May 25, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Beginning the Book of Job

John F. FinkBeginning on Sunday, the Office of Readings devotes two weeks to the Book of Job. However, Job consists of 42 chapters, more than the Office can include in two weeks. Therefore, it skips some of the chapters. Next week, it skips chapters 4-6,

8-10, and ends after Chapter 13. It then picks up again the following week with Chapter 28.

The Book of Job is one of the great masterpieces of literature so I encourage you to read the whole thing—perhaps the first 21 chapters next week and the last 21 chapters the following week. If you skip all those chapters, you will miss the arguments in the book. I admit, though, that some of the speeches are repetitious.

Job is the story of a man’s struggle with suffering, but it doesn’t try to explain why God permits evil to exist. We should also remember that it was written during a time when the Israelites didn’t have a clear idea about what happens after death with rewards and punishments.

The book begins with a prologue and ends with an epilogue, which are in prose. The prologue sets the stage, and the epilogue gives the conclusion. But the rest is a magnificent dramatic poem. Unfortunately, the poetry loses something when translated from the original Hebrew.

Most people know this book’s basic plot. Once upon a time, there lived an upright and wealthy man named Job. One day, God and Satan were talking about him, and Satan said that Job would blaspheme God if he suddenly lost his possessions, his family and his health.

We readers know that God himself permitted this righteous man to suffer to test his integrity, but Job doesn’t know that. Despite his suffering, he says, “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?” (Jb 2:10).

Three friends visit Job, and the main body of the book consists of dialogues between them and Job. First, Job laments the fact that he was born. “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Jb 3:11). He curses the day he was born and longs for death to put him out of his misery.

His friends are convinced that Job must have done something to deserve his misfortune and, since he had such a complete reversal of fortune, his misdeeds must have been serious indeed. This comes from a belief in what is called a theology of retribution—that God bestows prosperity on the righteous and affliction on evildoers. That idea might be expressed by someone who is suffering when he or she says, “God, what have I done to deserve this?”

Job, too, believes this and he protests his innocence. He doesn’t know why he was so afflicted, but he rejects his friends’ explanation. He is so sure of his innocence that he wants to take God to court. “Behold, I have prepared my case, I know that I am in the right. If anyone can make a case against me, then I shall be silent and die” (Jb 13:18-19).

To be continued next week. †

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