Job contradicts the assertion made popular by contemporary critics, and in books such as The Da Vinci Code, that the biblical canon reflects only the interests of the wealthy, the powerful and the privileged, and serves to legitimize their good fortune and advantages over the poor and the suffering. By giving voice so powerfully to the cries of one poor and suffering, Job serves a corrective function to those who would automatically equate wealth, power, status and success with merit and virtue. This is made all the more clear when we consider that in an agrarian society like that of Job and his friends, the normal and expected response to someone’s catastrophic loss is to divide and share some of their wealth with the unfortunate neighbor and family member, knowing full well that you could be next, and that you will need their help should it happen to you. Job seems mystified that his three “friends” do not do so (Chapter 6). This may be the main problem with “Job’s comforters,” not that their words are entirely wrong in the grand, eschatological scheme of things. Christians know how history ends, with the vindication of saints such as Job, and the eternal, manifold restoration of all that they will have suffered and lost for God’s sake. The question is When? not If. Job cautions us against glibly and quickly interpreting the events of this life as either rewards or punishments, as some people were too quick to do in response to the recent earthquake in Japan, chalking it up as karma for the attack on Pearl Harbor (I’m not kidding; I could not have made that up). Until all is made clear and we “shall know as we are known,” our words should be as few as were the benevolent actions of Job’s comforters, and our benevolent actions toward all sufferers should be as many and great as were their words. For God does not seek people to defend his justice as much as he seeks people to demonstrate his justice. But words alone, without actions (like faith without works), even the most pious and correct words, are obscene.
In place of comfort, support and mutual aid, there is evidence of another community dynamic happening, scapegoating and victim-blaming. That may be partly why Job’s comforters are eager to multiply words in God’s defense: that they might distance themselves from someone who seems to have earned the wrath of God, and thereby justify themselves. “Men open their mouths and jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite against me (16:10).”
We can identify with Job in the vacillations and struggles of his faith. Job rises to a re-affirmation of faith in 13: 15-16: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him. I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will surely turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him.” In this instance, faith is not about having all questions answered and all things assured. It is, rather, the commitment to hang in there with God, his Word and his people, through the complexities, mysteries and tragedies of life and death. In effect, every person of faith must come to the kind of faith expressed in Job 13: 15, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him,” if for no other reason than that we are all mortal. At that point in the plot, Satan, the Accuser, should be blushing with shame. Job has ably demonstrated the falsehood of Satan’s accusation against him.
Job leaves some questions hanging that find surprising answers in Jesus and the New Covenant. In Chapter 9, we read:
32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court.
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.
How would Job have felt, what would he have said, had he foreseen Jesus Christ, the mediator between humanity and God, through whom God partook of our humanity and shared in our sufferings? While not a watertight answer to the mystery of evil and suffering in a good world created by a good God, the Incarnation of God in Christ is a powerful symbolic and emotional answer to the questions that Job leaves hanging.
PSALM 41…has a strong resonance with Job, in that it gives voice to one who unjustly suffers, and reminds us, from the beginning, how God takes personally our treatment of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the suffering, and that if we are looking for reward and vindication from God, we are better off being channels of God’s mercy to those in need, than we are in trying to be channels of humanity’s approval of God. This Psalm also, like Job, reflects the tendency to blame the victim and to make of the sufferer and the unfortunate a community scapegoat, on the tragic assumption that such suffering must have been deserved, and that by explaining, condemning and punishing the sufferer’s misfortune, we are turning his misfortune away from ourselves. Christ himself is identified and prefigured in verse 9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me. “ (John 13:18). Talk about kicking someone while he is down! Contrary to what we see in Job and in Psalm 41, Christ has drawn near to the sinners and sufferers of the world, regardless of the cause, to the point of being identified with them in the waters of baptism, even to the point of being confused for them when arrested, accused of rebellion and misleading the people, and crucified. Are we Christians too often too afraid to go where Christ was not too proud to go?