Job is a book which responds to the points in life in which what happens is not what we were told would happen in other parts of Scripture. It is the tale of a rich man, rich not only in property but in character, rich in wisdom and rich in relationships. He is the archetype of a truly good man. He is so good in fact that he brings attention to himself. We are told of a conversation between God and the adversary in which Job’s righteousness is charged to be not an inherent trait, but is itself a result of his being blessed. Thus the question is raised whether or not his blessings come from his righteousness or his righteousness comes from his blessings. God is confident that Job is truly inherently righteous, so in a cosmic bet in which none of the participants are aware, he gives permission to the adversary to begin to take away Job’s riches and discover what is left at the core of his being. A righteous man fell into financial peril, a just man began to suffer from an incurable disease. This is not what we expect, and in fact strikes at the core of our beliefs and trusts. Yet this is how life is often experienced.
In his distress Job still has some friends to surround him, though his wife is rather fed up with the whole situation and encourages Job to simply quit struggling for understanding or answers. His friends at first sit with him in silence, not knowing what to say, so intelligently not saying anything. But they, after some time, begin to suggest their insights to Job’s inexplicable situation. They are, one could say, the voices of religious answers, seeking to point Job in the right direction by teaching him what is wisdom as it has been revealed. These are not foolish men, necessarily, but rather they are speaking what is taught in other wisdom books, and are telling him common answers to the problem of evil in this world. They say that evil is caused by sin, that Job’s problems are a result of his unrighteousness, and basically charge him as being the source of his problems and thus the source of his solution. Their comments reflect what is still being said in our day, and in our churches, by good-minded folk. If we did not have the “heavenly” narrative of God speaking in the beginning, we may ourselves have responded to Job the same way as his friends did.
What we find is that while these answers are not wrong in general they are wrong in this case. Success is not simply found by doing right, and calamity does not always come about by doing wrong. Life is complicated and there is more going on than what we see or expect. In this book, God himself speaks, first chastising Job for even questioning God. God here does not defend himself whatsoever, he does not refer to the “rules” or seek to explain how what he did actually fits in with what should be expected. God does not justify himself to Job at all. Instead he reminds Job, forcefully, of his sovereignty, but also of his care and justice. The answer to the problem of evil here is that God is God, and he is just, and we simply do not know enough to give conclusive responses to what is going on. Job’s friends were condemned for their speaking in the place of God to Job, while Job was upheld by God for his persevering to find truth, and willingness to not give in to simplistic answers.
God here is shown not to follow the “rules” as they have been laid out, rather he is shown to truly have a character and personality of his own, being truly relational rather than mechanical. Here we distance ourselves from similar ancient attempts of theodicy. In other cases, the gods are simply said to not be understood, and that life will eventually work out as it should. In Job, however, we find a God who is above all, who can and will do what he will. He himself, however, does not leave the situation here, but proclaims himself to be a loving, caring God who does intercede on the behalf of his people. We are not simply given an answer to the problem of evil in Job, but a response by God which emboldens and strengthens the heart so we can endure present struggles. God responds not by answering Job’s question but by revealing his own character and creation.
The God we expect follows the rules, rewarding the good and punishing the bad. The God revealed in Job, however, does not follow this expectation, and does not offer any explanation on why he does what he does. The God we are shown, though, despite not following the “rules” proclaims his love in a relational way not dependent on “gifts” or “blessings”. He is shown to be a true father whose love is not proven by “stuff” but by a true intimacy with him, which is constant in good times or in bad. He does not want us to see him as mechanical, but truly as one who desires our genuine response, whether this response be delight and love or anger and confusion.
God is shown here to be seeking after us as a father seeks after a child, not seeking a response based on giving and getting, but on true love, in all of its messiness. Job is rebuked for his statements, but is honored for his willingness to seek out true understanding of God which goes beyond simple “general human experiences”. This living, active, relational God is may not always be the god we expect, or sometimes want, but this is the God we need.