible reading plan then you might be reading the book of Job right now. This is a particularly difficult book to read for a number of reasons. One of them being that we often bring some predispositions with us when we start reading this book. If you ask most people: "What's the point of the book of Job" they will probably tell you that "Job should be a model for us and we should trust God because his plan is good, like Job did." There is real truth in that statement. God's plan is good. There is also some misconceptions in that statement. Yes, Job was a righteous man. Yes, Job could be a good model for our lives. No, Job did not handle the trials God allowed him to go through like some super-Christian. It is true that Job never committed apostasy yet his tone and demeanor was at times bold and perhaps even harsh or defiant. Several times early on in the book Job confesses his displeasure in life and curses the day he was born. Job's situation was awful and his agony cannot be overstated in terms we can understand yet his language still comes across as a little self-aggrandizing.

In the end Job is restored to a higher standing in society and he learns a valuable lesson about suffering and justice but Job is not the focus of this book, God is. Job sees that God's plan was indeed good and that what happened to him WAS just. When I read this I was almost immediately confounded. God himself declared Job to be a "blameless and upright man who fears God and turns from evil." How could his suffering be just?

This is the conversation Laura and I had a few nights ago. What makes Job's suffering just? How is this fair? Why would God do this? At first we concluded that a little suffering was fair because God had a "higher" purpose to it and he rewarded Job with a better life than he had before. We thought that because Job learned a lesson about God and the fact that someone on the "God-team" triumphed of the evils of Satan by not renouncing his faith in God was a "higher purpose." This isn't totally wrong but there was a fundamental error in our thinking.

We judged it to be OK that because there was a lesson learned in the end that it was fair for God to allow Job to be persecuted the way he was. WRONG. That logic places some arbitrary set of constraints on what God can do and still be a just God. The rationale of why Job's suffering was just is not predicated on the end benefits to Job but rather the fact that it was ordained by God. The fundamental question that needs to be answered for this to make sense is, what defines justice? The answer: God does. God's character is totally self-defined. If God does it, it is just. Holiness is anything that God does. Sovereignty is the execution of God's omnipotence. The characteristics we associate with and attribute to God are self referential. God is neither defined by nor constrained by anything other than himself. We must must go through every pain necessary to ensure we do not attempt to constrain God's character or we will miss out on some amazing opportunities to throw our selves at his mercy.

The lesson to be learned from Job are many but perhaps the most important is (to borrow from John Piper) Christian hedonism no matter our circumstances because of who God has revealed himself to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this online commentary "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job" ( as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God. There is a time and a place for such things. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. It is also taught in 262 US high schools in 40 states through Chapter 17 in The Bible and Its Influence. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.