The Book of Job

This book in the Hebrew Old Testament addresses the problem of undeserved human suffering in the world.  The age-old question of why do the righteous often suffer and the wicked prosper? And why does God permit such injustice?  While the book does not give conclusive answers, it does impel us to ponder them and to think about our relationship to God.  Furthermore, the philosophical perspective in the book has had a lasting effect on western history.

In the prologue to the book (the first two chapters of Job), God tells Satan that there is none like his servant Job.  Satan replies that Job is loyal only because God has protected him from misfortune.  Put an end to his good fortune, argues Satan, and Job will turn against God.  God accepts the challenge. 

Job accepts the loss of his family, his possessions, and his health and does not curse God.  In the company of friends, Job laments his misfortune and protests that God has treated him unjustly since he ahs not knowingly sinned?  He wonders why a merciful God continues to make him suffer.

    1 After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 He said:

    3 "May the day of my birth perish,
       and the night it was said, 'A boy is born!'

    4 That dayŚmay it turn to darkness;
       may God above not care about it;
       may no light shine upon it.

     11 "Why did I not perish at birth,
       and die as I came from the womb? (Job 3)

      11 "Therefore I will not keep silent;
       I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
       I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

    12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
       that you put me under guard?

    13 When I think my bed will comfort me
       and my couch will ease my complaint,

    14 even then you frighten me with dreams
       and terrify me with visions,

    15 so that I prefer strangling and death,
       rather than this body of mine.

    16 I despise my life; I would not live forever.
       Let me alone; my days have no meaning.

    17 "What is man that you make so much of him,
       that you give him so much attention,

    18 that you examine him every morning
       and test him every moment?

    19 Will you never look away from me,
       or let me alone even for an instant?

    20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
       O watcher of men?
       Why have you made me your target?
       Have I become a burden to you? [b]

    21 Why do you not pardon my offenses
       and forgive my sins?
       For I will soon lie down in the dust;
       you will search for me, but I will be no more." (Job 7)

Job's friends argue that "God will not cast away an innocent man, Neither will he uphold the evil doers...."  Job, however, maintains his innocence. 

   22 It is all the same; that is why I say,
       'He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.'

    23 When a scourge brings sudden death,
       he mocks the despair of the innocent.

    24 When a land falls into the hands of the wicked,
       he blindfolds its judges.
       If it is not he, then who is it? (Job 9)

     11 God has turned me over to evil men
       and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.

    12 All was well with me, but he shattered me;
       he seized me by the neck and crushed me.
       He has made me his target;

    13 his archers surround me.
       Without pity, he pierces my kidneys
       and spills my gall on the ground.

    14 Again and again he bursts upon me;
       he rushes at me like a warrior.

    15 "I have sewed sackcloth over my skin
       and buried my brow in the dust.

    16 My face is red with weeping,
       deep shadows ring my eyes;

    17 yet my hands have been free of violence
       and my prayer is pure. (Job 16)

     6 then know that God has wronged me
       and drawn his net around me.

    7 "Though I cry, 'I've been wronged!' I get no response;
       though I call for help, there is no justice.

    8 He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
       he has shrouded my paths in darkness.

    9 He has stripped me of my honor
       and removed the crown from my head.

    10 He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
       he uproots my hope like a tree.

    11 His anger burns against me;
       he counts me among his enemies. (Job 19)

Job protests that the wicked often go unpunished, while he who aspired to righteousness is made to suffer.

     7 Why do the wicked live on,
       growing old and increasing in power?

    8 They see their children established around them,
       their offspring before their eyes.

    9 Their homes are safe and free from fear;
       the rod of God is not upon them.

    10 Their bulls never fail to breed;
       their cows calve and do not miscarry.

    11 They send forth their children as a flock;
       their little ones dance about.

    12 They sing to the music of tambourine and harp;
       they make merry to the sound of the flute.

    13 They spend their years in prosperity
       and go down to the grave [a] in peace. [b]

    14 Yet they say to God, 'Leave us alone!
       We have no desire to know your ways.

    15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
       What would we gain by praying to him?'  (Job 21)

    12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
       and the fatherless who had none to assist him.

    13 The man who was dying blessed me;
       I made the widow's heart sing.

    14 I put on righteousness as my clothing;
       justice was my robe and my turban.

    15 I was eyes to the blind
       and feet to the lame.

    16 I was a father to the needy;
       I took up the case of the stranger.

    17 I broke the fangs of the wicked
       and snatched the victims from their teeth. (Job 29)

     16 "And now my life ebbs away;
       days of suffering grip me.

    17 Night pierces my bones;
       my gnawing pains never rest.

    18 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me [e] ;
       he binds me like the neck of my garment.

    19 He throws me into the mud,
       and I am reduced to dust and ashes.

    20 "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer;
       I stand up, but you merely look at me.

    21 You turn on me ruthlessly;
       with the might of your hand you attack me.

    22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;
       you toss me about in the storm.

    23 I know you will bring me down to death,
       to the place appointed for all the living.  (Job 30)

Elihu, a young man, joins the conversation.  He is angry with Job for his self-righteousness, trying to justify himself rather than God and Job's friends have not provided an answer to Job's dilemma. 

     10 "So listen to me, you men of understanding.
       Far be it from God to do evil,
       from the Almighty to do wrong.

    11 He repays a man for what he has done;
       he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.

    12 It is unthinkable that God would do wrong,
       that the Almighty would pervert justice.

    13 Who appointed him over the earth?
       Who put him in charge of the whole world?

    14 If it were his intention
       and he withdrew his spirit [a] and breath,

    15 all mankind would perish together
       and man would return to the dust.

    16 "If you have understanding, hear this;
       listen to what I say.

    31 "Suppose a man says to God,
       'I am guilty but will offend no more.

    32 Teach me what I cannot see;
       if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.'

    33 Should God then reward you on your terms,
       when you refuse to repent?
       You must decide, not I;
       so tell me what you know.

    34 "Men of understanding declare,
       wise men who hear me say to me,

    35 'Job speaks without knowledge;
       his words lack insight.'

    36 Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost
       for answering like a wicked man!

    37 To his sin he adds rebellion;
       scornfully he claps his hands among us
       and multiplies his words against God." (Job 34)

      5 "God is mighty, but does not despise men;
       he is mighty, and firm in his purpose.

    6 He does not keep the wicked alive
       but gives the afflicted their rights.

    7 He does not take his eyes off the righteous;
       he enthrones them with kings
       and exalts them forever.

    8 But if men are bound in chains,
       held fast by cords of affliction,

    9 he tells them what they have doneŚ
       that they have sinned arrogantly.

    10 He makes them listen to correction
       and commands them to repent of their evil.

    11 If they obey and serve him,
       they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
       and their years in contentment.

    12 But if they do not listen,
       they will perish by the sword [a]
       and die without knowledge. (Job 36)

God, "out of the whirlwind" replies to Job.  But in God's response, we do not find a clear answer to the problem of undeserved suffering.  Instead, God, in a series of rhetorical questions, reminds Job that he alone is the creator and sustainer of the universe and that it is the obligation of Job, a mere mortal, to honor his creator and not find fault with him.