I have studied Philosophy of Religion for multiple years now both personally and academically. One narrative in the Bible that is loved by people in this field is the book of Job in which a man seemingly gets the rough end of a cosmological bet between God and Satan. All of us students and theologians talk about how it is an example of the Problem of Evil, or it is a cosmic wager on Job’s faith, or it is a discourse about what is truly just. However, the more I have studied the book of Job the less I think it gives or even offers answers to such dilemmas. It is a book as practical to our daily lives as the Sermon on the Mount.
How is this so? I mean I admit that almost every philosophical discussion I have had on Job has been plagued with moral calculations and logical syllogisms in order to understand what exactly is going on. We must realize this is exactly the fault of Job’s friends. They tried so hard to make Job’s troubles easy to understand by jumping through theological hoops that they never addressed Job as a human being or God as more than a part of a bigger moral syllogism. I believe this is ultimately why God condemned Job’s friends. They were not necessarily saying wrong theology as much as they were making an idol out of it.
But throughout the long defenses of Job, there is a constant theme that he wants an answer from God. Thirty-seven chapters of theological juggling by “educated” laymen (which is a shared trait by so many in today’s church, both leadership and laymen) and Job refuses his friend’s answers. He refuses not only for defense of his righteousness, but also because he refused to believe that God would be silent – that God would merely play along with some theological equation that man has deduced. In this way, the narrative of Job teaches us that such discourse is always secondary to esteeming our neighbor and encountering our God as a person and not a principle – two things that Job’s friends never did understand even after Job asked for comfort.
Finally, in chapter thirty-eight, God speaks. The theologian in us is thinking, “Yes, here is the answer to all our questions!” and we end up hearing God spill out question after question to Job, “Where were you when I created heaven and earth? Where were you….?” As if God needed to top the wisdom of Job and his friends. And after God asks question after question of Job, Job gives in: “I have spoken of things I do not understand, I have sinned, and I am sorry.” What?! As Elie Wiesel points out, “Why doesn’t Job say to God, ‘But, Mr. God, that is not the problem. The problem is where were you when I suffered?’” But instead Job is content. Why?
Here is where the practicality – so subtle, simple, and profound – shows up. Wiesel claims that the book of Job is about indifference. We need to know that God is not indifferent to our suffering. For Job, God speaking is enough. As Phillip Yancey puts it in his book Disappointment with God, “I have a hunch that God could have said anything – could, in fact, have read from the Yellow Pages – and produced the same stunning effect on Job. What he said was not nearly so important as the mere fact of his appearance” (pg. 240). While this does not answer some theological questions, it answers a much more foundational question for us as Francis Schaeffer put it, “God is there and He is not silent.”
But even more poignantly for us today is that we are here and we ought not be silent. Job’s friends talked a lot, but they never once offered comfort or esteemed their friend. They were indifferent to Job even though they addressed Job without stopping for thirty-seven chapters because their concern was not for their neighbor but for their theology. This is why Jesus said to treat others you find in hardship as you would treat Him – you comfort the sick and imprisoned, you feed the hungry, you give to water the thirsty, and you clothe the naked (Matt. 25). This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself; literally meaning, love your neighbor for that is who you are – as a human being, as a creature made in God’s image. And that is the lesson we should take away from Job. Not that it answers tough theological and philosophical questions, but that it teaches us and commands us to be the answer for the evil in the world. As Wiesel says, “If God is not indifferent, my friends, neither should we be,” and this is something we can and must live out every moment of our lives.
(To hear more from Elie Wiesel on Job, listen to his podcast in the iTunes U store to Queen’s University.)