What IS the Book of Job About?

It’s not about why there is suffering. It’s not about how to handle suffering. Job does it well, except for when he doesn’t. It’s most definitely not about how to give advice. To the contrary for the most part. The best thing Job’s “friends” did was to come and spend the time to sit in silence with him.

What I like about Walton’s commentary on Job is that he is definitive in his interpretation of what Job is about, and also about what Job is not about. He also tackles all of the questions that people may have, and doesn’t shy away from any of them; at the same time, he leaves the unanswerable unanswered.

At some point, I will have another quote or two about why we can’t and shouldn’t try to figure out why we’re suffering or in a bad situation, or “what God is trying to teach me” or anything of that sort. I’ll write more about that later.

So, at long last, what answers does the book provide as it seeks to guide our understanding of God’s policies in a world where suffering and evil may plague the righteous as well as the wicked? Yahweh does not defend his justice; he does not explain Job’s suffering; and he does not enter the courtroom into which Job has summoned him. We should not expect him to perform any of these actions in our personal circumstances either, even though these often represent our deepest longings. He directs our thinking in an entirely different direction. If there is any part of Job’s speeches that Yahweh addresses directly, it is Job’s lament over the day of his birth, since Yahweh picks up many of the same terms and concepts that Job used. This interconnection gives some indication of where God is trying to meet Job.

The message of Job is that we must trust God’s wisdom when we encounter suffering or crises, rather than attempting to figure out answers to the “why” questions. We should not think that the cosmos itself reflects God’s attribute of justice or that we can hold God accountable to running the cosmos according to justice moment by moment. If he were to do so, none of us would survive, for we all embody injustice at some level in our sinful condition. So justice would involve punishing us.

Trusting God’s wisdom does not mean adopting a belief that everything that happens to us ultimately represents justice even though we cannot see why that is so. Trust is not the conviction that there is a good reason (= explanation that justifies the suffering) even when we cannot fathom it. In other words, the book does not suggest a hidden, deeper justice behind what we perceive as injustice. If we were to think in those terms, we would still be clinging to justice as the foundation of the system and simply theorizing alternative ways that it could function, as Elihu did.

Instead, the book posits that God, in his wisdom, is willing to allow injustice in this world — perhaps sometimes as a means to a greater end, but even that does not offer an explanation that justifies the suffering. We can assume that it grieves his heart, for he is just. In his wisdom, he elevates purposes above reasons, a concept that was elaborated briefly in the Introduction (pp. 47 – 48). Even here, however, we must tread carefully. We cannot know reasons, and we cannot assume that there are reasons. We should assume that there are purposes, but that does not mean that we can or will ever know those purposes. The injustice, suffering, trials, and crises that we experience shape us into the people we are and the people God desires us to be. This truth is not intended to bring comfort to those suffering, nor does it do so. It is meant to bring understanding that might prevent us from committing Job’s error, which is the easy solution of blaming God. The alternative is to trust God.

Later on he writes:

The book of Job is not intended to bring comfort to the suffering, but to bring understanding that might prevent us from simply blaming God. The alternative is to trust God, and the book gives us a focus for our faith. Too often we focus our faith on believing that God will heal, relieve our suffering, or protect us from pain. Sometimes our faith lies in the belief that God will somehow come to us and give us explanations. Other times we place our faith in our ability to force our experiences into a coherent, meaningful narrative. All these approaches are unrealistic. Our faith should be directed toward embracing an all-wise God and asking him for help to live well before him regardless of our plight in this world that continues to display both order and disorder.

–John Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary)

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Also see:
Quick Thoughts on Walton's Commentary on Job | Scripture Zealot blog

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  1. 1 Quick Thoughts on Walton's Commentary on Job | Scripture Zealot blog
  2. 2 How not to treat people who are suffering - giving advice | Scripture Zealot blog
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