Can’t summarise this book, its a journey. Its all in the language. Summarising poetry doesn’t work, like summarising a flower or a summer’s thunderstorm, you can’t really catch the moment-to-moment experience of it.
Job suffers in extreme, about as bad as a person can. But its not really about that. I previously thought it was a paradox, a book about one question, suffering, that then denied the answer. I thought it was a tease.
But it doesn’t deny. It opens up, it expands.
It’s about acknowledging God. Our place in the universe, and it’s as positive as it is negative. We aren’t God, we don’t understand why things happen good or bad. But we are capable of knowing him in ways that no other aspect of his mighty, magnificent creation can.
I feel God’s connection to the physicality of the universe, the water, the massive surging energy, the snowflakes, each animal: hilarious, scary, untameable. God showcases his wildness and creativity here, he delights in being God. He shows me ways in which I am, and am not, God.
I ‘get’ Him more than any other of his creations, but it is just shards, glimpses of the full picture, and it drives me crazy. And he knows.
He knows how we’ll sit around debating what he is like, getting ourselves in knots over God, universe, sex, gender, pain, all of it. We’ll love, we’ll rebel, we’ll overthink and get arrogant. We’ll imagine ourselves to be at the centre of it all.
Job is a delightfully messy emotional rollercoaster character throughout, turning on a dime from bitter cynical misery to startling transcendent insight. It’s very encouraging that God’s word acknowledges this sort of crazy as a normal part of human.
No other creature is like us, and God knows and loves us very very deeply.
Our wisest path, the closest we get to fine, is to acknowledge him, and work at not being evil. Love God, love your neighbour.
Know your redeemer lives, however you encounter him. It ended up being my christmas reading, and it made me quite keen to encourage people to connect Jesus to the deep questions of life.
My friend Uncle Ray Minniecon really helped open it up, by discussing how Job mirrors the Australian Aboriginal experience – you know, the people from whom everything was arbitrarily taken away and then disease was added?
I got from what he said that it’s teaching that the way forward is to go back to the start – to realise that our identity and dignity is wrapped up in being made and loved by God, so we can move forward from life’s harshness and inequality on a sure footing, in strength and knowledge.
I read it while facing challenges about my identity as a parent, romantic partner and provider for my family, and it was there through it, gently nudging me to lay it all before God in confidence that it all makes more sense than I can imagine, and I can go forward simply in trust, and trying to do right.
It requires patience, but it does reward it. God, the universe and everything. Its all there in this fabulous book.
1 God cites Job to Satan as a person who ‘fears god and shuns evil’. Satan tests the sincerity of his belief by taking his wealth and family, but Job does not curse God.
2 Satan also takes Job’s health. Again Job won’t attack God. 3 friends appear to discuss the issue
3 Job complains bitterly about how miserable he is, wishing he hadn’t been born
First round of friend advice – ‘you must have done something bad’
4 Eliphaz speaks a first time, victim blaming. I contemplate whether the core message of the bible is ‘shit happens’
5 Eliphaz completes his accusation that Job must have done something. I contemplate how christian comfort can be about comforting yourself: reasons it won’t happen to me.
6 Two chapters of response by Job to Eliphaz. Here he rejects being characterised as different from the friends – he appeals to their empathy … there but for God’s grace…
7 The rest of Job’s response is addressed to God… Job asks to be left alone and questions the purpose of his existence: is it only to question the purpose of his existence?
8 Bildad with blunt beautiful words accuses Job of relying on his own understanding, ignoring the wisdom of God and elders. Though God praised him in ch1 for fearing him.
9 Responding to Bildad, Job agrees he is not equal to the majesty of God, but rather than connect with the elders’ teaching, he longs for more, a new messiah-like mediator
10 Second half of Job’s Bildad response, rails against God. His understanding of the afterlife is fuzzy, so his painful days are all he thinks he has.
11 Zohar speaks, and says God will have to give Job understanding, he won’t figure it himself. About as likely as a donkey giving birth to a human baby.
12 Zophar is saying ’tis a mystery’ and Job appreciates it, but can’t share his lack of urgency. He says effectively ’tis a mystery I need to try and understand.
13 Job comes round to Zohar’s view that he is not 100% sinless, no one is, but he still wants God to speak and tell him how to fix his situation.
14 Job summarises the first round of advice: his understanding of grace and the afterlife has expanded, but he is also has a bleak ‘life sucks then you die’ self pity.
Second round – friends get impatient, Job gets wise
15 Eliphaz second round: doubles down on victims being to blame.
16 Job longs for a mediator again, rejecting his friends’ characterisations – God is too intimidating to address directly, but they lack empathy and understanding
17 Brilliant chapter identifies the ‘mediator’ as grace, the missing link to God that human understanding cannot bridge.
18 Bildad #2 doubles down on sinners being punished with suffering, and sufferers being inevitably sinners. Like he’s sinless! Like Job wasn’t praised for his righteousness in ch 1.
19 Job responds: Suffering has attacked his flesh, but made him wise, so he will see God in the flesh. ‘I know my redeemer lives’ he says. Surviving by the skin of his teeth, he’s infinitely more blessed than his wealthy, healthy friends. Great chapter!
20 Zophar #2 a really good meditation on corruption and evil, but doesn’t actually process Job’s situation at all, he’s not showing understanding or empathy to Job.
21 Job reacts with cynicism to Zophar’s theory of cosmic justice: its all about the ‘now’ baby! Who cares about the pie in the sky when you die? His redeemer may live, but he’s still bitter… he’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Third round of friend advice… starting to go round in circles
22 Eliphaz #3: Talking at, not to, Job, telling him to heed God’s words about treatment of the vulnerable in society… But who is rich and well here, and who has lost it all? Hypocritical!
23 In response, Job says he does heed God’s words, and would like to continue. But God is silent. He calls again for a messiah/mediator figure.
24 Job doesn’t doubt God’s justice, but the timing sucks. If Job’s situation improved, justice would be seen to be done. Its a bit of a dodgy argument, but I contemplate how helpful its been for me to think about eternity starting now.
25 Bildad #3 emphasises Job’s smallness against the wonder and complexity of creation. Ironically, God will do this too, but Bildad tells Job he is a worm, God makes him feel a valued and loved part of his created order.
26 Job responds to Bildad and starts to wrap up this section: no Zophar #3. He tells B. he knows full well how awesome God is, doesn’t need reminding. He re-asserts monotheism.
Job’s wrap up of 3 friends section, and teaching on wisdom
27 Job reiterates that more is needed, our own attempts to understand God do not add up. At a Salvation Army weekend, applying for permanent work, I think about being in or out, and what serving God, spreading Jesus’ word really means.
28 A poem about wisdom being the fear of the Lord and departing from evil. This variation on Jesus’ two great commandments is the pillar on which the book is built, referred to at the start middle and end. Its more about that than suffering really.
29 A wistful and beautiful reminiscence by Job of his lost status, goodness and respectability. Lay it on the altar! Surrender it!
30 Chapter 29 was then, this is now, a massive wallow in self pity from Job. I contemplate how in middle age, AKA me, you can’t compete with young people’s sense of their own potential: let it go!
31 Job: ‘I’m innocent! I don’t deserve this! Curse me if I am lying!’ In describing aspects of his innocence, Job gives a useful portrait of an honourable life.
Elihu – youthful, spirit-filled focus on God, but lacking empathy
32 Elihu arrives. A dogmatic, blunt character. Stereotypical zealous youth, full of the Spirit. He applies the theme of listening to God, not your own understanding to Jobs friends.
33 Elihu attacks Job. He says suffering brings us closer to God, its instructive. Ch 1 refutes this. I don’t think suffering ‘means’ anything unless God gives it context
34 Elihu maintains Job has no case before God, to complain is to add rebellion to sin.
35 Elihu and the others make like a broken jigsaw, they have aspects of truth, but miss bits – it doesn’t come together until God speaks. He draws lessons from the complexity of creation here, but like Bildad, leaves out the love God has for us individually.
36 Elihu continues on about God’s might, and sees a distant storm come, out of which God will himself speak. Its ironic that a book in God’s word about trying to decipher God’s silence, by the very fact it exists, speaks volumes of much he understands us.
37 Elihu speaks metaphorically and with scientific prescience about how rain forms and falls as life giving blessing and the fury of storms. We are not equal to Gods brilliance, we cannot demand an audience with him… then out of a gathering storm, God speaks.
It’s God! Change your paradigm.
38 God asks a series of rhetorical questions that show how little Job knows – and his lack of knowledge means his words obscure God’s plans. It all makes sense, but not to Job.
39 God shows how we can’t really control even animals, over which we have dominion. The limits and extent of our value is shown, because we are wise in ways animals aren’t.
40 God gently asks Job to accept that he just has to trust him that its all within his plans. Job does, he covers his mouth, symbolically relying on God’s understanding not his own
41 God is king over Leviathan, which stands in for other Gods, or Satan, or maybe a crocodile, whatever, he’s king over all.
42 Job understands that his days are in God’s hands, he repents and takes back his words demanding a simplistic answer from God. As a codicil, his suffering ends and he lives a long life. But its not a reward, his repentance came when he was still in his lowly state.