What is the message of Job and how does this relate to the issue of suffering? Rather than viewing Job’s suffering as the central focus of the Joban author’s argument, as I suggested in my introductory post, a case may be made that Job’s suffering serves as a catalyst to explore God’s control of the moral order of life, his administration of justice, and the impact that this exploration has on Job (see Clines, Job 1-20, pp. xxxix–xlvii). The divine administration of justice refers to God either blessing a person for living righteously, remunerative justice, or judging a person for living wickedly, retributive justice. In 1:1–5 Job is pictured as having a genuine righteousness with the consequential blessings of an ideal family, wealth, health, and a good reputation. Job was living proof of God’s remunerative justice. However, in 1:6–2:10 Job’s life of blessing is quickly changed into one of severe suffering. Furthermore, the immediate context of Job is clear that Job’s suffering was not produced because of a lifestyle of sin (see 1:8, 2:3). This situation challenges Job’s understanding of this dogma of God’s administration of justice. Job wants another explanation of how the moral sphere of this life is governed. Even his friends also find their understanding challenged. However, they tenaciously cling to their interpretation of God’s administration of justice (for a good exposition of the entire book of Job, see Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Book and Psalms, pp. 28-128). In this post, I will examine the various misguided applications of God’s administration of justice and, in the next post, the divine interpretation of God’s administration of justice (for a concise and helpful discussion of Job’s message, see Wilson, “Job,” in Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, pp. 150-52).
Satan, Job’s friends as well as Elihu, and Job have various misguided applications of God’s administration of justice. I will summarize each of these.
1. God’s administration of justice is inherently flawed.
This is the view of Satan. After having roamed the earth, Satan presents himself before God. God asks him in 1:8 if he had found anyone on earth as upright as Job. In response to this, Satan raises a question about God’s administration of justice. In 1:9–11 Satan asserts that if God would remove Job’s blessings, Job would curse God. This is to say, Job is righteous because God has rewarded him. The implication is that God’s system of justice does not promote genuine righteousness. Man serves God for His blessings and not for true devotion to God. With God’s permission, Satan then removes God’s blessings from Job. Job loses his ideal family (with the exception of his wife), wealth, health, and even his reputation is questioned. Satan’s goal is to get Job to curse God. By doing this, Satan will demonstrate that God’s moral order has an intrinsic defect.
2. God’s administration of justice is mechanically applied.
Job’s three friends and Elihu share a common belief that God mechanically rewards and judges people for their actions. This was an immediate cause and effect understanding of God’s administration of justice. This is demonstrated by their acceptance of the corollary of retributive and remunerative justice. The corollary of the former is this: if one is suffering, he had to be living in sin; and the later: if one was prospering, he was living righteously. In each case the degree of results was directly proportional to one’s behavior. Prior to Job’s suffering, the friends viewed Job as living proof of the corollary of remunerative justice; however, after the extreme disasters that Job encountered, he was definitely living in extreme sin but apparently not extreme enough to have his life taken, as his children’s lives had been (see 4:7–9; 8:3–4; 11:4–6). The three friends and Elihu agree that Job was suffering because of sin (see 4:7–9; 8:3–4; 11:4–6; 34:11–12). They also agree that God will reverse Job’s suffering if he presents his appeal to God or confesses his sin and lives righteously (5:17–27; 8:5–7; 11:13–20; 34:31–32). However, they diverge somewhat in their understanding of the significance of Job’s suffering.
The first response to Job’s curse on the day of his birth is by Eliphaz. He assumes in his first speech that Job’s sin is minor and that he is basically an innocent man. In 4:3–6 he recognizes that Job is a blameless man who is suffering. This is a problem to his theology. His solution is that even one as righteous as Job will suffer deservedly at times, 4:17–19. He also assumes that Job’s suffering is minimal and may be quickly removed (4:7). He further postulates in 5:17–27 that God uses suffering for correction purposes.
The second responder, Bildad, is convinced that God has appropriately administered justice to Job and his family. He views Job as being sinful and deservedly suffering but not so sinful that God had to immediately take his life, as He had to do with his children, 8:2–4.
The third reaction is by Zophar who is convinced that Job is a hypocritical sinner. Since Job claims that he is clean in God’s sight (11:4) and he is greatly suffering, Job must be concealing sin. For Zophar, God’s retributive theology was not quid pro quo since God has mercifully overlooked a portion of Job’s sins (11:5–6). If the truth had been revealed, Job was a greater sinner than any of his friends could have imagined.
When the friends’ argumentation against Job becomes ineffective with them becoming silent, another participant, Elihu appears in 32:1–37:24. Like Job’s three friends, Elihu is a defender of God’s justice. Because he also accepted its corollary, he assumed that Job was suffering because of sin (33:27; 34:11–12, 31–33, 37; 36:8–10). In my understanding of Elihu, he plays the role of an adjudicator in the book (so also Estes, pp. 104-5 and Wilson, p. 151; for a more thorough defense of this view, see my article, “Elihu’s Contribution to the Thought of the Book of Job“). Though Eliphaz had postulated that God used suffering for purposes of correction, Elihu more thoroughly develops God instructional use of suffering in 33:19–28 and 36:8–12. For Elihu suffering was not only for retribution but also for correction.
3. God’s administration of justice is capriciously interpreted.
Until he had experienced his intense suffering, Job agreed with his friends about God’s moral order. However, he has changed his mind. Since he is living righteously yet suffering, he is confused and looking for other explanations as to how God administers justice. Job’s initial response to his calamities is a calm acceptance of these as God’s will for his life. After further prolonged reflection over a period of months (7:1–6), he realizes that his understanding of the moral order of life has collapsed. While Job’s arguments in the midst of his suffering reflect the marks of a genuine believer, such as Job 19:25–27, Job nevertheless makes some wrong accusations against God. I will summarize Job’s argumentation and then note some of these wrong accusations.
a. Summary of Job’s argument
In examining Job’s thought, I will organize this summary around the sequential development of his speeches.
1) Job’s complaint and his speeches from the first cycle
In his first speech in chapter 3, Job’s complaint provides the occasioning incident for the friends to speak. Job reacts to his situation by wishing that he had never been born. Since this wish is impossible, he pleads with God to kill him in his second speech (6:8). In Job’s third speech, he moves beyond his death wish and desires a declaration of innocence (9:2–3). In the heat of defending his reputation, Job accuses God of being hostile to him (9:8) and of oppressing him while smiling on the plans of the wicked (10:3). Because of God’s posture toward him, Job realizes that God will never give him what he feels is his right, viz., a declaration of innocence (9:14–20). Job’s thought develops further in that he feels that with an arbitrator it might be possible for him to enter into litigation with God (9:32–35). Job’s desire for a court hearing with God grows stronger in his fourth speech for he requests a legal hearing with God before he dies (13:3, 16–19; 14:13–17).
2) Job’s speeches from the second cycle
In his fifth and sixth speeches, he again wishes that an impartial mediator would serve as his defense attorney before God (16:18–22; 19:25–27). Job is convinced of his innocence and is confident that God will vindicate him, even if it is not in the present earthly sphere. Though Job is suffering in a most profound way as well as limited by his finite knowledge of God’s ways and by his frustration over his friends’ false accusations, his focus on God as a solution to his suffering demonstrates the reality of God’s salvific work in his heart. However, Job’s conviction of his innocence prompts him to accuse God of having wronged him (19:6). In his seventh speech he ponders God’s system of justice in light of God permitting the wicked to live happy and long lives (21:7–26) and permitting them to even be buried with honor (21:27–34). Job is confused about God’s moral order. However, he is still convinced that he wants no part with the counsel of the wicked since they do not recognize that God is the ultimate source of their blessing (21:16).
3) Job’s speeches from the third cycle
In his eighth speech, Job observes some enigmas in God’s moral order (24:2–21). Yet Job is convinced God will rectify these enigmas (24:22–25). Job’s quest for the vindication of his integrity moves him in his ninth speech to declare that God has denied him of his justice (27:2). However, he subsequently balances this out by affirming that God will judge the wicked (27:13–23). In the midst of Job’s confused and proud challenges, he again shows the marks of one who has been internally renewed by God.
4) Job’s final speeches
In his tenth speech, Job (though it is possible that this speech may come from the Joban author) presents a poem on wisdom. In this poem he states that man does not have
sufficient wisdom to solve some of the problems in the world, only God has this type of wisdom (28:20–28). After reviewing his earlier state of blessing (29:1–25), he then ridicules those who have attacked him (30:1–15) and affirms that God has attacked him and refuses to respond to his requests (30:16–26). Job’s conviction of his innocence and of God’s justice compels him to take an oath of innocence in chapter 31. Job’s oath is a naïve challenge to God’s moral order. If Job is innocently suffering, divine justice appears to be in error. In Job’s desire to go to court with God, he is attempting to approach God as an equal. Though Job believes that God does have a system of justice, he is in effect accusing God of using it capriciously.
b. Job’s wrong accusations against God
While I have noted that Job shows the marks of divinely produced new life, he nevertheless made some ignorant charges against God. God highlights these charges by accusing Job of speaking out of ignorance in 38:2, of making false accusations against Him in 40:2, and of discrediting His justice in 40:8. Because of God’s accusations against Job, we will note three of Job’s false charges.
1) God has mistreated Job.
In 10:3 Job accused God of oppressing him while smiling on the plans of the wicked, in 16:9–12 of attacking him in anger, in 19:6–11 of wronging him and counting him as his enemy, in 27:1–2 of denying his justice, and in 30:19–21 of ruthlessly mistreating him.
2) God was not taking care of other suffering people.
This is to say, God was not doing His job as ruler since he allowed the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the needy to be oppressed by the wicked, 24:1–12.
3) God arbitrarily governed the moral sphere of life.
By accusing God in this manner, though done in ignorance, and by desiring, consequently, to enter into litigation with God, Job was in effect passing judgment on God and, therefore, making himself out to be God’s equal (pride). In effect, Job was maintaining that God capriciously administered justice. In response to Job and his friends, there is only One who is able to speak ex cathedra on the administration of justice, but His response will have to wait until my next post.