October 16, 2012

Correcting wrong thinking from the Book of Job

The Book of Job continues to be one of the most abused book in the Bible – often used to somehow override or trump the very Kingdom the clear teachings of the New Testament.  Here are some thoughts from Greg Boyd in response to a question:

In Job 1:21, 2:10, Job seems to accept “adversity” from God while continuing to trust him. Job blames his troubles on God (i.e. “He shattered me” [16:12], “He breaks me down on every side” [19:10], “For he performs what is appointed for me” [23:14])? In Chapters 1 and 2, God even seems to encourage Satan to harm Job. This seems to refute your reading of Job and the “warfare” approach to understanding evil which you advocate. Satan has to ask God for permission for all he does—which means God must have a reason for allowing every particular evil in the world. This isn’t about a battle between God and Satan, but about how God uses Satan to test us.

I will make four brief comments in response to your question.

1) You’re conclusions are based on the assumption that Job’s perspective on his suffering is accurate, in spite of the fact that his friends’ perspectives are clearly misguided and at the end of the book (chs. 38–42) God includes Job in his rebuke of them. It seems that neither Job nor his friends had the “right theology.”

Job attributes many things to God that we do not consider accurate or pious. For example, Job claims that God mocks the suffering of innocent people; God causes judges to make poor judgments; and God ignores the prayers of oppressed and dying people (Job 9:23–24, 21:17–26, 30–32; 24:1–12). Moreover, Job wrongfully concludes that God must be a ruthless predator who arbitrarily destroys him for fun (e.g. Job 10:8–10, 16:7–17; 30:18, 21). We have to be very careful, therefore, in extracting theological truth from the mouth of Job or his friends.

2) The genre of Job is poetic drama, and the prologue functions as a literary device to set up the story (like the conversation between the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16). So I don’t think it is wise to base doctrine on a literal reading of this passage (i.e. that Satan and God literally have conversations in heaven), since the genre indicts this was not its intended purpose.

3) Even if you insist on reading the prologue literally, why universalize this passage to conclude that Satan must always ask for specific permission to do things or that every atrocity is a “test”? Isn’t there something grotesque about calling (say) the kidnapping, raping and then murder of a child a “test”? What does the dead molested child learn from this “divine testing”?

4) Also note that Satan was “roaming about the earth” before he came to the throne, and there’s never a suggestion that he got God’s specific permission to do this. Indeed, God asks, “where were you?”

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