Thursday, April 01, 2010

Reading along the book of Job

A preliminary note - Job really challenges our standard Evangelical reading practices. We typically read with a magnifying glass, taking a short passage and probing into all the details. That won't work with Job (I would question whether it's the best way to approach any book of the Bible!) because most of the dialogue expresses ideas which are explicitly condemned by God at the end of the book. So we need to read the whole. And when we read the whole, we will get a feel for whose viewpoint we ought to credit. I would suggest that we ought to not to credit entirely any of the human characters in the book. Only the Lord's speech is entirely true. However, Job's speech is to be given more credence than any of his friends on the basis of 42:7ff. With that in mind, we can attempt a Christological reading on the basis of the four methods previously explained...

1. Explicit prediction of Christ is found in Job 19:25-27. It is, of course, possible to explain this prediction away. But looking back from the far side of the life, death and resurrection of Christ it seems extremely arbitrary not to refer Job's confidence to his coming. "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth". We don't have to suppose here that Job understood and expected the incarnation; merely that Job has put his trust in the God who will come. That faith, in a God who intervenes and will intervene, is obviously crucial to Job in his situation. God's general providence is not a sufficient ground of his hope, since it is precisely that general providence against which Job is railing (apparently with justification). Job's faith is in a resolution - we know that resolution came (and will come) in Christ. Consider also Job 9:33, which although not a prophecy per se is pretty clearly crying out for Christ.

2. Job himself, I would suggest, is a type of Christ. (Note the limits on typology previously mentioned here!) Job is repeatedly described as a righteous man, and yet we see him suffering terribly. Of course, Christ also suffered, but the deeper resonance is in the fact that both Job and the Lord Jesus are explicitly forsaken by God. They are exposed to this suffering by the God they have served faithfully, in whom they have trusted for protection. By the end of the book, Job is restored - on which more momentarily. Suffice to say here that Job thus displays both sides of the OT picture of a righteous man: at the beginning and end of the book he prospers because of his righteousness, in the middle he suffers for it. That sets up point 3...

A slightly tangential point, though, before moving on. At the end of Job, the Lord informs us that Job has spoken rightly. In other words, he has maintained his innocence (not just protested it!) throughout. This is in contrast with his friends, who are forced to ask Job to intercede for them and to make sin offerings. Now, for anyone who has read the book carefully, I think this will come as a surprise. Frankly, Job is the only character who has not stood up for the honour of God throughout the long chapters of dialogue. True, we are told that he declined to curse God, but that hardly seems heroic. For most of the book, he complains bitterly about the way God has dealt with him. Is part of the point here that righteousness is not just about what is visible? We only know Job is righteous because he is vindicated in the end. In that sense, also, he is a type of Christ.

3. Job displays the pattern of suffering and resurrection very well. I don't know about you, but I always found the last seven verses of Job hugely unsatisfactory. Job receives back his health, his wealth and his standing in the community, and gets a shiny new family to replace the old one upon which a house unfortunately fell. It's almost as bad as if it had said 'then Job woke up and it was all a dream'. There is no logical link between what goes before and this ending. The only link there seems to be is Job's faith. Can I suggest that the same is true of the resurrection? It is a eucatastrophe. Everything is turned around, for the good. There is a difference though. In the story of Jesus, the resurrection makes sense. Although it doesn't follow logically, it does follow in terms of character and theme - in that sense it is a real eucatastrophe, and not just a case of deus ex machina (see the link for euchatastrophe for explanation). With the resurrection in mind, and only with the resurrection in mind, we can make sense of what happens to Job. Of course the righteous must suffer and be raised again. That is almost the definition of righteousness in the Bible.

4. The big problem in Job is that righteous people suffer. Note that it is righteous people, not just good people. It is not the fact that moral or innocent people suffer that raises the issue here, it is that people who know, love and serve God suffer. That problem is unanswerable in OT terms (which is why the end of Job seems such a cop out). It is only answerable when we see the suffering of the righteous concentrated in the only really righteous person as Christ dies. In fact, it only really makes sense when we understand that Christ is vindicated in the resurrection, and everyone who trusts him is vindicated there too.

How does this help us to read Job verse by verse? It explains why the friends are wrong when they accuse Job of sin; it explains why Job can trust the God who apparently abandons him; it explains why we cannot read God's character from the events that occur in our lives. It makes the problem of Job point us to Christ. Therefore, our own problems - the apparent God-forsakeness of our own lives - can point us to Christ also, as we look along the book of Job to the suffering and vindicated Messiah.

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