Job – humanity at its best

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:22 ESV)

Job is described in the prologue to the book as a perfect man, blameless, upright, sinless, pious, and possibly the wisest of the wise [1]. The Hebrew word translated “blameless” (or “perfect” in KJV) is תם and means whole, complete, lacking in nothing, fully integrated. In other words, he represented humanity at its best. Even if the story was based on an actual historical character the language used to describe him suggests that we are looking at a parable about humankind. In testing Job the Adversary is also putting God on trial. If Job, the best of the best, fails the test then all of humankind fails with him.

There are echoes here of the Garden of Eden: one “representative” human couple being put to the test, with consequences for humanity; the test administered by a snake in one story and by the Adversary in the other [2]. However, it’s the Genesis story which has received the most attention by theologians and which has had the greatest impact on Christian dogma about sin, suffering and human nature (although less so in Jewish dogma). No doubt this has been the result of the huge impact which Augustine had on the formation on Christian dogma. Augustine argued that suffering is not caused by God; rather, the exercise of free will by humans has led to sin and suffering in the world as just punishment for Adam’s disobedience. Augustine’s view was that all of humanity was seminally present in the loins of Adam, so all of humanity is punished. The sin of Adam (or, in some Protestant theologies, the consequences of his sin) is inherited by all human beings so that humanity is utterly depraved in nature. Augustine’s view differed in this from Irenaeus who earlier argued that evil comes from God in order to allow humans to develop morally and spiritually.

But both viewpoints are challenged by the Book of Job where:

  1. God is directly responsible for Job’s suffering
  2. Job suffered “for no reason” and as he was “whole, perfect, fully integrated” no moral or spiritual development was necessary
  3. Job is not presented as in any way depraved or sinful – on the contrary, he is upheld as blameless and sinless
  4. Suffering is not a punishment or consequence for sin.

So while Augustinian theodicy, and all theologies based on it (both Catholic and Protestant) argue from a particular reading of Genesis these views are rendered null and void by Job. If the authority of both books (Genesis and Job) is accepted, then Genesis has been misunderstood and needs to be reinterpreted.


[1] Job is described as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (1:3) and as the people of the east were proverbially considered to be wise this may be another way of saying that Job was the wisest of the wise (although “wisdom” is not a major theme of the book and isn’t mentioned outside the Hymn to Wisdom in chapter 28).

[2] The Genesis account of the temptation of Adam and Eve does not specifically mention “Satan” although Paul refers to the defeat of Satan in Romans 16:20 (“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”), in language which appears to have been influenced by Genesis 3:15 (“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head …”). Revelation 20:2 refers to “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” and the linking of these terms suggests that the writer may have understood the snake/serpent in the garden of Eden to have played a similar role to the Adversary or the Prosecutor in Job. I should discuss these texts when I come back at some time in the future to explore the idea of the “fall” of Satan.

6 comments on “Job – humanity at its best

  1. Jason says:

    Stephen,
    I wonder if the description of Job being “perfect and upright” is meant to convey a real perfection, as in, he is no longer in need of spiritual growth, or could it be indicating that he is a good, God fearing man. (I believe the same word “prefect” is used to describe Jacob in Gen 25, and we know there was still a great deal of growth that Jacob would come to experience.) In the Book of Job I think we can still look to see what it is Job learned in his experience, and it is somewhat evident he did learn something, after God makes his point to Job, and Job replies in 42:5,6. We might also keep in mind that the reason of Job’s sufferings may not only have been for his growth, but for the salvation of the three friends, in that they learned what they spoke was incorrect, and that was made known to them, so they also may have been the reason of Job’s sufferings.

    You also have some interesting points on the source of “evil” or what we perceive as being evil in our very constrained and limited view of God’s plan and purpose. Many times things seem evil in a limited scope of God’s intention. I think evil a produced by humanity, and often harnessed for the purpose of God, in ways that are not clearly definable. I would love to hear you elaborate on point of Job and Genesis – “If the authority of both books (Genesis and Job) is accepted, then Genesis has been misunderstood and needs to be reinterpreted.” Why?

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Jason, thanks for the comments and questions. I will reply to them out of order.

      1. “We might also keep in mind that the reason of Job’s sufferings may not only have been for his growth, but for the salvation of the three friends”. That’s an interesting idea, but the only reason given in the Book itself for Job’s ordeals was the wager between the Adversary and the LORD, viz. Job’s suffering was allowed by God to prove that Job would remain blameless and upright, even if he suffered these terrible things. So, if we’re guided by the Prologue then there was nothing “redemptive” about his sufferings, either for himself or his friends. It’s true that in the Epilogue Job’s friends benefit, but their forgiveness seems to act as a further confirmation that Job was right all along, rather than being a primary reason in itself for his ordeals. I think Christians are tempted to find something redemptive in suffering, and the idea of one person suffering for the salvation of others is something which Christians might want to see and therefore read Job with a Christological perspective. However, this idea has to be read into Job – it’s actually not there, well, not that I can see.

      2. “I think evil a produced by humanity, and often harnessed for the purpose of God”. I think that’s a common thought amongst Christians. But can you find it clearly articulated in the Hebrew Bible? On the contrary, God says: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV).And “For thus saith the LORD; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them” (Jer 32:42 KJV). There are a few more texts along these lines here. It appears to me that the emphasis of the Hebrew Bible is that God is sovereign and he alone is ultimately responsible for evil: not Satan, not Adam, and not humanity. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

      3. “I would love to hear you elaborate on point of Job and Genesis”. I hear you – a post on that is coming soon.

      4. “I wonder if the description of Job being “perfect and upright” … could … be indicating that he is a good, God fearing man.” You argue a good case from the example of Jacob with respect to the word “perfect” (תם) which literally means complete, finished, whole, fully integrated. On its own it doesn’t suggest “perfect” with the moral sense that word has in English. But as part of a cluster (blameless, upright, fears God, did not sin, integrity) which is repeated, and especially because several of these terms appear in the opening verse, these key words signal from the outset that there was nothing in Job which God sought to punish, correct, improve or develop. Even if there was something in Job which could be “improved” or his character developed, its clear from these key words that this was not the purpose for his trials or the Book.

  2. Ken says:

    Perhaps another question needs to be asked… Are the authors of Job or Genesis really concerned to present the absolute case? It seems to me that the author of Job is less concerned to demonstrate that God causes evil and suffering than to illustrate that God, evil, and suffering are sometimes, even often, inexplicable. The clearly “absurd” setup is a device; it is a literary strategy that participates in dismantling a prevailing theodicy. It turns the whole problem on its head by attempting to prove the futility (and impiety) of seeking the answer; it is simply outside human capacity to understand.

    Genesis, although it does not lend itself perfectly to systemization either, does seem to address the absolute and positive case a little more clearly, i.e., by identifying in the decision to disobey God, the origin of certain curses. The etiological character of the story, therefore, warrants its theological application to the relationship between the human condition and the origins of sin. Nevertheless, you are right to cite Isaiah, which really highlights what is already latent in the Genesis story. God created humanity with freedom to disobey, and, therefore, must be identified as ultimately responsible for evil’s existence, though humanity clearly and ultimately possesses culpability both corporately and by way of individual transgression for commission of it, leading to the suffering of the agents and primary and collateral victims. God himself remains inexplicably holy and untainted by moral corruption.

  3. Ken says:

    Incidentally, it should be noted that God is not directly responsible for Job’s suffering in the book, as you claim and as the characters believe, unless the adversary is seen as a divine hypostasis. The adversary incites the suffering and directly or indirectly causes it. God, in turn, permits it.

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