Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Theology of Job's Friends--Right or Wrong?

I am reading Job right now. When I studied Job in school, the first thing that we learned was that Job's friends spit out bad theology. I am starting to wonder if that is the case.

Job starts out with a wager between God and Satan. God highlights Job as an example of a righteous man, and Satan accuses Job of only being righteous because God has made it worth his while. God gives Satan permission torment Job to see whether he will curse God.

In the middle of Job's suffering, his friends try to "console" him by encouraging him to repent. In Job's friends' view, God is just and unable to punish the righteous. Job's suffering is evidence of sin. The reader knows that Job has not sinned. He is suffering, not under the hand of God, but under the hand of Satan. Thus, as Job's friends wax eloquently about righteousness, justice, and repentance, the reader knows that they are full of it.

At the end of the book, God steps in, rebukes Job's friends, and vindicates Job. So, we know that Job's friends don't "get it." They were wrong all along.

But, what do we do with Job's friends' theology? It actually lines up with what we read elsewhere in the Old Testament. If we write it off as bad theology, we have to write off a number of other passages in the Old Testament as well. What if the role of Job's friends in the story is not to debunk their theology and point out that even the righteous can suffer, but to point out that we don't have God figured out? This seems to be God's point at the end of the book--"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let the person who accuses God give him an answer!" (40:2 NET) God essentially says, "When you figure out how to keep the universe together, then you can question how I run things."

This isn't to say that theology isn't important or that we can't know certain things about who God is or how He acts. But, maybe Job is a reminder to us that God is God and He can't fit in our box.

I taught a class once in which we were discussing God's providence and His eternal decree. We looked at several passages in which God says, "I am not a man that I should change my mind." We also looked at passages in which God apparently changes His mind. What do we do with instances like this? Do we elevate one and try to explain the other away, or can we hold them in tension and admit we don't have it figured out? I prefer the latter approach, concluding, "God's decree is permanent. He doesn't change His mind . . . except when He does."

Is that unsettling or helpful (or both)? Is that approach to theology freeing or discouraging?

2 comments:

Malcolm said...

The first error , which I had to learn about Job, is that there no Satan. The Hebrew word means "advocate". It is from the Greek version of the Bible the the word "Zatanas" was used and adapted into the name Satan. There is no devil in the OT. That is a later development in Judaism. Therefore the advocate in Job merely specifies the issue, to which God reacts.
From my personal standpoint Job is not about suffering, which Job accepts in the cultural understanding of his day. What he has trouble with is the point of being righteous before God.
Job is acknowledged by to be "upright and blameless" before God. This is almost to say that he is without sin. Job's dilemma comes from his walking upright and blameless before God.

Matt said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Malcolm. I agree that the main idea of Job is not why people suffer, but why the righteous suffer.

"Satan" in Job 1 is a transliteration of the Hebrew satan, which literally means "adversary." It's interesting that while the New Testament chooses to transliterate the Hebrew hasatan into the Greek ho satanos instead of translating it, the Greek version of Job 1 actually has ho diablos instead of ho satanos. So, whoever translated Job 1 from Hebrew to Greek actually changed the subject from "the accuser" to "the devil."

While there is not a developed theology of Satan in the Old Testament (or really in the New Testament, either), I don't know that I would go so far as to say "there is no devil in the OT." In Job 1 there is clearly an angelic being referred to as "the accuser" in Hebrew and "the devil" in Greek.