The title of this book describes the resource used as well as the life situation and the purpose of this study:
- "The book of Job" will be the main resource that I will use to demonstrate a model life and attitude that we, as Christians, should strive for during times of crisis.
- "Times of crisis" well describes the state of not only our lives but the lives of everyone else around us at this particular moment in time. We all go through challenging episodes in our personal lives (like going to college for the first time, or getting married, having children, loss of a loved one, moving, etc.), but it is a rare occurrence when the entire world is challenged by the very same crisis as we are experiencing now. If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic has had the ability to test everyone regardless of age, social status or worldview with the very same challenge and reveal the viability of both our belief systems and political ideology.
- "Faithful living" describes not only the goal or the model life that Christians strive for in both good and bad times, it is the shelter that protects us during every crisis. Not only is faithful living our response to crisis, it becomes a light and a witness to an unbelieving world thrust further into darkness by the confusion and fear created by this and every crisis throughout history.
Job, therefore, is the biblical character whose experience most resembles the nature of our experience today. He endured a one-man pandemic and came through it battered and suffered great loss. His experience and reaction was messy at times and not necessarily heroic. However, his story provides us with the picture of a faithful, sincere, yet imperfect man, and records how he reacted to the moment when he was in the eye of the storm. The book of Job is valuable, especially during these challenging times, because it shows us not only what we as believers should do but also what we shouldn't do.
Just like all believers, Job's life was a mixture of good and not so good, as well as things left unanswered and unresolved. We can, therefore, relate to him not only as a Bible character from long ago, but also as a human being doing his best under trying circumstances.
The Book of Job
As we do when studying a Bible book, we'll begin with some preliminary information about the book, its author, the time it was written and its general theme and outline.
1. Literary Importance of Job
Aside from its unique subject matter, one feature of this book is the beauty of its writing. For example some have said:
Magnificent and sublime as no other book of Scripture.
- Martin Luther
The greatest poem of ancient or modern times.
- Alfred "Lord" Tennyson (British Poet Laureate)
We often focus so much on the story of Job that we fail to appreciate the quality of the style and the expression of the author. Some scholars have referred to the author of Job as the Shakespeare of the Old Testament.
2. Date and Authorship
There has been no consensus among scholars as to the actual author or time this book was written since there are no clues within the book itself as to its date or authorship.
As a Bible book it is grouped according to its style and category (poetry/wisdom literature) which consists of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. These books are so-called because they deal with human struggle and real-life experience.
There are several ideas about its date and its authorship:
- Earliest Jewish tradition ascribed its writing to Moses (1400 BC).
- Later scholars (Martin Luther) believed it was produced by Solomon (1000 BC).
- Modern scholars believe it was written by an unknown author during the time of the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon (600 BC).
Suffice to say that the book of Job was accepted and included in the canon of the Old Testament by 150 BC.
3. Book of Job - Historical or Poetic?
One question that often arises is, "Is Job a purely historical book about what happened to a man and his family, or is it a work of fiction that teaches important theological principles?"
The earliest Jewish teachings claimed that Job was history. Martin Luther wrote that Job was a work of poetic imagination set in a historical framework. For example, similar to historical dramas/movies based on true events. Some claim that it is an uninspired work of heathen fiction (Spinoza, Dutch philosopher).
Most conservative scholars hold that Job is an inspired literary work based on true historical events.
4. Purpose of Job
A more important focus for study, aside from the time and the authorship aspects, is the purpose of this book. Actually, the book of Job has a number of ideas and issues that it deals with:
A. One of the earliest views suggests that it was a study of the patience demonstrated by a good man while he was being tested by various trials. James echoes this idea in his New Testament epistle:
2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- James 1:2-4
James summarizes the principle that we see played out in a man's life in the book of Job.
B. Another important purpose is that the experience of Job reveals the falseness of the prevalent dogma at that time which taught that personal suffering was always the result of personal sin (G. B. Caird, Old Testament scholar). Job himself does not refute this fallacy used by his friends to explain what has happened to him and why (he defends himself but he doesn't completely refute their arguments).
However, the readers who see what goes on behind the scenes and observe the action from God's viewpoint are able to conclude that this notion (personal suffering is always the result of personal sin - e.g. Karma) is not accurate.
C. The most obvious conclusion is that the Book of Job deals specifically with the very real problem of the suffering of innocents and how and why one can maintain faith in the face of this experience.
This idea has been the view of the majority of Bible scholars who have commented on the book of Job. Here are a few summary statements from some of these writers:
"The important truth revealed [in Job] is that there is a suffering of the righteous which is not a decree of wrath, but a dispensation of God's love. This is the heart of the book of Job."
- Franz Delitzsch, The Book of Job
"In the end Job's problem is left unsolved, except that in the infinite wisdom of God, undeserved suffering must have an explanation beyond our comprehension. This is, after all, the simple doctrine of faith, which does not insist upon explaining everything."
- Edgar Goodspeed, The Story of the Old Testament
"It is when Job comes face to face with Him that he comes to himself. He does not get definite answers from God. In the book, when God speaks, there is no new instruction, only His presence. God is bent simply on being God."
- Interpreter's Bible
And so, the focus of the book is the problem of innocent suffering. Job's story doesn't actually give easy answers to the question, "Why do innocent people suffer?" or "Why do unfair and unjust things happen in this world?" Rather, it presents one particular case and its extraordinary circumstances (Satan personally attacks an individual and God lets it happen), and we are witnesses to the developments and eventual outcome (God appears to Job and he is restored). The circumstances of Job's experience are difficult or perhaps impossible to apply directly to ourselves, however, we do have an intimate view of how Job feels about the unjust things that take place in his life and how he reacts to them.
- Shock at losing material possessions
- Sorrow and grief at losing his family
- Pain and suffering because of his illness
- Humiliation at the loss of prestige and respect
- Frustration and anger at the seeming injustice and unfairness of his situation.
- He may have also been among those who believed that personal suffering was the judgment of God upon an individual because of personal sin. This may have been why he was upset and thought he was being punished unjustly. He knew that he was a good and just man and yet here he was being punished anyways. The facts didn't agree with his theology.
We are witnesses to his unjust suffering as well as how he feels and deals with these things as a human being. Our life lessons come from comparing his life experience to ours because to one degree or another we also experience shock, sorrow, pain, humiliation, frustration, anger and despair at times in our own lives. Of course, we rarely experience all of these emotions at the same time and over the same issue. However, whether individually or collectively, Job's experience mirrors our experience as people of faith dealing with adversity.
It is as if Job represents a one-stop example of how one believer deals with suffering he didn't understands and nor deserves. The Book of Job doesn't provide nice neat bullet point solutions to the problems and injustices of life; instead, Job presents how one man lived a faithful, not a perfect, life during a time of terrible crisis.
Our own life lessons, therefore, will come from examining Job's journey from a blessed life to unjust suffering and loss, to revelation and finally restoration for a blessed life once again.