Since 2008 I’ve had three bouts of cancer, thirty-six rounds of chemo, thirty-three rounds of radiation, eight surgeries and a bone marrow transplant—ten weeks after which I was in a serious auto accident that resulted in a broken back and other injuries. Due to a compromised immune system I’ve also contracted pneumonia six times and have lived with various other maladies.
Given these hardships, some friends have compared me to Job. That’s quite a stretch. Job was a very wealthy man; I’m on Social Security disability. Job had vast herds and holdings; I don’t even own a dog. Job was known and respected in heaven; I carry as much weight as a shadow there. Job’s wife was one of his afflictions; Satan left her alone. My wife was the strength and joy of my life; she was taken from me.
On the other hand, Job’s children were killed but mine are still here. Job’s friends inadvertently, and then intentionally, rubbed sand into his wounds. My friends have been great healers and encouragers.
What Job and I have in common is a concentrated period of suffering and loss that led to a sense of alienation from God.
Alienation but not apostasy.
Despite being confused and angry about our circumstances, neither of us cursed God nor doubted his existence. Eventually Job was restored to fellowship, not by anything he did but simply by God showing up. Job wasn’t revived by the answers he got to his questions—God didn’t bother. Nor was it the outpouring of physical blessings—those came later. His transformation was sparked by God’s tangible presence.
I’m currently living in the middle of the book of Job. Like him, I pray, pout, argue, appease, rant, remonstrate, complain, cajole, accuse God, acquit myself, hunger for insight and hate shallow explanations. All to no avail. God has to show up to rekindle the relationship.
Yes, Job was an Old Testament saint and nowadays Christians have the indwelling Spirit. I can accept this by faith but experiencing God should be visceral at some point. I long for the comfort and assurance of his felt presence, especially in the midst of catastrophe.
Not that it matters as far as the message is concerned but is the book actual history? Job may have been a real person but his story reads more like a morality tale than a literal biography. Think of the historical plays of Shakespeare (e.g., the Henrys  and the Richards ). They have a core of fact but re-present history to the playwright’s own ends.
If we came across this book outside its biblical context, we wouldn’t be tempted to treat it as unvarnished history. There may be real characters at root but the cast is full of caricatures, from the headliners (God and Job), to the supporting actors (Satan, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu).
The story is staged like a play, complete with omnipresent narrator. Act One opens in heaven with God and Satan wagering on human behavior like blasé patricians (Recall the 1983 movie, Trading Places where two bored commercial brokers meddle with the lives of their subordinates.) Act Two is the heart of the piece as Job is crushed and tries various strategies to cope, albeit unsuccessfully. In Act Three, God wins his bet and Job is doubly blessed in a happily-ever-after ending worthy of Hollywood.
On the other hand, taking Job at face value raises some disturbing questions:
- Did Satan really have unfettered access to the courts of heaven? What about Habakkuk 1:13?
- Does God make casual wagers with the Devil that affect human destiny?
- Does the Heavenly Father casually allow innocent children to be thrown under the bus—literally—just to prove a point?
Better to see Job as a dramatic set piece, an epic myth. A myth isn’t a fable; it’s more like a parable, one of Jesus’s favorite teaching devices. It’s a story that conveys a moral truth. The details are important but their factuality is irrelevant.
So what are the lessons to be gleaned from a careful reading of Job?
- That we can expect to be treated fairly in this life? Job wasn’t.
- That we should endure suffering with patience? Job didn’t.
- That God is God and we’re not? Bingo!
* * *
“Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee,
and I’ll forgive Thy great big joke on me.”