Theodicies in the Book of Job
by Adam J. Smargon

There are many theodicies in the book of Job. A theodicy is the spiritual justification of the goodness of God in regards to his power. It tries to explain why He does what He does. The central biblical importance of (the book of) Job is the fact that he was the only Biblical character whose righteousness was not questioned at all. The essential story of Job is the following: God is bragging about Job, and his righteousness and reverence, to Satan. Satan counters with the fact that Job reveres God because he is blessed with wealth, protection, possessions and respect. Satan asks God to place Job in his power to test the man (to see if Job will curse God), and God agrees on the condition that Job himself not be harmed. And Job loses everything near and dear to his heart, but does not curse God. Satan asks again for harsher treatment, and God agrees, with the exception that his life be spared. Satan smote Job with boils, top to toe. Three friends come to console him after his monumental losses, and to try to find a reason why he lost everything. All the theodicies found in Job can be found in the conversation (and subsequent argument) the friends have with Job. However, before they arrived, Job's wife, in a rather pessimistic view, said to him, "You still keep your integrity! Blaspheme God and die!" (2:9) His response, a verse later, curses his wife for cursing God, and asks her if people should take only the good things from God and refuse the bad. The three friends arrive, and each have ideas about what to do, now that Job has lost all that can be lost. People should comfort and console other people after bad things happen, regardless of the cause; maybe God wants us as human beings to do this, because tragedy can and does bring friends and acquaintances together.

One friend, Eliphaz, suggested that Job was being punished for some evil he took part in, and asked him to confess to God. Job's reply was his proclamation of innocence; he (thinks and/or believes he) did nothing wrong, and therefore did not deserve any "punishment." Job said: "I am innocent -- I care not for my being, I despise my life. . . . He destroys the innocent together the wicked." (9:21-22)

Another friend, Bildad, spoke of his wholehearted belief that God is always right in every case. Job countered with his philosophy on God: he knows very little about God, and he cannot explain anything that God does. God describes the wonders of creation, describing those occurrences that completely surpass human understanding. (The author of this paper believes that God can think of more things in a split second than a human being can do in his/her lifetime.) However, Job believes in God, and Job accepts God's deeds. Job also realizes at this point that God has never given him a hearing, or at least told Job why he lost everything. He asks God twice in the book for a presentation of the basis of the ill fortune that he received: "I say to God, 'Do not condemn me. Let me know what You charge me with.'" (10:2) "How many are my iniquities and sins? Advise me of my transgression and sin." (13:23)

The third friend, Zophar, felt that Job was punished because he had the attitude that he was holier-than-thou, he was always right, and, therefore, that he was free from (making a) sin. After a long and heated debate, onlookers have come to listen in. One onlooker, Elihu, is convinced of the absolute justice of God. He believes that God disciplines us to keep us humble, and that suffering and misery may come to mortal men as a warning against future sins. By afflicting men with misfortune and tragedy, God reminds them of punishments which await those who are wicked. Job, however, will not accept these opinions; he insists upon his innocence. He claims that it is an undeserved punishment, and Job questions whether God is just in carrying out the punishing, yet he never renounces God or curses Him. Ultimately, in the epilogue of the book, he is rewarded by God with everything he lost and more because of his faith and loyalty, and God lashes out at Job's friends because they criticized Job. God declared Job a righteous man, and asked Job's friends to ask Job for forgiveness.

God takes credit and delight in Job's performance and shows Job off to the angels. The questions this student have are the following: Why is God not there for Job when he loses everything? Does God get some strange, masochistically perverse pleasure in torturing Job? And finally, why would He test and stretch Job's condition solely on a dare from Satan?

The prologue and epilogue of Job differ from the majority of the book, first of all, in the style and structure of presentation. The final and final chapters are in prose, while the bulk of the book, chapters 2 to 41, is in a poetic pattern. The scribe for this book required prose for the narrative passages, and verse for the first person speeches. The prologue and epilogue can hardly be considered as late additions to a pre-existing poem. The prologue, which describes Job's character and condition, acts as the program for the play which is the book of Job; it is necessitated for biographies of the actors and description of the scenery. It is in the opinion of this student that Job's prologue is the stuff that movies are made of. The epilogue, too, is needed; without it, Job's drama would be a tragedy, and the masterpiece of a composition would be unbalanced. In short, the prologue and epilogue serve as the opening line of a play and its subsequent denouement. Without either, the reading public is left clueless.

The theodicies found in Job are numerous and varied, but none satisfy the man who simply believes in Him and His deeds. In the end he is rewarded for his faith. The prologue and the epilogue are truly necessary for the story to be complete. The absence of either leaves the reader in the dark. In closing, the book of Job is an wonderful and chilling account of one man's struggle to discover the true meaning of God.

Copyright © 1994-99 Adam Joshua Smargon ---
Theodicies in the Book of Job --- updated 30 June 1999