Christian Wisdom: Part 2

We pick back up with Ford’s discussion of wisdom by looking at the book of Job. Ford states, “The wisdom pedagogy of the book of Job is as far as possible away from ‘packaged’ answers. It is about the most fundamental questioning and searching, including radical and controversial interrogation of wisdom and its traditions; but even that is not primary: it is above all about being questioned and searched” (93). The reader therefore, following Job, is invited to undergo this same process. What follows is again a low-flying biblical-exegetical analysis of the text of Job, peppered with commentary and interaction along the way. Along these lines, Ford states,

In being offered the possibility of blessing God for God’s sake, Job is given a relationship within which he can search and be searched as he wrestles with the worst” 104).

Ford turns a corner to focus on the implicit but nonetheless relevant issue of the creation and creature’s standing before God. Creation itself, has its own dignity and beauty, and should be celebrated for its own sake. The logic in Job, he claims, is that if creation deserves to be valued for its own sake, how much more the Creator? Further therefore, as humankind is part of this grand creation, they too have an intrinsic value of their own, and they too point back to the vastness of the Creator. Job’s suffering created a situation where this reality could be known, and shed light on the “inadequacy of the wisdom learnt in his time of virtuous prosperity” (115).

This discussion turns, importantly in my opinion, to the relationships in Job and their ultimate failure. “The core of Job’s response is a passionate protest that the friends do not hear and understand his specific cry” (125).

The friends began by crying out, weeping aloud and sitting with Job for seven days and nights (2:12-13). But their received wisdom cannot cope with Job’s agonised interrogation of his suffering and of their interpretations. They are not able to rethink in line with their initial impulse of compassion. It is compassion that loses out” (126).

God’s transcendence, in turn, becomes indifference. This is what Job will not allow. Job cries out to God because God is near, not because God is removed, far and unconcerned.

Ford’s analysis turns from Job as the embodiment of desire to Jesus. “In his ministry that begins after the temptations Jesus might be seen as teaching and enacting a God-centered wisdom of desire” (159). This leads Ford to a Christological read of Job, where he offers five lines of interest to explore Christology in relation to Job. First, Ford suggests a parallel he titles “The desire of God,” where he highlights similarities between God’s approval of Job and his approval of Jesus (at baptism). Second, he emphasizes, again, the theme of crying out:

Job is therefore a text of first resort in attempting to do justice to the story of Jesus through the endless search for resonant images, stories, ideas and implications” (171).

Third, Ford takes the “God-centered desire” thread of Job and compares it with Luke’s Gospel. Fourth, he looks at what he calls “Desire in the contingencies of history,” addressing the dramatic and truly historic realities in which desire was tested, and the fear of God won the day over abundance. Lastly, Ford suggests, is the idea of “wisdom after multiple overwhelmings,” or, wisdom after trauma. Jesus, like Job, experienes and wisely navigates both temptation and trauma, but the parallels here end, in many ways with Jesus (Ford addresses some of these, not least of which is the fact that Job starts with suffering and the Gospel’s end with it).

This account is interesting. What do you think about the move to talk about Job as wisdom, and therefore open the door for a Christological read? How should this kind of move be categorized? Is it simply typology?

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14 thoughts on “Christian Wisdom: Part 2

  1. Kyle,

    Having written a commentary on Job, I certainly have some at least visceral responses to Ford’s “five lines of interest to explore Christology in relation to Job.” Let me try to take a stab:

    “Line 1″: Yes, I agree with the “approval” theme, Job is described as “my servant Job…blameless and upright” at the initiation of his “ministry.”

    “Line 2″: On the issue of “crying out,” there is definitely resonance between Job’s early crying out (certainly chaps. 3, 6-7, cf. the Psalms of lament) and Jesus’ pleas (Heb 5:7). However, the “meat” of the book of Job, between Prologue and Epilogue, features a monumental struggle between Job’s devolution to a self-sufficient “demandingness” (in response to the accusations of his friends) and his need to return again to fear the God who seems absent and/or uncaring in light of unexplained suffering.

    It is Elihu who holds up a mirror for Job to reflect on his disposition of self-sufficiency in response to that suffering, and chap. 35 is very illuminating in this regard: Elihu scolds Job by comparing his pleas (esp. his summary appeal to God, chaps. 29-31) to the cries of those who plead vainly out of self-righteousness (35:9-15), so that Job “multiplies words without knowledge,” rather than pleading out of “the fear of God.”

    “Line 3″: Similar to line 2, Job starts with this “God-centered desire” but then defaults to a self-sufficient demandingness that is focused not on God but on vindicating himself in the eyes of his friends. Only when Job repents (42:1-6) does he return to “God-centered desire,” and as a result he is “perfected” to an unprecedented level of righteous agency for God in his redemptive mediation for the friends he had grown to hate. Only then does Job illustrate (? typologically) the Christ-like service of redemptive petition on behalf of sinful others (Heb 5:9).

    “Line 4″: I like the “fear of God,” of course, but Job is not about the “fear of God over abundance” nearly as much as the “fear of God over self-righteousness” in view of God’s redemptive telos in the book (42:7-17).

    “Line 5″: Again, I see the “fear of God” amid suffering as the more relevant point of contact with Christ’s example in being “perfected” as redemptive mediator (Heb 5:8-9). The “growth in wisdom” Job experiences within the narrative is directly proportional to his growth in the “fear of God” through suffering. The strategic intent of Job’s trial is to show the Satanic influence behind the scenes that tempts Job to the kind of self-sufficiency that is antithetical to the fear of God. Job falters, just like all of us, but in the end is “perfected through suffering” as redemptive mediator.

    The fact that he is described as “the greatest of all the men” in Mesopotamia (1:3) creates an a fortiori narrative for the reader who identifies with Job in suffering: If the greatest, most upright man ever known could be called to perfection through suffering as the Creator’s redemptive agent, much more would any “less righteous” reader stand to benefit from suffering in aspiring to that same telos: redemptive love for the “unlovely.”

  2. KYLE:

    Is Job really ATTRACTED to God for his own sake though? Job particularly, finds God in the terrible and fearful “Leviathan.” So that, here, it is not a feeling of Christian attraction to a comrade … but rather perhaps, fear of a monsterous power. One that does not seem fair or just to him. But who must simply be accepted … because he is powerful.

    Rather as peasants of the era, accepted the tyrant kings – or “lord”s – of the era. (As Bloom noted?). Not out of love, but out of fear. And not out of much sense that God is just; (indeed, that is the issue in Job); but only that he is powerful.

  3. I too once wrote a commentary and put it online: “Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job” (http://www.bookofjob.org). It explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. That commentary is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. It is also taught in a number of American, Canadian, and Indian universities and 262 US high schools in 40 states through Chapter 17 in The Bible and Its Influence.

    I’d go a little farther than Ford in one direction. It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God. Elihu is wrong on that point. There is a time and a place for such things. Indeed, God approves it. This wisdom literature at its limits.

    I’d be a little more cautious on the Christological implications of the book. While Job is certainly a Christ figure and a suffering servant, he is no lamb that goes silent to the slaughter. Perhaps part of the answer lies in the fact that Jesus was born to die, whereas Job was born to live. Both explore different aspects of a full human life.

    Robert Sutherland

  4. Thanks for all of your thoughts. I seem to be in the minority here not having written a commentary on Job! My inclinations, which really aren’t very insightful or provocative, is that wisdom literature must be read within the matrix of “wisdom” as such, informed by the various accounts of wisdom in the Bible. Therefore any figure, such as Jesus, that enters into that matrix does so with a certain kind of relationship to the various contradictory elements inherent in wisdom literature.

    Therefore, if this is true, I wonder if it isn’t prudent to try and talk about “Job” as a character of his own existence (not denying this though), but fundamentally as an attack on the childishness of proverbial wisdom? In this case, couldn’t Jesus be seen doing the same thing with the Pharisees?

    Robert, I think your comment is really interesting, that Job was born to live and Jesus was born to die. I’m not sure I would want to say that though. Jesus is live, in a real way, and that life died! That is one of the provocative elements of the gospel. I think you are right though about the fact that Job was not a lamb figure, and, unlike Jesus, did not choose the path of suffering himself.

  5. I would take issue with Robert on one point: While you are quite correct to point out that It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God (after all, this is part and parcel of Wisdom lament genre), there is a point at which Job’s demands become progressively rooted in a smoldering drive for retribution against his friends (cf. esp. 19:28-29; 27:11-23). It is this demand for retribution that Elihu is appropriately rebuking in words that God Himself will also use (cf. e.g., 34:37; 35:16).

    Such a disposition is distinctly un-christlike, however, I would see Job’s transformation through repentance and his subsequent redemptive intercession for his friends (42:1-10) as the culmination of his “return” to the fear of God and of his “finding” the Wisdom he sought (chap. 28). Hence, if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it is redemptive love for the unloveable that is its ultimate telos, and I believe this shows how OT Wisdom foreshadows the redemptive fulfillment of Torah in the person of Christ.

  6. Kyle:

    The Book of Job could be seen as an essay on Wisdom … confronting early apologetics. Job wants to believe in the covenant promises from God, that God will prosper his people. But then Job confronts Theodicy; that instead, bad things happen to good people.

    What happens when the covenant with God doesn’t seem to work? Job then listens to arguments from several friends, that try to explain why. In this way, Job confronts Wisdom – in both the old promise, but also the new apologetics wisdom of wise men and their arguments.

    And what is his conclusion? Both he and God note an apparent problem in God’s core promise of prosperity; and moreover, find the apologists who try to excuse this, foolish. (Except one?).

    So that finally the only answer seems to be … give up trying to understand. (Early “Faith”). And just follow God because he is powerful. Who are we to question such power?

    So that this episode was in fact probably intended to examine “Wisdom” ideas; including threats and promises by powerful gods. But it is transitional; it poses a discussion panel of apologists – the friends of Job – to examine the problem, and propose apologetics for it.

    But finally it rejects the more polished answers, apologetics, of Job’s friends. So that finally it seems to affirm one ancient Wisdom: be afraid of powerful creatures. Like God. Just because they are powerful and can hurt you. (Or, on the more positive side, because they made a wonderful world).

    So where is Job in the Wisdom tradition? Probably mid-point. There is already much scholarly discussion on religion; particularly here, on Theodicy. But finally no answers emerge. Leaving Job with no choice, but to affirm Wisdom. Indeed, one of the most simple and basic elements of common sense wisdom: fear and admire, the Lord because he is big and powerful. Without any other reason.

    The Book of Job seems like … Wisdom under critical review; review by Job’s friends. Finally though, the review is rejected. And instead, by default of anything better, the most basic kind of commonsense Wisdom seems affirmed: respect big, powerful entities; like God, or Leviathan. Whether they seem just or not; whether they seem to honor their contracts/covenants, or not.

  7. Jim:

    When I first encountered the Book of Job in first year university, I thought the climax was Elihu’s speeches. I, then and now, was troubled by a number of things that ultimately caused me to abandon that position.

    (1) God says Job was right in everything he said about God. (Job 42:7) If Job was right, then Elihu had to be wrong.

    (2) That insight caused me to re-think Elihu. I now regard him as a kind of comic buffoon and intentional false climax.

    (3) That insight caused me to re-think Job’s so-called repentance (Job 42:6) I discovered the Hebrew there is “naham”, changing course, not “shub”, moral confession of wrongdoing. It is the word normally used to describe God’s so-called repentances which are not moral, but rather simple changes in course. Job is changing how he prosecutes his Oath of Innocence, not withdrawing it and morally confessing it to be wrong in the first place.

    (4) That insight cause me to re-think Satan’s challenge to God. It is not merely that God would curse God, but that God had missed an important sin in Job’s life when he declared him blameless. That sin was the motive of selfishness. If Job sins in challenging his friends and God for the reasons you indicate, then those sins are the expression of a pre-existing character flaw that God missed but Satan didn’t. Making Job wrong has the inevitable consequences of making God wrong.

    (5) The breath and depth of Job’s comments reveal a profound latitude given a believer to share his or her pain. I read Job’s comments to his friends not as a selfish desire that they suffer retributive justice, but as a selfless desire that they be warned of the consequences of prematurely acquiting God of the charge of causing evil in the world. (Job 13:7-11) God will not passover deceitful partiality in judgment, even if it is partiality on his behalf.

    (6) Perhaps the greastest change occasioned was my subsequent insight that God was morally responsible for the evils that befall Job. He was no bye-stander. He was the principal; Satan was his agent. This lead me to explore the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness and advance the moral and legal defense of justification. Certain evils (unjust suffering) may be necessary for the production of a second order good (selfless love) because they sever the connection between righteousness and reward and bring the existence of God as a being of all-goodness into doubt.

  8. Isn’t there something a little circular, or selfcontradictory, or something, about the above-reasoning? A perfect God does not honor his covenential commitment to prosper those who follow him … so that they will honor him (/have faith in him) even though he does not make good on his committments?

    But if he does not make good on his promises to prosper good folks like Job … then in what sense was he good and perfect? And if he was not so good and perfect, then why have faith in him?

  9. Robert,

    I deeply appreciate you exploration of the subterranean narrative recesses of the book of Job; you have mined much of the book’s Wisdom. I definitely agree with the legal framework you have adduced for the literary structure of the body of the book, although I obviously take a different view of the Oath of Innocence and Elihu’s role.

    While my response to you does not really extend the discussion that Kyle has introduced on this thread, I do think this issue of Elihu’s role speaks directly to the core of our understanding of the book’s communicative and strategic intent—how are we to identify with Job and in turn respond to the narrative theology of its message? Thanks for sharing the exegetical grounds for your conclusions about Elihu’s role. I will try to answer your points one-for-one, but not without some fear and trepidation that I am cross-examining a Canadian Crown prosecutor! :-)

    1) If your understanding of Job 42:7 is correct, then not only is Elihu wrong, but so is God Himself, as God’s very first “answer” to Job is the deeply sarcastic rhetorical question “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2), just as Elihu had properly anticipated (34:37; 35:16). How can we understand “words without knowledge” as in any way compatible with right in everything he said about God?

    2) Your impression of Elihu’s role is shared by Habel and others. However, if in fact he is to be seen as a “comic buffoon,” it disrupts the courtroom drama in a most jarring way as it immediately follows Elihu’s summary appeal before the “bench” (Job 29-31, your “Oath of Innocence”). It also trivializes the narrator’s careful assessment of Elihu’s input vis-a-vis both Job and the other three friends (32:1-5). Finally, it would be a glaring omission in the flow of this narrative for God to have inadvertently overlooked Elihu as a “comic buffoon” in at least as much need of Job’s intercession as the other three friends (42:7-10).

    3) The Hebrew clause in 42:7 that you have understood as implying that “Job was right in everything he said about God” simply does not stand up to closer examination. There simply is no “everything” in the clause; moreover, the feminine participle and suffixed preposition that most English versions render “what is right of me” is best rendered IMO in an adverbial sense, thus giving us something like you have not addressed me properly [lit. "standing firm"] as my servant Job [has].

    This puts a whole different spin on God’s insinuation here, having much less to do with the propositional content of Job’s “speaking” than with the disposition (“standing”) from which Job has spoken to God. Furthermore, while you are quite right that the missing shub is indeed the standard Hebrew word for “repent,” the two verbs Job uses in 42:6 are best rendered in a forensic sense, “retract” [my lawsuit] and “relent” [i.e., "back off"]. (The verb nacham in other Biblical contexts is a typical verb used to denote God’s “relenting” from promised punishment.)

    4) We have to ask what God meant in characterizing Job to Satan as “blameless.” The narrator already conceded that Job was “blameless and upright” in the eyes of his peers, thus placing Job “at the top of the heap” of humanity in general. This does not mean Job was “sinless” or “righteous” (tsedeq is not used here to describe Job) in the sense that God is righteous. However, Job’s unprecedented “straightness” in the eyes of his peers would have the rhetorical effect of allowing no exceptions to the unavoidable disconnect between righteousness and reward (as per your observation #6) for any less blameless or upright reader who might claim similar unjust suffering.

    The profound irony of God’s wager with Satan is that He uses Satan’s testing to “fire-polish” Job, his “blameless” servant, so that later he actually conforms to God’s righteousness—precisely as Elihu anticipates (33:26)—in his climactic obedient intercession for the other three friends (42:7-10). God not only “calls” Satan at his own game but “raises” him in the wager by making Job the best possible righteous servant one could envision from the standpoint of God’s righteous (read: “redemptive”) purposes.

    5) I have no problem with this tenacious apologetic aspect of Job’s encounter with his friends. I believe this lays the earlier foundation that begins to distinguish Job from his three friends in his final “standing” before God (42:7, see #3, above). Job’s willingness to “hold” God to his revealed character is indeed laudable, as also the lament Psalmists, but this does not mitigate the ensuing progression of Job’s retributive antipathy toward his friends as the ironic backdrop to his culminating intercession on their behalf (42:7-10).

    6) Yes, this is precisely the take-home point of my #4, above, in virtue of the fact that Job was thereby “perfected” in “selfless love.” But I’m not sure what you mean by Certain evils…may be necessary…because they… bring the existence of God as a being of all-goodness into doubt? Are you saying that such doubt is essential in our transition as His servants to “perfection” in selfless love?

  10. G

    1. You make a valid point when you say God’s failure to honour his commitments brings his goodness into serious doubt.

    2. My answer to the question however involves a consideration of the hierarchy of real goods and a conflict in laws.

    3. I note that God’s failure is not merely a convenantal failure, but a natural law failure. Here is quote from my book on that point.

    “Some think Job’s use of the Oath of Innocence is an example of a covenant lawsuit and there may be something to that.

    A covenant is a contract between God and man with reciprocal obligations. Each party to the contract has rights and duties towards the other party. The Deuteronomic covenant is perhaps the paramount example of covenant in the Old Testament. If man does certain things, then God promises to do certain things. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) If man fails to do certain things, then God promises to do certain other things. (Deuteronomy 28:15-45) Those mutual promises set up mutual rights and duties.

    The solution for one party when the other party breaches the contract is a “rib” or lawsuit. There are many Old Testament examples of lawsuits by God against his people for breach of covenant. The Book of Job might be read as a unique example of a lawsuit by man against God for breach of covenant. Job had “diligently observed all” God’s “commandments (Deuteronomy 28:1) and yet God did not deliver on his promises (Deuteronomy 28:2-13) but rather imposed on Job the curses he promised would only be imposed on the wicked. (Deuteronomy 28:15-44) In fact, the evils that befall Job have close parallels to those Deuteronomic curses.

    In terms of covenant, the basis on which God puts man on trial is the same basis on which Job puts God on trial: a violation of an agreement made. Conceptually, holding God to his promises can involve putting God on trial. A man does not have to be sinless to do it. The standard of righteousness is merely “diligence”. (Deuteronomy 28:1) And Job certainly meets that standard.

    I acknowledge the parallels between the Oath of Innocence and the covenant lawsuit, but have presented Job’s case in terms of God’s general revelation in creation (the natural moral law) rather than in terms of God’s special revelation in scripture (covenant). My reasons are two-fold.

    (1) In part, I find the evidence of covenant in The Book of Job very thin. Job does say: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look on a virgin” (Job 31:1) and that may imply a covenant Job had with God not merely with himself. But that is the extent of the evidence and it is clearly not a major feature of the book.

    (2) More importantly, I find the evidence of the natural moral law especially the language of “wholeness”, “completion”, “well-roundedness”, “perfection” in the book much stronger. Job’s right to an answer is rooted in the natural human need to know the truth and God. God’s duty to answer is rooted in the moral principle that “ought implies can”. If Job, and by implication all mankind, ought to seek a good human life and truth in particular, then God has to make it possible for him and them to do so at some point. The injustice done to Job would still be injustice even if no covenant existed to prohibit that evil. Justice is logically prior to law. Justice is rendering unto another that which is their natural right, not merely that for which they have legally contracted.

    Some might call natural law a covenant with creation but I think such an interpretation misunderstands the essence of covenant which is agreement.”

    4. The Book of Job posits a hierarchy of real goods, selfless love being the highest. That good is posited as being higher than truth or reward. The pursuit of that good justifies a suspension of truth and reward. Therein lies the conflict of laws and the resolution. Here are two quotes from my book that explore that thought and suggest at least the Book of Job’s answer to that question.

    “Does God have a duty to give human beings the answer to why there is evil in the world? Yes and no. Yes, God must provide an explanation for evil in the world. No, God need not provide that answer here and now.

    The Book of Job asserts that is the case. God has a moral duty to provide a necessary and sufficient reason why he has created a world of undeserved and unremitted suffering. That sixth truth claim is advanced through God being the defendant in Job’s legal Oath of Innocence. (Job 27:2-6; 31:35-37) That moral duty is dramatized as a legal duty to respond or suffer the condemnation that can follow summary default judgment.

    And there appear to be good reasons why that might be so.

    (1) Yes, God has a duty to give the answer. That duty is rooted in the goodness of God. God has created human beings with certain natural needs, including the need for truth. God has to provide a reasonable possibility that those needs can be fulfilled for it is self-evidently true that “ought implies can”. Otherwise, God is contradicting himself. God does not have any obligations to human beings prior to their creation. But once God creates humankind with certain needs, God acquires certain duties of care. They are duties he owes to himself and to men and women.

    (2) No, God does not have the duty to give the answer right now. That is because the right to know is not an inalienable and indefeasible right. A right is inalienable or indefeasible if it cannot be “given up”, “taken away”, “deferred” or “overridden”, without a moral wrong being committed. Very few rights are inalienable and indefeasible in that sense. There are perhaps only three such rights: the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Those three rights can never be given up, taken away, deferred or overridden, without human nature itself being destroyed.

    The right to know the truth can be overridden or deferred in certain circumstances. Such circumstances exist where the disclosure of the truth would interfere with the pursuit or possession of a more important good. Selfless love is posited as such a real good. Time is required for the development of that good. Any premature disclosure of that truth is overridden by that higher good. The ultimate disclosure of that truth is deferred to the time at which that good is complete. Truth is never denied as being a real good. If truth were not regarded as a good, then that denial would constitute a moral wrong. It is just that the timing of the disclosure of the truth has some flexibility to it. Since selfless love is posited as a real good justifying the deferral of the truth behind evil in the world for an entire human life, the appropriate time for that disclosure is the moment of death, or a short time thereafter in a resurrection and a Final Judgment on the life one has lived.”

    “Is the quantity and quality of evil in this world sufficient to achieve that good? Yes, at least probably so.
    The Book of Job takes that nuanced approach. Only God has the omniscience to give a definitive answer. Job adjourns his Oath of Innocence to the Day of the Final Judgment and awaits that final answer. This ninth truth claim is advanced through Job’s allusion to a Redeemer who stands up in court at the Final Judgment to plead his cause (Job 19:25-27), through the allusion to the apocalyptic destruction of Leviathan at the Messianic banquet with its explanation of all things (Job 41:6; Isaiah 25:6-9; 27:1; 29:18-21) and through Job’s allusion to Abraham in his adjournment of his Oath of Innocence. (Job 42:6)

    And there appear to be good reasons why that might be so.

    Those reasons involve a consideration of the “evidential argument from evil”. The mere existence of evil is not the issue. All scholars agree that the “logical argument from evil” fails to disprove the existence of God as a God of goodness. The two propositions (a) “God exists and is all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good” and (b) “evil exists” are not logically incompatible.

    The moral skeptic is the one who would prematurely blame and condemn God for sending undeserved evil into the world. The moral skeptic would format the evidential argument from evil in the following way:

    (1) Major premise (p): “There exists instances of intense suffering which an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good.”

    (2) Minor premise (q): “An all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being prevents the occurrence of any evil that is not logically necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of a good which outweighs it.”

    (3) Conclusion (r): “Therefore, an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being does not exist.”

    The moral skeptic has two difficulties here.

    The first difficulty is establishing the truth of the first premise. It almost requires omniscience to do it. In the case at hand in The Book of Job, the truth of that first premise is known by God and God alone. It is only an omniscient God that can give that answer. It is the message of The Book of Job that God is under a moral duty, dramatized as a legal duty, to give that answer and he will give it at the Final Judgment. It would be then that God would present a rigorous philosophical demonstration of his purpose in the creation and use of evil. Traditional religious thinking asserts that God will give all human beings at that time a supernatural grace that expands their minds to understand the intricacies of things that would have otherwise eluded them. This supernatural grace is part and parcel of “Beatific Vision”. Human beings will be elevated beyond their created status to understand all things through the divine mind, which is identical with the divine essence. They will remain human beings, but possess certain supernatural graces such as an expanded mind. It is at such a time that God would be able to present a philosophical demonstration of the truth or falsity of the skeptics’ first premise and human beings would be able to understand it. In our world, it is only possible to say that such an answer could be forthcoming, because it could exist. But omniscience would be required to present that answer and to understand it. In the meantime, it would be a sin of presumption to presume no such answer could be forthcoming.

    The second difficulty is the logic or validity of the argument itself. The evidential argument from evil can be turned on its head.

    The moral skeptic’s form of the evidential argument from evil is “If (p) and (q), then (r)”. But the logic of the argument is reversible, as the great 20th century philosopher G.E. Moore noted. The evidential argument from evil is equally valid if presented in a different form: “If (not r) and (q), then (not p)”. This is the so-called “G.E. Moore shift.” Again we are talking about the validity of the argument, not the truth of the argument. The moral skeptic now has a Trojan horse on his or her hands.

    A theist such as Job could reformat the argument in a way that strongly suggests the existence of an answer.

    (1) Major premise (not r): “An all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being does exist.”

    (2) Minor premise (q): “An all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being prevents the occurrence of any evil that is not logically necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of a good which outweighs it.”

    (3) Conclusion (not p): “There do not exist instances of intense suffering which an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good.”
    The $64,000 question is a simple one. Is the evidence stronger for the moral skeptic’s first premise: “there exists instances of intense suffering which an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good”? Or is the evidence stronger for the theist’s first premise “an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing and all-good being does exist”?

    At first glance, the scales tip in favor of the theist. The moral skeptic has a real difficulty establishing the truth of his first premise. He or she may have their suspicions but they require something near omniscience to establish the truth of his first premise. Their task is especially difficult with the real good selfless love presented in The Book of Job. That love requires a massive quantity of undeserved evil that brings the very existence of God into serious question so that the bond between righteousness and reward can be completely severed. The theist has much less difficulty with his first premise. The cosmological argument from Aquinas presents very strong evidence for the existence of a necessary being with all the perfections of being, including intellect and goodness. It does not require anything near omniscience to establish the theist’s first premise.

    Thus, there appear to be good reasons to believe God had a special good in mind in creating the world and the evil in the world is necessary and sufficient to bring about that real good. The message of The Book of Job is that the one true god, Yahweh, a perfect being, has that answer, will ultimately present it and will ultimately demonstrate its truth.”

  11. Jim:

    1. God’s comment that Job was right in what he said about God (Job 42:7) carries great weight.

    (1) The Hebrew word behind “right” is “kuwn”. “Kuwn” means “to establish as right or true”. Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. and Waltke, B.K, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: Volume 1 (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1980) pp. 433-434.; Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament: Volume 2, Edit. E. Jenni and C. Westermann; Trans. M.E. Biddle (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, 1997) pp. 602-606.; New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis: Volume 2, Edit. W.A. Van Gemeren (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1997) pp. 615-617.; Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 7, Edit. G.J.Botterweck, H.Ringgren; Trans. J.T.Willis (Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1974) pp. 89-101

    “The root meaning is to bring something into being with the consequence that its existence is a certainty.” Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. and Waltke, B.K, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: Volume 1 (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1980) pp. 433.

    (2) The Hebrew word “kuwn” does not carry with it any nuance of “sincerity” such that God might be understood to be excusing Job for speaking “sincerely”, but “incorrectly”. God is saying Job spoke “correctly”. Pope, M., The Anchor Bible: Job (Doubleday, New York, 1973) p. 350.

    The question is what does that great weight mean. I say it mean this. Through his Oath of Innocence, Job has established with certainty two points. (1) First, God is the author of evil in the world and that evil is undeserved. (2) Second, human beings have a right and a need to know what why God has sent evil into the world and God has a duty to give that answer. These are statements about God. Job asserts them; Job’s friends and Elihu deny them. These statements summarize the thrust of all their speeches.

    Your comment that because Job 42:7 does not contain the word “everything”, Job’s claim can be neutered to the point that Elihu is somehow right misses the point. That interpretation would attach little if any weight to God’s comment that Job was right in what he said about God. But that comment has to carry weight. In fact, there are no limiting qualifiers on the statement itself. It may mean everything. It certainly means the thrust of what Job says is correct. By implication, that means the thrust of what Job’s friends and Elihu say is incorrect. Hence, many scholars such as Habel and myself regard Elihu as a false climax. From a purely literary standpoint, if Elihu were the climax, then we wouldn’t need to hear from God at all.

    It should be remembered that, in the ancient world, the swearing of an Oath of Innocence established the content of the Oath beyond all possible doubt before any human court. No further human testimony was ever added. The Oath and its content were left for God alone. For Elihu to intervene is comic. He challenges something that has already been established beyond doubt in the human world. There is room for God to speak, but certainly not room for Elihu to speak.

    2. I read God’s early comment that Job darkens his counsel with words without knowledge in Job 38:2 as merely tendentious rhetoric. On the basis of Satan’s trial of God, God cannot give direct answers to any of Job’s questions lest in explaining what happened in heaven with Satan, he give Job a selfish motive to continue his love for God. He probably can’t appear loving for the very same reason and he certainly doesn’t in his two speeches to Job.

    I note that you do not seem to be disagreeing with my comment that God authored evil and needs to provide an answer for that action. Your explanation is that God is challenging Job on his attitude towards his friends. God’s comment in Job 38:2 suggests the opposite: it is God’s counsel, not Job’s friends’ counsel that is in question.

    3. I agree with you that the leading Book of Job commentator Habel regards Elihu as a buffoon. Very few disagree with him.

    I would further note that Habel agrees with me that Job doesn’t sin, doesn’t confess to sin and doesn’t withdraw his Oath of Innocence. His comments are on my website. In the ancient world, the Oath of Innocence was rarely used, because a single mistake in the Oath damned a person. There is even a reference to that damnation in Job’s presentation of the Oath. The expression “far be it from me” (Job 27:5 NRSV) is a weak translation of the Hebrew “halilah”, which really means “I’m damned”. Good, E.M., In Turns of Tempest: A Reading of Job with a Translation (Standford University Press, Standford, 1990) pp. 120-121. Job is saying “I’ll be damned if I do not demand an answer of God. I’ll be damned if I ever let him off the hook without an answer.” This passage has profound implications for understanding Job’s second speech to God and precludes any withdrawal of the lawsuit.

    4. I disagree with you that God’s and indeed the narrator’s description of Job as blameless means Job is less than righteous.

    I note the word blameless is used to describe Satan’s sinlessness prior to his fall. (Ezekiel 28:13) So, the word itself is broad enough to encompass that thought. The only issue is contextual. If one asserts that Job’s blamelessness is consistent with the existence of a pre-existing vindictive streak brought out in Job’s interaction with his three friends, then that puts God’s judgment on Job into serious question. And it would suggest that Satan was right to challenge God on Job.

    I note further that God’s and indeed the narrator’s description of Job as upright include the thought of righteousness. Job’s attitude towards God and his friends is right and correct. If you regard the whole story of Job as a myth, as I do, then Job is simply a sinless Christ figure illustrating the piety of protest. Human beings should speak truth to power. As a moral point, one does not need to be sinless to speak truth to power.

    5. I disagree that Job’s trials “perfect” him in selfless love, a love he didn’t have before.

    They merely illustrate or demonstrate the existence of that pre-existing selfless love in Job, which was the whole point of God’s interaction with Satan.

  12. Robert,

    We have so many points of disagreement, even in our most basic approach to either the message or the purpose of the book, I simply don’t see any hope of reconciling our positions.

    But, thanks for engaging. I do agree with some of your points about the lawsuit genre. I leave you with the last word.

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