In Job, there are two stories. The first comprises the beginning and the end. This reads like an older, simple fairy tale. Job is a good man. He is rewarded for his patience and obedience to God. In this part, there is a reason for what happens (God allows Satan to afflict Job).
The second story (the middle part) is poetic and challenging and unsettling. Compare the wisdom books and the Psalms, which date back to the time of the Exile.
Job (the middle part) makes plain what we all experience: often, good deeds are not rewarded and bad deeds are not punished. In other words, bad things happen to good people. This is the world that exists, despite what the prose ending of Job says.
The middle part may be a response to a folk tale. It can be read from any angle; it can be regarded as a tragedy or a comedy, treated with great seriousness or irony, by the same people at different times.
The comforters draw on time-honoured arguments. Their explanations are inadequate, and indeed God rejects them. At the end, God says that the friends got it wrong, Job got it right.
Job and God
Job wants an advocate in court, a hearing.
He wants to see God. He wants to know why the awful things are happening.
He gets to see God (compare Moses and Elijah).
When presented or reminded of the amazingness of the divine universe, he says, “Now I understand.” The reader is left wondering what he means. Job, however, appears to be satisfied. Something has changed within him, deep inside.
Job does not supply simple answers; but it may tell us what we need to know; and it points towards lessons for our own emotional life.
Loss and Grief
Job goes through the classical stages of grieving. Anger (one of the stages of the grieving process) can help us move forward, so long as we do not get stuck in a blame game. We all suffer anger; and it is natural to look around for someone to blame (it can be ourselves). Loss also brings a degree of isolation. It is hard for those who have suffered loss to communicate with others. It is hard too to talk to the bereaved (to find the right words) – but this is where listening come in.
Our tasks then are: (i) to work through our own losses (often inexplicable!), and (ii) to sit with others when they experience loss, patiently. We can at least try to act better than Job’s friends, by listening and not offering simplistic explanations to the bereaved.
A fulfilled grieving process may include the need for forgiveness. (Compare the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke.)
APPENDIX: a few notes on Joy Croft’s own Master of Theology thesis, University of Glasgow, 1992 (unpublished)
Joy’s first interpretation of Job has to do with sympathy with Job. In her second interpretation, she reflects upon the way we are called upon to live our lives:
“The moral is that there is no reward to be expected for right action. Virtue is its own reward; the life of integrity is its own justification. We live lives of integrity because God asks it and because it is part of the human nature God has given us.”
In her third interpretation, Joy reflects upon the implications for our emotional lives:
“I have come to focus on the importance of loving relationships as the means to personal and spiritual growth…. [I find myself] reading it as a story of therapeutic relationships.”
David R Harries