For completely unrelated reasons, I’ve been spending a lot of time around some pretty devout evangelicals lately, and, unsurprisingly, I get into conversations with them about stuff. One thing that has come up several times is that the Book of Job is some kind of solution to the problem of evil. I am unsure why this is the thing that has popped up repeatedly. I don’t think I’m the one bringing it up. Rather it just comes about organically as part of the conversation. Regardless of the reasons why, I keep hearing a few things over and over, so they are clearly in the popular treatment of this issue. With that in mind I want to address a few of these points.
I’ll say on the outset that I don’t see how anyone could see the Book of Job as a solution to the problem of evil. Certainly, it can be seen as crystallizing the issue, but it’s hard to see how it offers any solution, and that make it hard to see how that could be the point of the book. Or, rather, it’s hard for me to see it. Apparently, others have no problem seeing this, but I just find it incredibly strange.
The main point that comes up every time is that God doesn’t actually create evil, even for Job; God is not the source of the evil that befalls Jobs. What is the source of evil, then, here? Well, I am told initially, evil comes from our disobedience. Everyone should recognize that line. It’s the notion of the Fall. That’s all fine and well, but that’s not the source of the problem in Job. In fact, everything is going great for Job in the beginning. In King James Version the Book of Job begins thus:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
At least here, then, we don’t see evil befalling Job because of his sin. Rather, he is incredibly prosperous before Satan gets to work on him. In fact, on the contrary, the Book of Job is explicit that Job did nothing wrong at all. Job’s friends, in fact, tell him that he must have done something to deserve all that befalls him, but they are wrong, and God ends up chastising them for this. Job has not brought on his evil by his actions. So, that’s not the problem.
The next issue that often comes up is that no one really deserves any of the good they have, that we all deserve evil because we are all sinful. The suggestion here is that even if the text does not tell us what Job did wrong, he must have done something wrong. But this seems to miss something essential about the book, and that is that the text directly contradicts this. God tells Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Here, God calls Job “perfect.” The point is that anyone looking to peg Job’s downfall on some unmentioned sin is guilty of the same thing that Job’s friends are, and that is accusing Job of sinning when he simply has done no such thing. There is an irony there, to me, of people claiming to look to this book to gain wisdom and then making the very same mistake that the players in the story do, the ones that God rebukes at the end of the book, but that’s a separate issue.
Then we come to the granddaddy claim, the one to which people want to fall when it becomes clear that the whole “sin as source of evil” won’t work in Job’s story. The claim is that God merely allows evil to happen, that He is not the source of the evil, and, in that way, the problem of evil is sidestepped. The idea is that, somehow, if God does not directly cause the evil Himself, then He’s off the hook for the problem. That can’t work in Job, though, and I’ll explain why. The story that I keep hearing is that Satan is the one who causes all the evil for Job, and God merely lets him do it. But how does that make things okay? Let me use an analogy. Let’s say we have a kindergarten class with a teacher. Now, let’s introduce a rabid dog. If the dog comes and attacks the class while the teacher looks on from a distance doing nothing, do we say that the teacher is blameless for what befalls her class? I can’t imagine anyone saying any such thing. Rather, we think the teacher has a responsibility to protect her class from the rabid dog, and that includes the bratty students who might have called the dog over in the first place (you know, the sinners). So it’s just not the case that merely allowing something to happen gets you off the hook in terms of your responsibility.
But it’s worse than that. This was not some bratty kid calling the dog over and thereby “bringing it on himself.” This was the perfect student doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.
But it’s worse than that! This wasn’t some rabid dog coming from nowhere. This was a danger well-known and recognized. God talks to Satan and knows what he is going to do.
But it’s worse than that! This is the teacher pointing the class out to the rabid dog, making sure they have his attention. God says, “Hast thou considered my servant Job…?”
But it’s even worse than that! Job had a “hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side.” In terms of the analogy, this is like a steel door between the rabid dog and the class, and the teacher calling the dog over, pointing at the children, holding the door opening, and watching while the dog tears the class to pieces. I find it difficult to believe that anyone hearing of that would suggest that the teacher was somehow not culpable for the violent deaths in her class, and yet that is exactly what those who suggest that God is not culpable for the evil that Job endures are saying. Whatever is going on in the Book of Job, the idea that God is not responsible for evil merely because he watches from the sidelines while the dirty work is done by another just doesn’t fly. And I’m not even going to get deep into the issue that God created Satan, thus making it that much more difficult to say that God is not directly involved. There’s no good analogy for that, but it’s kinda like the teacher above genetically engineering the dog to have a strong jaw and cutting teeth and then intentionally injecting it with rabies. That would be a whole other post.
If the argument above isn’t persuasive, I’ll just point to the text to defuse the whole line of reasoning that God didn’t cause Job’s suffering: “Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him…” [emphasis mine]. The book itself says that God did it. It seems hard to argue with that.
At this point I am usually told that God somehow makes up for all the evil that Job endures at the end by giving him even more stuff than he had at the beginning. Job 42:12-17 reads,
So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days.
Here I am simply puzzled. Does anyone take this argument seriously? Job’s original children all died in a very violent fashion, and this is supposedly remedied by having more children, and this time more sons and prettier daughters. But so what? How does having more children make up for having your other kids die? No, not just die, but murdered. After all, it was no accident that they died. Their death was a part of Satan’s plan that had God’s approval. How does having more kids make up for having ten of your kids murdered violently? I don’t see how it can. In this way that the whole idea of God somehow “making it up” to Job by giving him “better” children later just seems absurd.
And that’s it. My point here was not really to address the problem of evil in general. All I wanted to do was say something about the kinds of arguments I’ve been hearing the past couple of months concerning Job in particular. If I’ve been hearing it a lot from different people in such a short period, I’m guessing that, for some reason, it’s making the rounds in the churches lately. Whatever the reason it’s on everyone’s mind, these arguments don’t work at all.