Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Controversy of Suffering in the Book of Job

Just a few weeks ago I started a Chronological Bible reading plan. For the most part the beginning of the Old Testament is organized in a chronological order. The book of Job is one of the early exceptions. There is no firm date for the writing of Job or when the events took place. Internal clues such as having a patriarchal setting as well as external clues found in places like Ezekiel 14:14 give a probable dating of around the time of Noah and Abraham. So this particular reading plan had me read the first 11 chapters of Genesis and then skip over to reading Job.

Job is a fascinating and controversial book. For those unfamiliar with the book, Job is a rich and godly man. He even goes as far as to perform sacrifices for his kids just in case they may have committed a sin. Satan and God have a conversation regarding the righteousness of Job and Satan challenges God by saying:
Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.
The book is somewhat about how our righteousness should not be based upon our lot in life. But the major point of the book is that we do not always understand why things happen because we do not have the full picture. God is sovereign and we need to trust in him. There is a curtain being pulled back and we are given a brief (and very incomplete) look at the spiritual conflict that is happening between God and Satan.

One interpretive challenge that I see in the book is that it can seemingly paint this spiritual conflict as being a trivial game of chess where pawns are easily sacrificed. But even though we are given a brief glance behind the curtain we must always remember that we are not given the full context or all of the details of the interchange between God and Satan. There is a much longer history of this conflict and the events of Job (as well as the events in our lives) are only a very small portion of that conflict.

Admittedly it is also a very hard to understand conflict. One bit of understanding that Job does give us is a great foreshadowing of the coming of Christ. Job knows that there is a great Redeemer that will one day come and right all the wrongs.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
     yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
     and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
     My heart faints within me!
               Job 19:25-27 
I do not fully understand why bad things happen. All I do know is that Jesus offers us the way to make it through them. One day Christ will come and set all things right.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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