Book of Job
|Light iron-age reading
|Gabbin' with God
“”When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, "Why god? Why me?" and the thundering voice of God answered, There's just something about you that pisses me off.
|—Stephen King (Storm of the Century: An Original Screenplay)
The Book of Job is a canonical work in both Christian and Jewish liturgy. In the story, Job, a man of faith, is tested by God through various horrible afflictions. Interpretations of this profoundly odd book are as many as the centuries of commentary it has undergone, but it is arguably one of the most beautifully-written books of the Bible - even the most secular of literary scholars still praise its pacing and profound wording. In Christian Circles it tends to be seen as an answer to the problem of evil. The Akkadian-language tablets Ludlul bēl nēmeqi ("The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer") from c. 1307-1282 BCE are regarded as a precursor to the Book of Job.
With God's permission, the Adversary (possibly Satan[note 1]) kills Job's children, destroys all of the man's possessions, and strikes Job with hideous diseases. Finally, as his wife speaks to him bitterly, Job curses the day he was born in a full chapter-length poem of woe.
Job's neighbors approach him and commiserate, and their discussions actually constitute a majority of the story (with the "action" occurring in only the first two short chapters). In contemporary thought, it was believed that misfortune was divine punishment, and the neighbors suggest that Job must deserve his fate. Why would a just God torment an innocent man, they ask. When he protests that he is the most pitiable of men but cannot think of anything he did to deserve his fate, they decry him for implying that God might "pervert justice."
But Job refuses to accept a burden of sins he did not commit, and protests that false obeisance could not possibly serve to appease a God who is so vastly greater than he is, and that indeed the very action of pleading would be to question God, and thus, to sin. And if he was evil, then why struggle as he does?
“”"If I be wicked, why then labour I in vain?
If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean;
Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me."
Job does not directly question God, but he says that if God were present, Job would ask him why these things had happened. He suggests it might be a different level of understanding of the world by his deity: "Seest thou as man seeth?"
After repeated assertions by his neighbors that they will not listen to his lies, and that he can't justify his evil and deserved misfortune with a "wind of words," Job mocks them as the "end of wisdom" and finishes a final litany of despair for mankind. Few are our days, says Job, and suffering is our lot. Job puts no stock in the sophistry of his neighbors, who only want to justify their own good fortune as rewarded virtue.
|"How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?"
After a long series of exchanges between the three neighbors and Job, a mysterious new voice, that of Elihu, interrupts. Elihu, who speaks without his approach having been narrated[note 2], speaks with great anger. He is angry at Job for concentrating on his own innocence rather than trying to justify why God had done this to him, and he is angry at the neighbors for condemning Job (and probably also for being such massive pricks).
The core of Elihu's words are that "it profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God." God is not around to be liked by men such as Job and his neighbors. He is God, and like kings and princes, Elihu says, He is not to be questioned. And speaking with what seems to be God's voice, Elihu proclaims that he will see Job "tried to his very end," because now Job has "added rebellion to his sin." Job should not have dared to question his fate, it is said.
Now a whirlwind appears - perhaps in addition to Elihu, or supplanting him - and the full voice of God challenges Job, demanding to know where Job was when God laid the foundations of the earth. In a thunderous climax to the story, God thunders down imprecations upon Job (who presumably is groveling at this point), demanding he "gird himself as a man" and not dare to question the Lord his God.
Job repents in sorrow.
Mollified, God commands the neighbors to give Job some animals to sacrifice, since they failed to repent. His good servant Job is blessed, finally, with more livestock and more children and more money than he had before. Ultimately he is rewarded for his goodness.
The Book of Job is widely seen as an attempt at theodicy. Job represents anyone who suffers terribly, and we are admonished that it is abhorrent effrontery to dare question an omnipotent omniscient deity. Reception of this lesson has been mixed, with some pointing out that the moral of the story is in fact that the neighbors were right all along, and virtue is always rewarded by God. But to many, the core message remains true: no matter what happens, it is not man's lot to question his Maker: after all, even if Job gets a happy ending, his first batch of children don't get resurrected once God has made his point.
Even if they accept the moral, many Christians have trouble accepting the image of God as a cruel being who seemingly takes a wager by Satan, and who causes immense suffering and death for the sake of a simple moral lesson given to someone who is described as righteous and upright man.
But according to some Jews and Christians the story is not the simple "God is a jerk" tale it is frequently made out to be by some of the New Atheists. How else could God have given the "moral lesson" of Job's story to all, if not by persecuting an upright man? A sinful man would be seen as being justly punished. The above assumes that there is a good moral lesson in the story of Job; any moral lesson boils down to "God may inflict suffering onto righteous or innocent people but we must not question this because God is more powerful than we are and can punish us for questioning." Fortunately there is no evidence that the arbitrary God of the Bible exists, or at least that He punishes people for questioning him. For instance, there has been no noticeable smiting of the New Atheists, even though they openly and publicly question, challenge, and even deny Him. Anyone minded to suggest Christopher Hitchens was punished should note that Jerry Falwell was also struck down around that time.
The Book of Job was the predecessor to Monty Hall's Let's Make A Deal. The reasons for it being retooled into Let's Make A Deal are quite evident. In the Book of Job, all of the doors had zonks behind them, and they were quite horrifying rather than cute. In addition, the only contestant was a man named Job who had to continually suffer the zonks, although he did win a big prize in the end.
TV producer Steven Bochco later optioned the Book of Job and turned it into an acclaimed police procedural drama, starring Dennis Franz as a cop who kept having partners and family members killed, and then wound up marrying the hottest woman in the entire station house. As of 2007, God, Satan, Steven Bochco, and Job's estate are in "legal appeal hell" (not affiliated with Satan's Hell) over royalties from the show.
The story of Job was turned into a play called J.B. by Archibald MacLeish.
A quote from Job opens the Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life. Then there's some dinosaurs!
- Guide to the Bible
- Examples of Satan personally killing people
- Examples of God personally killing people
- RationalWiki:Annotated Bible/Job
- The article "ha" in the Hebrew indicates that adversary is a function, not a name.
- Seemingly the result of the character being a later insertion.
- The Problem of Evil in Philosophy and Popular Culture by Trip McCrossin, Rutgers University.