On Teaching the Book of Job: How Do You Answer These Questions . . . ?

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Last week I lectured on Job.  After the lecture, I posed the following questions to the class; we didn’t get past the first one.  It was a lively discussion, and my goal was to press the students to think beyond easy assumptions that “God only does the good” and really wrestle with the questions Job himself seems to be asking.  It is a book, I believe, that does not–indeed, should not–give way to easy conclusions or oversimplification.

1) Who is in the right?  Job?  God?  Why?

2) What does the book of Job reveal about God?

3) What “wisdom” is being communicated in Job?  How does this book fit into the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible?

4) Why do you think Job is in the canon?

How would you respond to any/all of these questions?  And yes, dear reader, I will offer my responses . . . in due time.

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6 thoughts on “On Teaching the Book of Job: How Do You Answer These Questions . . . ?

    Roy "Eli" Garton said:
    November 1, 2009 at 9:48 am

    In the end, I visualize an exasperated Jobian writer tossing his hands up in the air. The bottom line is that God is the only being to whom the argument “mighty makes right” applies. It doesn’t matter whether Job, ha-satan, Job’s so-called friends, or even his family agree or not; it doesn’t even matter if they are addressing the right question or not. It all boils down to station: God is God, and God doesn’t operate within humanly constructed parameters — theological, ethic, or otherwise. So what if God is wrong? God is God. So what if God does something contrary to God’s earlier self-revelation? God is God. Naturally, this situation is troubling; to a certain extent, I think that’s the point.

      John Anderson responded:
      November 1, 2009 at 10:37 am

      Roy:

      I agree with you to a point. What you have said is fine and good, and I’m on board with most of it. The only difference may be that I see God’s non-answer (and it is a non-answer) when he finally shows up in Job 38 as inadequate. God says basically the equivalent of “I’m God, you’re not.” That’s not a terribly helpful, or reasonable answer. Now, I don’t claim God has to be helpful, let alone reasonable! But it does, then, I think create a task for the reader/interpreter that ends up mimicking Job; we too should question God about such matters.

      At the same time, what I find especially interesting is God’s final statements in chapter 42, especially v. 7 where God more or less ‘answers’ the first question I pose above. God says his wrath is kindled against Job’s friends because they have spoken wrongly, and it is Job who has spoken rightly all along. I find this to be one of the most unique (and troubling) aspects of the story, and one that most interpretations don’t take into account adequately.

    Roy "Eli" Garton said:
    November 1, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I essentially agree with you first paragraph, John. “I’m God, you’re not” is what I mean by “God is God.” However, I would prefer a more neutral standpoint on the interpretative task: “should” implies “ought,” which I tend to reject. I prefer “allows”: “we too are allowed to question God about such matters.”

    Regarding your second paragraph, it stands as a welcomed corrective to my generalization above. All standpoints taken in Job are not on equal footing, but the fact that God is portrayed as giving a “non-answer” begs the question whether this was just the author’s predetermined theological preference. I guess the question boils down to whether and to what extent the words attributed to God reflect divine reality.

    Bob MacDonald said:
    November 1, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    My answers are here

    slaveofone said:
    November 11, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    1) Who is in the right? Job? God? Why?

    Job is right in thinking that YHWH has dealt with him unjustly and that if he could present his case against YHWH with the ability to win it, he would (why, because YHWH said so: “you [Job’s "friends"] have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” – 42:7) But Job is wrong in thinking that injustice against himself is any big deal, because ultimately in the grand scheme of creation and its order (see long replies by YHWH concerning creation), he is rather insignificant: “See, I am of small account” -40:4

    2) What does the book of Job reveal about God?

    That YHWH is capricious, unfaithful, and unrighteous because he/she/it cannot be bound by any definition of good, righteous, or faithful that we can know or count on. That YHWH can decree suffering and misery on any that he/she/it wills. That YHWH is under no obligation to make restitution. For instance, YHWH does not raise back to life those he/she/it decreed should be slaughtered of Job’s family and of servants, and there is no afterlife in Job from which this wrong is made right.

    3) What “wisdom” is being communicated in Job? How does this book fit into the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible?

    If you ask me, there’s nothing “wise” about it. I suppose it exists as a counterclaim to the idea that YHWH rewards the righteous and condemns the wicked and treats the righteous or godly and unrighteous or wicked as they deserve. It probably serves as counterbalance to parts of Proverbs and maybe even as a foil to Ecclesiastes prior to insertion of the phrase that regardless of what the reality of life, it’s good to serve YHWH.

    4) Why do you think Job is in the canon?

    What canon? I suppose it found supporters throughout the centuries because it gave them new ideas and answers to problems of evil and suffering on the part of YHWH’s people other than the Deuteronomistic answer: you’re to blame for all the horrors and evils committed against you. Perhaps it found favor among certain groups (like Rabbi Akiva and his school) which held to ideas about the glory and role of suffering on the part of YHWH’s people for divine purposes that had nothing to do with them–either in terms of justice or injustice.

    Bob MacDonald said:
    November 11, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    slave of one has not spoken rightly on all counts about the parable of Job –
    2a. “That YHWH is capricious, unfaithful, and unrighteous because he/she/it cannot be bound by any definition of good, righteous, or faithful that we can know or count on.”
    - of what value is our counting?
    We have nothing about good except our faith whether it be of Genesis that the light was good, or of Psalm 34 that the Lord is good.
    - and Hashem is bound willingly by the Incarnation and all its repercussions. Job intimates this necessity in several of his speeches.
    2b. That YHWH can decree suffering and misery on any that he/she/it wills. That YHWH is under no obligation to make restitution.
    - the closing frame would counter this – Job received double in restitution as well as the role of mediator for the friends.
    2c. For instance, YHWH does not raise back to life those he/she/it decreed should be slaughtered of Job’s family and of servants, and there is no afterlife in Job from which this wrong is made right.
    - The odd spelling of seven in the closing frame suggests that in the parable, Job’s sons are reborn. Also the sons are not named but the daughters are. This suggests to me that in the restoration of Job, there is neither male nor female.
    - afterlife? where do you find this concept in the Scriptures? Is it not written that slave of one “has passed from death to life and will not come into judgment”. This is complete already, not ‘after’. Justice postponed is not justice.
    re 3 – wisdom. I think that the role of referee (9:33, 40:2) has not been adequately explored and that it is fulfilled in Jesus resurrected who for us is prophet par excellence.
    re 4 I don’t think Job directly addresses the problem of evil except to the extent that it is encapsulated in the final verse or Romans 11. Job is a similar pattern to Naomi.

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