We are continuing in a series based on questions that have been submitted by members of my congregation. A question was posed about God’s nature relative to suffering and the book of Job. Their curiosity made them wonder, “How does Job, gaining twice the family, twice the riches, and twice the lifespan, make up for his pain?” This week we strive to answer a question from one of the most unnerving and difficult books of the Bible. I hope my response is helpful!
An excellent question that demands deep study and examination. The primary question that the book of Job deals with is the question of “theodicy.” Theodicy is essentially an attempt to answer how/why a good God could allow evil to exist. The book of Job is riddled with all kinds of issues related to a man who is depicted as being fully righteous and without sin. I’d like to address your question in a few different ways to hopefully clear some of this up. I will add that Job, and especially the question of theodicy, is so rich that if anyone has “the” answer, we should probably check very carefully. (That includes me too!)
Job was written with a particular theology of the Old Testament that is chiefly found in the books Joshua – 2 Kings (called the Deuteronomistic History). The theological stance is essentially that God will punish or bless people according to their behavior. If someone were to not do as God commands in the Law they receive punishment. If someone keeps the tenets of the Law, God blesses them. But Job seems to have done nothing wrong, kept the Law, and yet he is being punished!
Job’s character addresses his friends and God rejecting the notion of this theology that punishment happens to the unrighteous and blessings happens to the righteous. He asserts that if that were the case, then God made a mistake in punishing him. Job defends himself as sinless throughout the book while his friends (especially the third friend, Eliphaz) continue to hold that the bad that happened to him was punishment for a sin he committed. Finally, God shows up. In chapter 42 verse 7 God sides with Job against the friends. God rejects the simplistic “good begets blessings, bad begets punishment” mentality. Rather, God’s role at the end of the book indicates, as one scholar puts it:
“God is beyond human comprehension, and the world is not [always] run by human rules of order or moral justice…The world that [we] see is not neatly divided into good and evil, righteousness and sin; rather, it is a world in which elements of chaos – and that includes human suffering – remain, under God’s watchful eye. Job suffers not because he sinned, but because he is human.” –Adele Berlin
Now that the background has been addressed, we can tackle your question a little more fully: how does gaining twice the family, twice the riches, and twice the life make up for his pain? I have two answers. First a kind of technical answer and then my personal answer.
A technical answer: Wisdom was a high virtue of that time, as it is today. Long life, riches, and an abundance of children was a traditional reward for seeking wisdom and living a righteous life. King Solomon is another example – by seeking wisdom he gained all the material possessions one could imagine. In a similar fashion, Job seeks wisdom, the deep truths about God, and he is rewarded for it. This makes the book both a) confront the predominant theology of the time and b) affirm the virtue of seeking God.
My personal answer: It does not. If I were to lose my child, 10 children would not alleviate my grief. Stories like Job are older than the Bible itself and can be found in literature from the Ancient Near East. It is entirely possible that this story is not an actual account of a human being, but a work inspired by God to communicate a deeper truth about God. The truth about God is that God is with us when we suffer. The additional truth about God is that God does not make the suffering occur. Does God allow it? Yes. Biblically, humanity disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and suffering, pain, etc. came to be experienced by Adam and Eve and all their progeny. But death and suffering is not God’s desire nor God’s pleasure.
“Tell them, ‘As certainly as I’m alive and living,’ declares the Lord God, ‘I receive no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, my pleasure is that the wicked repent from their behavior and live. Turn back! Turn back, all of you, from your wicked behavior! Why do you have to die, you house of Israel?’” – Ezekiel 32:11
If God does not want the wicked to die, surely God does not want them to suffer. God wants them to “repent,” to change direction, to go beyond the mind they currently have and take on a new mind, the mind of Christ.
I do not think the book of Job is teaching: “when bad stuff happens, keep the faith and God will give you even more.” I think Job is a story about the world we live in and God’s role in it, teaching us: “Life can be hard, but God is with us even in the midst of the chaos.”
I pray that whatever chaos may be in your life, the knowledge of God’s presence may bring you peace.