June 1, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Concluding the Book of Job

John F. FinkNext week, the Office of Readings finishes the Book of Job, which we began this week. It picks up the story with Chapter 28, which is Job’s meditation about the inaccessibility of God’s wisdom, reflected in the order and majesty of his creation. We humans, though, can participate in this wisdom by fearing the Lord and avoiding evil: “Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom; and avoiding evil is understanding” (Jb 28:28).

Chapter 29 is the first of three chapters in Part V of the book, called “Job’s Final Summary of His Cause.” He protests his innocence of any wrongdoing, and believes that God is unjust to be punishing him by making him suffer.

Like his three friends who assumed that he must have done something wrong, Job believes that, since God is the architect of the order in the universe, he is also the one who decides who will be rewarded and who will be punished. Therefore, it would seem that a just God would have to reward Job, not punish him.

After Job finishes speaking, we hear another voice. It is from a young man named Elihu, who was angry because Job’s three friends haven’t condemned him. He tells Job, “God is greater than man. Why, then, do you make complaint against him that he gives no account of his doings?” (Jb 33:12-13).

Elihu speaks for six chapters, but his theological point of view is about the same as that of the other characters in the book.

Finally, in Chapters 38-41, God speaks to Job, out of a storm, with two discourses. A storm is frequently the background for God’s appearances in the Old Testament. However, God doesn’t defend himself against accusations of having been unjust. You might say that he takes the offensive.

He asks Job a series of questions, challenging him to consider his place while God was creating the universe: “Where were you when I founded the Earth?,” “Who determined its size?,” “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning?,” “Have you entered into the sources of the sea?,” (Jb 38:4, 5, 12, 16) and more.

Job replies that he couldn’t answer those questions, but God continues with more: Could Job create the animals? Could he exercise dominion over Behemoth (the hippopotamus) or Leviathan (a sea monster)?

Job agrees that he had been dealing with great things that he didn’t understand, and he repents. Then God tells Job’s friends that he is angry with them because they did not speak accurately about him, and demands sacrifices from them.

Job prays for his friends and God accepts his prayers. He then restores Job’s prosperity so his latter days are even better than his earlier days. He dies at the age of 140.

Obviously, the question of why Job suffered is never answered. All we know at the end is that the innocent and the guilty both can be afflicted for no apparent reason and it has nothing to do with retribution.

The New Testament’s Letter of St. James calls blessed those who persevere, saying, “You have heard of the perseverance of Job” (Jas 4:11). †

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