This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.
The core complaint of “Everyman” Job is, “Why do the wicked prosper, and the righteous—like me!—suffer?” The book of Job attempts to help us understand the deficiencies of a worldview simply based upon the “merit,” or value, of good conduct, and the “de-merit,” or negative value, of bad conduct. Job engages in a passionate and persistent complaint, expressed both to God directly and also to his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
His complaint is that a world in which suffering could be visited on him, an innocent Everyman, rather than on heedless, ambitious people who seem to succeed at success, is either a meaningless world or a malignant world governed by a malignant God. Job’s “world”—that is, his conception of the world—is a world based on a simplistic view of law: God rewards the innocent and punishes the guilty.
The gospel teaches a different version of God: God loves his own with a love that operates apart from and beyond questions of merit.
Job is so attached to his “consequentialist” theory of reality, and especially of God’s reality, that it is impossible for him to see an eternal Reality behind his experienced reality of works and consequences. Job’s three friends speak “‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). They try to refute Job’s complaint against the fairness of God either by defending God’s fairness in the face of an “unfair” reality, or by attempting to discover what bad thing Job has (unconsciously) done that would make Job’s suffering “fair,” or by lecturing Job for even wondering about his circumstances.
Job’s indignant replies to his friends are justified. He accuses them of not taking his questions seriously enough, and rebukes them for not taking his suffering, and therefore human suffering in general, seriously enough. Job speaks rightly, we might say, as far as he goes. He lobs verbal grenades back at his three accusing friends and appears to beat them at their own game, which is accusation, defense, and counter-accusation.
From a gospel point of view, both Job and his friends argue on the wrong basis. Job accuses God; his friends defend God. But all four of them are viewing God in action-consequence terms. The gospel teaches a different version of God: God loves his own with a love that operates apart from and beyond questions of merit. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The gospel insight, which emerges like a supernova in the appearance of Jesus Christ, puts a person’s moral standing before God on the basis of God’s grace alone. Job becomes able, before the book ends, to hear something of this. He hears it first from Elihu, who intervenes in the argumentative deadlock with which the first 31 chapters of Job conclude. According to Elihu, the whole world, the “guilty” as well as the “innocent,” are convicted before the Reality of God. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10; Ps. 14:3).
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After Elihu speaks, for six full chapters without interruption, the Lord comes down! Answering Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1) and with the evidences of his greatness displayed in creation, the Lord embodies and declares the nature of his Reality, which is beyond what Job has conceived. The Lord concludes by describing at length a most unusual creature he has created—Leviathan. The incomparable majesty and marvel of God’s work stops Job in his tracks. He responds with newfound humility: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Readers of Job can apply this book as a stunning corrective to ideas about God that conceive of him as operating according to human ideas of fairness and reward—that is, meritorious law. Moreover, God’s nature is revealed to be benign and compassionate rather than malignant and contemptuous. We read at the end of the book that “Job died, an old man, and full of days” (Job 42:17), having seen his sons’ sons, down to four generations. The book of Job helps free us from believing in a “score-keeping” God. We are brought to see the God who is, who is all, and who is love.
This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.
Genesis • Exodus • Leviticus • Numbers • Deuteronomy • Joshua • Judges • Ruth • 1–2 Samuel • 1–2 Kings • 1–2 Chronicles • Ezra • Nehemiah • Esther • Job • Psalms • Proverbs • Ecclesiastes • Song of Solomon • Isaiah • Jeremiah • Lamentations • Ezekiel • Daniel • Hosea • Joel • Amos • Obadiah • Jonah • Micah • Nahum • Habbakuk • Zephaniah • Haggai • Zechariah • Malachi
Matthew • Mark • Luke • John • Acts • Romans • 1 Corinthians • 2 Corinthians • Galatians • Ephesians • Philippians • Colossians • 1 Thessalonians • 2 Thessalonians • 1 Timothy • 2 Timothy • Titus • Philemon • Hebrews • James • 1 Peter • 2 Peter • 1–3 John • Jude • Revelation