Book Plunge: How To Read Job

What do I think of Tremper Longman and John Walton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Job. It’s one of those books that we often don’t know what to do with, but we think we know everything about it. The story seems straight forward enough. Job is a good and righteous man who is put to a test when the devil challenges God. As a result, Job loses all that he has and his health as well. His own wife says to curse God and die and his three friends who come to comfort him instead end up getting in a religious debate with him telling him he needs to repent. Job stands against them and in the end, God speaks to Job and Job recognizes the grandeur of God and he receives back all the wealth that he lost doubled. Through this, we better understand suffering in the universe.

Or maybe we don’t….

Frankly, if Job is meant to address the question of why we suffer, it did a terrible job. Job himself at the end of the story does not know why he suffered and while he does get back everything and more, it would have still left a lasting impression on him. In fact, we look at many times that Job speaks angrily in the book before God shows up and think “This guy doesn’t sound so righteous right now.” When God shows up, we’re even more puzzled. Rather than give an answer as to what happened, God looks more like He’s saying “Yo! I’m God! Sit down and shut up once you hear about all the cool things I can do!”

Maybe we’re misreading Job then. Maybe in fact the question is not at all about why good people suffer. Good people suffering is just what puts a deeper question in perspective.

What if the deeper question behind the book is “Why should any man be righteous?” Often times Christians are asked by atheists if they would be a good person if there was no God. That’s a valid question and it’s a question not just for Christians but for anyone. Why should anyone be good? Let’s also keep in mind that when we talk about this goodness, the talk is entirely about life on this side of eternity. Longman and Walton argue that Job is really not arguing for an afterlife even in some of our places where we think he does. The book doesn’t even hint at one at the end when it would make the most sense. Everything is about this life.

Job lives in a worldview with a basic principle that if you do good you can expect good and if you do evil, you can expect to be punished. A major difference between Job and his friends and the world around them is that there is no trace of polytheism being spoken about. There is no indication that there is a ritual that Job needs to undertake in order to be pronounced pure. The topic is all about moral shortcomings. In fact, contrary to what we might think, Job might not be as much of a saint as we think. The narrator tells us Job offered sacrifices for each of his children after they all got together in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts. The problem is we have no indication that this happened and could such a sacrifice even provide for the children to begin with? Is this a hint that Job has a view of a capricious deity sitting at the computer ready to hit the smite button?

god_at_his_computer

Of course, Job is noble in that he doesn’t curse God when struck with calamity, but he is less than noble when he throughout his dialogue accuses God of being unjust and asks for an advocate. Note he’s not wanting what we often think he wants. We tend to see Jesus in the advocate. Job is not wanting someone to atone for his sins so he can be righteous before God because he thinks he already is. Job is wanting someone who will stand before God on his behalf and argue that God is unjust. It would be a wasted attempt anyway. What would Job gain if he showed God was unjust anyway?

Meanwhile, his friends and everyone else does seem to follow the principle above known as the retribution principle. After all, if Job is suffering, well he must have sinned in some way. It’s amazing that this book is one written that shows that our individual sin is not the cause of all the suffering that we go through in life, and yet we still hold to that doctrine. How many of us in a time of suffering start looking at our lives trying to find that one sin, even if it was a sin that was committed decades ago, that we think God is holding us accountable for? If so, what kind of God do we think we’re serving? That’s not to say that there’s never time for self-examination, but are we making God into someone spiteful?

The point we are to get out of the story is about the importance of wisdom, which is talked about much in this book, especially at the start of Job’s final long discourse. The wisdom in the end is to learn to trust God. God’s resume is not to just say “Hey! I can do cool stuff!” It’s saying “I keep this whole universe in motion. You do not. Do you think I don’t know what I’m doing?” Comparisons are drawn with the two animal creatures described also with the implication being that for the latter definitely, God is greater than this beast. You could not begin to know how to tame this beast and bend Him to your will. With God it is impossible.

This leaves us thinking about prayer. Many times in prayer we do try to manipulate God. I know I’ve been guilty of it in the past and it’s really hard to learn to come to God and realize there’s no magic formula where you can say just the right words and then God will give you what you want. You also can’t just say “Look at all my good deeds” and then think that God is obligated to give you something. The book should teach us that God has no obligations to us. He does not owe us a single thing. Everything that he gives us is an act of grace. This is something I will have to watch for more when I pray and no doubt, I will make the mistake again in the future.

Also, rather than be a book to aid us in suffering, this should be a book that is a boot camp for us before we enter suffering. It will cause us to ask the question if we properly read it of “Would I serve God even if there was no reward?” We could think of other parallels. Would the husband love his wife if sex was no longer part of the deal? Would the wife love her husband if he could no longer provide financial or physical security? How many of our relationships involve loving so we can get something that we want rather than doing the right thing because it’s the right thing? How many of us have a walk with God like that? Of course God promises to reward us for our faithfulness and even uses that as our motivation, but we are not to be purely mercenary.

Walton and Longman’s book will give you a lot to think about. The view I have of Job has been drastically changed by reading this book and I think in fact for the better. I now seek to ask myself why I strive to live a righteous life and make my motivations pure. Are you doing the same?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Note: This book was freely provided to me by IVP for review purposes. You can purchase your own copy and support Deeper Waters here.