Job Does the Job
When it comes to knowledge of God, Book of Job is arguably the most important book in the whole Tanakh. It tells a story that resonates with every human on an existential level, as it not only asks the question why bad things happen to good people, but also gives and unambiguous, albeit slightly cryptic, answer.
The story of Job is a story of “the greatest man among all the people of the East.” Greatest in terms of wealth, large family, as well as blamelessness and being upright, fearing God and shunning evil. In the prologue of the narration, God delights in Job’s upright character, but Satan, depicted as God’s buddy, comes with an argument that Job has all the reasons to fear God. After all, he is blessed with utmost worldly success and fears that he may be deprived of it.
Thus, the Adversary comes with a claim: if Job would be stripped off of his good life, he would certainly turn against God; therefore, let’s test the hypothesis. God agrees to the proposal and allows that primordial phenomenon, which he manifested to be responsible for opposition, to have its way all the way through, except killing Job.
So, by a stroke of sudden misfortune, Job’s herds of oxen and camels are stolen; all his sheep burn on pasture in a fire caused by a lightning; his slaves die while trying to protect them, while all his children die when a tornado demolishes the house where they are gathered for a celebration. To make the story short, Job himself ends up afflicted with a severe illness. And just like that, Job loses his wealth, his social standing, his family, most of his friends, and, in the end, even his health. He ends up in pain, alone, poor, mocked and despised.
However, despite his grave circumstances, he does not speak against God, and God in turn unequivocally acknowledges Job’s blamelessness.
Having heard about Job’s plight, his three remaining friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, set out to visit him in order to console him. But instead of providing support as friends should do, they accuse him of lapses in morality, question uprightness of his children, and try to convince him that his ordeal is the natural result of his wickedness. They try to argue that he must be guilty in some way and what he experiences is simply divine punishment.
Job in turn insists on his blamelessness, but also demands an explanation from God. And so, you can read a lengthy back and forth among the four men; an argument that spans almost thirty chapters and can be rather daunting to wade through, let alone make sense of at times.
I won’t go into details here, suffice to say that, in the course of the discourse, frustrated Job pushed to his limits rises existential questions valid to this very day. He asks: Why does he, who is god-fearing and blameless, have to suffer, while the godless and evildoers demonstrably enjoy worldly success and happiness? Where is the divine providence when all, the blameless and the guilty alike, end in the darkness of a grave anyway? And is it not better not to be born at all?
Job clearly sees that the naive understanding of Absolute and subsequent ensuing theodicy, whether it’s based on ecstatic experience (Eliphaz), adherence to inherited tradition (Bildad), or blind radical unquestioning faith (Zophar), does not align with observable facts. He sharply points out the obvious: the usual definition of karma — when something bad happens to you, you must have done something bad; when something good happens to you, it’s a reward for your correct actions — simply does not add up and provides no acceptable answers.
As I said, the argument is rather lengthy, but after all sides have exhausted their points, the resolution comes rather swiftly in two steps.
The first is the out of the blue intervention of Elihu, which most scholars, based on linguistic analysis, agree is a later addition. (Furthermore, Elihu himself says that he is, indeed, younger than all four men involved in the previous discourse, and is merely strongly compelled to speak his mind on the matter.)
Here, Elihu makes two important points: first, he points out that human morality affects only humans (Job 35:8); and second, he refers to multiple examples to demonstrate that nature (ergo also its origin) is, indeed, impartial (thus lawful) and hence every calamity, which befalls equally rich and poor (Job 34:16–20), has a silver lining in that it contains a lesson to be observed and learned in order to know God, but only if a person has the willingness to see it (Job 33:12–28).
The second and final resolution then comes with sudden intervention of God himself. Unsurprisingly, God does not question Job’s blamelessness which he acknowledged as a matter of fact when Job didn’t recant and held to God despite his affliction. However, he gives no explicit explanations and answers either. God simply asks Job two questions.
First can be summed up as, “Do you understand the causal chains of the universe in their entirety?” which in effect shuts up all Job’s questioning and arguing as his honest answer is a short and unambiguous, “No.” The second one can be then distilled into, “Can you overcome forces of causality that are more powerful than you?” And here, Job finally admits his ignorance in full (thus accepts his position in large scheme of things) after which he finally knows God, whom he only heard about before, at last (Job 42:2–5).
In other words, Job becomes enlightened, understands, and obviously gets all answers he yearned for.
In the epilogue of the story, then, God reprimands the three misguided friends, who represent folklore and dogma, and points them toward Job in order to correct the false assumptions they spread. After Job successfully intercedes for them, God also restores Job’s worldly standing — all who left him return and give him one coin and one golden ring. Thus, Job gets twice as much as he had before. And because he also becomes father of a large family again — he sees his children and their children to the fourth generation — the story concludes with him dying old and contended.
Well, all is well that ends well.
Let it inspire you.