INTRODUCTION TO JOB. The book of “Job” is often approached as a book on suffering, but Job’s suffering is merely the dramatic context for a complex theological discussion about the nature of God and the nature of man and the question of righteousness. If God is all-powerful and infinitely holy, and man, at his best, is abjectly weak and sinful, how can man ever be right before God?
VERSES ASKING ABOUT MAN’S RIGHTEOUSNESS
‘Can mankind be just before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?’ (Eliphaz) – Job 4:17
“In truth I know that this is so;
But how can a man be in the right before God?” (Job) – Job 9:2
“What is man, that he should be pure,
Or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” (Eliphaz) – Job 15:14
“How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Bildad) – Job 25:4
The profound question that pervades Job is, “How can a man ever be right before a holy, transcendent, omnipotent God?” The book of Job, therefore, is an excellent context for exploring the subject of righteousness. What does it mean to be righteous? How is it possible for a man to be a sinner and also to be in right standing before the LORD? What must a man do to attain righteousness?
The primary point of tension that emerges in the story is that Job and his friends are at very different places in their theology. First, Job is fundamentally aware that he is in right standing before God, even if he cannot explain why that is true. Second, Job believes that, despite the catastrophic turn of his circumstances, he remains in favor with God. In other words, a man’s righteousness is unrelated to his circumstances. Third, Job maintains that, although he is not sinless, he is nevertheless righteous before God. In Job’s theology, a man can be righteous (“pure before his Maker” Job 4:17) and can be a sinner at the same time. For Job, righteousness (“to be in the right before God” 9:2) is neither obtained nor maintained by a man’s performance. In other words, Job asserts that being right before God is not by works. And fourth, Job accepts the possibility that God can remain perfectly just and also allow the righteous to suffer.
In stark contrast to Job’s theology, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar see Job’s suffering as irrefutable proof that Job has sinned greatly and God is now punishing him for his sin. Finding the righteous and the wicked is very easy in their system: if someone is prospering, it is because he is righteous, and if someone is suffering, it is because he is a sinner. Theirs is a works-based theology that makes sense to the world and that is mimicked by all religions. First, it is a complete mystery how anyone can be right before God. Second, your circumstances are the direct product of your righteousness, If you want to improve your circumstances, then you must come clean with your misdeeds. Third, it is impossible for a sinner to be righteous. “Sinner” and “righteous” are like black and white. You are either one or the other. And fourth, for Job’s friends, God rewards good behavior with good circumstances and He recompenses bad behavior with bad circumstances. It all hinges on works. God deals with man on the basis of that man’s performance.
How does a person’s theology help them to respond to life? Let’s go on.
JOB’S SOLUTION TO HIS SUFFERING
Because Job is aware that he is not suffering for his sin, the solution to his suffering is much more complicated than it is for his friends. Since Job did nothing to cause his suffering, there is nothing he can do to relieve his suffering. Perhaps Job complains too loudly, but he complains to his God, because Job knows that God is the one who can change things. He does not know why God has chosen to bring this misery, but he never changes the direction of his pleas for mercy. From his friends, Job asks for compassion and comfort, and sadly gets none. From himself, he struggles for perseverance. But from God, he wants answers and relief. Job demonstrates that he is a man of faith because his life is God-oriented. When he is prospering, he is “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). After his children have a party, he offers burnt offerings for them (1:5). When he loses everything, including his ten children, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped” (1:21). When he is covered with sores and his wife tells him to curse God and die, Job replies, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10). When his “friends” continue to tell him that his suffering is his own fault, he continues to maintain that God is just. When all the specifics are stripped away, all Job can do is wait for the LORD to give him an audience and tell him what he must do. “Wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14).
JOB’S FRIENDS’ SOLUTION TO HIS SUFFERING
Because of their simple theology, Job’s friends consistently offer Job a simple, works-based solution to his suffering. They begin with a simple diagnosis: since Job is suffering, a cesspool of evil must be lurking behind his righteous façade. His performance has degraded and he has lapsed into sin. But if Job will just admit his wrong-doing and begin to improve his performance, then all will be well and his suffering will go away. Notice that their philosophy is man-oriented. Man determines his destiny based on his performance. If the man performs well, he prospers, and if he sins, he suffers. Because their philosophy is man-oriented, they continue to urge Job to perform. For them, there is no mystery with God. God is simple. He sets up the rules and then doles out success or suffering based on how well we do.
DO THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFER?
There is another closely related idea that goes along with this man-centered thinking. According to Job’s friends, it is a foundational principle that God does not let the righteous suffer in this life. To have the righteous man suffer would not be consistent with God’s character. But is this biblical thinking? We will consider that question in another post.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 2/10/2023 Updated 2/18/2023 #619