For all of the talk of forensic legality that has pervaded discussions about the nature of the Gospel, the evangelical world seems silent in regards to the forensics of the book of Job. Any questioning talk of Job is quickly silenced – because, as we have all heard, who are we, but men, to talk back to God? What if there’s more to Job than we’re willing to admit?
We all know the story: an accuser (or Satan, in Christian theology) wanders the earth and hears of Job. In a divine council meeting, the sons of God appear before YHWH to present reports of their leadership. Satan appears among them, and YHWH seems to immediately point him out. He asks where he has been, and Satan presents a challenge: your servant Job, whom You Yourself call righteous and without fault, only worships you because he is blessed with things and health. YHWH allows him to take everything from him in a narrative so fast that we can only agree with Job: “He would not let me regain my breath” (9:18) He loses his children, livestock and health, but in all of this, Job was without sin. YHWH himself even points out that he did all of this without provocation (see Job 2:3) and not as a response to Job’s sin.
Wait, what? Satan provoked God so mightily that he had no choice but to allow Satan to torture poor Job? Let’s take a step back with this information and re-evaluate the story. In Hebrew, the word satan is not a proper name; it is a title that means “challenger” or “accuser”. It was Christian theology that turned this accuser into The Accuser, Satan. The Jews had high-ranking demons for sure, but they may or may not have thought it was the highest of all demons. There really doesn’t seem to be much in the text that point to Satan as the accuser: the narrator doesn’t call him evil, he’s completely subordinate to God, and no New Testament author points it back to Satan. (Job is rarely even mentioned – it is, but only allusions or a reference to Job himself.) So, we cannot say that Satan did something that forced God’s hand in response, but he definitely presented a challenge and YHWH took him up on that challenge. Does that affect how we as Christians should read the story?
I want to argue something different than normal Churchianity: is the accuser putting Job or God on trial? Or both? Does this question bug you? Of course, one might reply, Satan is putting Job on trial! God cannot be put on trial! That view is right, and it is wrong. The book is full of Job calling for YHWH to come and listen to Job’s testimony: “I’m innocent! I have no sin that needs to be punished! If only God would listen to me I could prove that I am faithful and he shouldn’t be punishing me! Oh, if only I had a mediator!” Job calls for YHWH to appear in court throughout the entire book. Why wouldn’t God’s nemesis Satan be at a greater chance of calling him into trial? The book of Proverbs points to prosperity as God’s response to faith and faithfulness (Proverbs 3:9-10). Satan makes the claim that Job only follows God because he is blessed; that is, Job only follows God because God has ordained that he repays faith with money. (We, as 21st century Christians, know through the rest of Scripture that we are called into obedience, material gain or not.) Is Satan calling God out for the way He chose to bless those with faith? Maybe. Satan straight up calls YHWH out here: Your servants only love you because you bless them materially. You’re not good enough for them without your blessing.
Here’s another part that might tick you off, hopefully in a good way. In a fallen world, not everything that happens seems to happen according to God’s perfect justice. We know everything that he does is good and just, but sometimes in the fallen world it can seem opposite of that. Sometimes the righteous seem to die as if they were wicked, and sometimes the wicked live as if they were righteous. (Ecclesiastes 7:15)
Something striking in the narrative is that in the beginning prologue and in YHWH’s response to Job is that both the narrator and YHWH point out that Job had not sinned in the way he responded to his troubles. Both God and Job pass the test presented by Satan – Job passes in that he keeps his faith even in the worst of times, and God wins in showing that he is just whether or not he blesses someone or not. How does God show that He is just in the narrative? Doesn’t he torture poor Job physically, emotionally and mentally? Doesn’t he show up and wreck shop in Job’s world? Yes, God allows Job to go through some stuff, no doubt. But why is God just? Because he is in no reason obligated to give Job a good life. The narrative of Genesis 3 proves this: Adam and Eve were blessed to live in perfect harmony with God, but their sin broke it, and everything was cursed through them. While God decided that he was to bless Job, he was under no obligation to do so. God passes the test: his servants belong to him and love him and continue in faith when either blessed or afflicted. Satan’s charge against God does not stand. In the end, everything will work out for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28) and we will live in a perfect world where God’s justice is shown completely and unquestionably as right. We may not know that now, but it will happen.
The book of Job does more than teach us that God can do whatever he wants because he is God. It most certainly is a lesson taught in the book, just look at chapters 38-42. It is definitely a lesson in the power and freedom of God. But more than that, I think, the book teaches us that God is just. He doesn’t owe us a good life, but every good gift does come from above. (James 1) Even more than that, though, I think, is that God is bigger than any test that we can give Him. He takes Satan’s test and comes through victorious.
In any case, let us not forget Jesus Christ, the true and perfect Job. Only Jesus was truly blameless and without sin – only he suffered completely without sin.