I have struggled with theodicy my whole life and so I thought it would be wise to take Job Exegesis this quarter with Butler, an amazing Job scholar, and delve into the Hebrew text. I am currently writing my exegetical paper on Job 1:6-12, which is the dialogue between the accuser and Yahweh that sets the stage for the rest of the book. I just wanted to share some of my initial reactions and see if anyone has any thoughts or comments on them.
First, this is a horrible book to bring to people who are actually suffering. DO NOT USE THIS BOOK TO COMFORT PEOPLE. The reason this book is, itself, “a miserable comforter” is the fact that it is not a biblical manual on pastoral care for those going through grief, loss, death and dying. It is a book that wrestles with very difficult questions regarding theodicy, faith, and when traditional righteousness breaks down. As such it is not best read in the midst of tragedy.
Second, the beliefs concerning Satan in Job show an earlier understanding of the Devil. Today popular notions of the Devil run the gamut from the Devil in Dante’s inferno who is chewing on betrayers in the lowest center of Hell to the red-skinned, horned devil in Southpark who has a homosexual relationship with Saddam Hussein. The notion of a spiritual “prince of darkness” is a much later development of the concept of Satan and the Satan depicted in Job does not match the description of Satan presented in 1st Peter.
Here in Job, Satan is presented as a servant of God doing his job. Satan’s role is to be an accuser, and like a district attorney, this is not inherently evil or ultimately against YHWH. There is much evidence to suggest the concept of Satan in here is actually modeled after secret police in the Persian empire. (More about this in my paper). Their job was to observe, test and report back on the loyalties and activities of the king’s satraps (local governors).
Later developments of the concept of Satan seem to come from tradition more than they do from scripture. By the time of the New Testament Satan is a figure that has risen as an evil adversary to God, not a loyal servant. Satan is not co-equal with God. I fear that the importance of the Devil was and has been over-exaggerated to avoid wrestling with theodicy. If something good happens, it is God’s providence and loving nature. If something bad happens, it’s a spiritual attack from the Devil. Even if this is all true the Devil still ultimately is under the authority of God, and if Job is correct, God could prevent Devil from taking any malicious action. So why doesn’t He?
Third, Job admits that traditional righteousness and the retributive principle (good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people) breaks down. In this, the Bible essentially admits other parts of the Bible are wrong. Dueteronomy 28-29, and similar passages, are not always true, according to Job. While they may be truisms, they are not promises. Job’s real innocence is presented by the narrator and affirmed by God himself; there is not some secret sin Job is being punished for. The evil that befalls Job is ultimately “for no reason.” Shit just happens.
Let me be clear: the Bible is saying that faith is not a talisman that will ward off tragedy. Christians are just as exposed, vulnerable and unprotected against tragedy as any human being on this planet. Our relationship with Jesus Christ offers no protection or guarantee against cancer, disease, addiction, divorce, betrayal, accident, etc. Just as the Lord sends rain on the just and the unjust (blessing and prospering both the Good and the Evil) so God also sends (or allows, or permits, or fails-to-prevent-from-happening) calamity on both the just and the unjust. When was the last time you heard this being talked about in Church?
Any thoughts so far?
More to come.