Why do bad things happen to good people? I have personally heard many people ask this question, and I am sure most people if not everybody in the world has asked themselves this at some point in their life. This question is the theme of the book of Job and undoubtedly many people have read the book of Job to try to find the answer. The author of the book of Job is unknown, however not knowing the author does not hinder us in finding meaning of the book. The main thing to focus on while reading the book is the story behind it and the answer Job gets from God in the end.
The book of Job is about a man named Job. Job lived in a place called Uz and he is presented as a man who was blameless, the man feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1). Job had a large family with seven sons and three daughters. He was also a very wealthy man, having a large number of livestock in his possession as well as may servants. In fact the book names him as the greatest of all the peoples of the east (Job 1:3). Job is also portrayed as a good father with great concern for his children and their standing before God. It is said that Job would offer burnt offerings for all his children in case any of them had sinned (Job 1:5). So from the introduction of the book we can assume that Job had a great life. He had a relationship with God, he had a great family, and he was very wealthy. He was what we would call a “good person” and he “deserved” to have good things happen to him.
After the introduction of the book the next scene is quite interesting. The book presents for us a scene in heaven, in the presence of God. It states that there was a day when the “sons of God” came before the LORD (Yahweh) to present themselves, accompanying them was also Satan or “the Accuser.” A dialogue then begins between Satan and the LORD about Job. What is interesting is that the LORD himself brings up Job before Satan does, stating that he is a “blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 2:8). Satan then claims that the only reason that Job fears and follows God is because God has blessed him so much. He then says that if God takes away his blessings and protection from Job then Job will no longer follow God. God then gives permission to Satan for him to do whatever he wants to Job, the only rule being that he could not hurt Job himself.
Having been given permission from the LORD, Satan takes his opportunity to destroy everything important in Job’s life. On one day four messengers came to Job at the same time to inform him of catastrophes that all happened that day. First his oxen and donkeys were stolen and all the servants taking care of them were killed. Second a great fire came from heaven and burned up all his sheep along with the servants taking care of them as well. Third another raid was made against his camels, they were also stolen and the servants killed. The fourth and certainly the most painful for Job, a great wind came and struck down the house of Job’s eldest son, all of Job’s children were in the house and all died at the same time. Job’s response to all of these catastrophes was simply amazing, he “tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job then stated that “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20-21). The book of Job states that Job did not sin in his response to God, since he did not charge God with doing wrong (Job 1:22).
After all of this happened we then read about another day, just like the first, where the son of God came to present themselves before the LORD. Like the first time, Satan was there and the LORD again mentioned Job to him. This time the LORD mentions that Job is still faithful, even though all of these things happened to him without cause. Satan then claims that Job held is integrity because he still had his own health, but if his flesh was touched he would then curse God (Job 2:1-6). After this the LORD allowed Satan to touch Job’s body. Job was struck with sores all over his body that brought him great pain. When this happened to him Job’s wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But in response Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Again, Job did not sin (Job 2:7-10).
The next characters that enter the story of Job are his three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. After hearing of all the terrible things that had happened to Job they decided to come together to visit Job in order to show their sympathy and comfort him. After meeting Job they cried and tore their robes. For seven days and nights they sat with Job on the ground, and no one spoke a word to him. Finally after the seventh day of silence Job speaks up and curses the day of his birth (Job 2:11-3:1). At this point of the story the book’s literary style changes from narrative to a dramatic poetic dialogue between Job and his three friends, which continues for almost the rest of the book.
After Job speaks the first person from his three friends to speak is Eliphaz. Eliphaz states that innocent people prosper, “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7-8). Eliphaz implies that since all of these evil things have happened Job, he must not be innocent. Bildad continues with this idea by telling Job he should repent for whatever sin he must have committed to deserve this punishment, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation” (Job 8:3; 5-6). Job’s third friend Zophar then speaks even more harshly after Bildad saying, “But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (Job 11:5-6). Even though his friends rebuke Job and believe he must deserve the evil that was done to him, Job still believes he is just, “I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock” (Job 12:4). Job stays faithful to God but desires to talk to God himself, he believes God must have made a mistake, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face” (Job 13:15).
Job and his three friends continue their discussion to no avail, Job’s friends keep their claim that Job must deserve this evil and that he must repent, while Job continues to claim he is just. Finally Job’s friends grew tired of trying to answer Job, since he “was righteous in his own eyes.” At this point of the story a new character enters the scene, Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite. The text states that this man burned with anger against both Job and his friends. He was angry with Job because he justified himself rather than God, and at Jobs three friends because they could find no answer. Because Elihu was younger he waited for Job and his friends to speak first, but after they had found no answer he decided to speak up (Job 32:1-5). From this point of the book until chapter 38 is the speech of Elihu. Like Job’s three friends Elihu condemns Job for thinking of himself as completely pure and just. Elihu exhorts God’s justice affirming that God does not act in injustice. Elihu also speaks of God’s ultimate greatness and majesty, reminding them that God asks in ways that man cannot understand because God is much higher than we are. Elihu points out that it is foolish for men to think that they know everything about God and how He works. He ends his speech by saying, “The Almighty – we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit” (Job 37:23-24).
When Elihu finishes speaking the climax of the story begins with the LORD coming to answer Job himself. The LORD begins by questioning Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). The LORD continues to question Job about the stars, the sea, clouds, the expanse of the earth, light, snow, rain, animals and how they work. Job is then silenced by God’s questions, He continues asking questions and stating His wisdom about things that man simply cannot possibly know. After the LORD finishes Job states, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3). The amazing thing about this is that God does not give Job a direct answer about why he suffered. The LORD simply states his infinite wisdom and understanding that man can never fully know. The answer for Job’s suffering is simply that God is sovereign, wiser and more understanding than man. If man thinks he understands all that God does he is mistaken.
After speaking to Job the LORD turns to Job’s three friends, condemning them for what they spoke about Him, “for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). The LORD then commands them to offer up a burnt offering for their sin and then Job will pray for them. After the offering is done and Job prayed for his friends the LORD restored all of the fortunes of Job. God actually decided to bless Job more at the end of his life than the beginning, giving him double of everything that he had possessed before. The LORD also gave Job more sons and daughters, having again seven sons and three daughters. Job lived 140 years and died an old man, “full of days.”
In conclusion, while the book of Job may not answer all of the questions we may have about evil, suffering, and why it happens, it is still a relevant book for us today. This is because Job faces theological issues that we still must come face to face with; what is the cause and effect of suffering and how does this relate to God’s justice and care? The book illustrates the frustration we as humans have with these problems, especially when we cannot find or understand the answer. Job is also an example of a man with great faith. Even though Job suffers much he does not blame God, he does not lose his faith and confidence and God’s justice, goodness, and mercy. And in the end God rewards Job greatly for his faithfulness in suffering. God appearing to Job shows us that God does care and that He is still in control even when it doesn’t seem like it to us. We as human beings cannot understand God’s mysterious knowledge and control, therefore; we must be content with the knowledge we do have and learn to trust God through all circumstances. True faith is trusting God even when He doesn’t give us all the answers we want.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007. Book.