Wisdom of Job
A thoughtful reading of scripture reveals great consistency from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We might think the Old Testament is about an angry and vengeful God and that, somewhere along the way, God changes his mind and decides to be kinder and merciful. The laws of Leviticus do seem quite different from the forgiving Christ. But the more we read the more we discover mercy in the Old Testament and challenging judgments from Jesus. All in all scripture reveals the consistent presence of a loving God who creates us, redeems us, and sustains us in all we do. That love contains challenging judgments and unlimited mercy.
A thoughtful reading of scripture also reveals some developing theology on the part of faithful people over the years. It’s not so much that the New Testament differs from the Old Testament. It’s more that the New Testament builds on the Old Testament. That’s the way we learn: we build on our experiences and revelations. We have to learn things early in life so that we can learn more things later in life. We learn to obey our parents. Later on we learn that our parents aren’t always right and that we have to develop discernment. We learn as children that following the rules keeps us safe. Later on we learn that the rules don’t cover all the challenges life presents.
Early in scripture we hear the message: Obey the rules so that things may go well with you. God knows better than us so we need to learn God’s way and do it. Parents know better than children and we tell them to do as we say so that they won’t get hurt, so that their lives can be safe and happy. So scripture helps teach the laws of God with the encouragement: if you follow the rules, things will go well. These rules are what we tend to associate with the Old Testament.
The Old Testament later on addresses the matter of suffering. Faithful people come to discover that, even when they are following the rules, suffering comes to them. The rules help to an extent but keeping the rules is no guarantee of happiness. Suffering and death is woven into the human condition and no matter how faithful we are we are going to get hurt. So what are we to think then?
Wisdom Literature addresses that big question. The Book of Job, along with many of the Psalms, the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Book of Wisdom, the Song of Songs, are all part of Wisdom Literature. Wisdom Literature is found in other traditions as well and it all speaks to the deeper questions in life that involve perspective. Figuring out who God is and how God works begins with basic rules but develops into something deeper.
Job is a great guy with a great life. Everything is going well for him but it all falls apart. He discovers that, even though he has done the things he was supposed to do, that doesn’t mean he is going to have it easy forever. He ends up losing his family, his wealth, and his health. And we hear the mysterious question of deeper consciousness being uttered to him: So now that life is hard, will you still be faithful? How will you approach life now that you see you are not in control of everything? Job’s response is not automatic but it comes in time: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job deals with that discomforting truth that we all must come to deal with: we are temporary. The only thing that is permanent is God.
The marvel of this discovery that Job has is that, despite pain and suffering and total lack of control, God is good and life is good. The good things we enjoy in life don’t last forever but something bigger than us does last. The something that is bigger than us has made us and chooses to make us part of that which does last forever.
As we read through the Book of Job in our current daily readings, we don’t read an outdated story of God jerking people around. We read a story about good people going through hard times. Inevitably, no matter how good we try to be, life is going to hurt us. Typically we take that very personally and lash out at others or God and seek someone to blame. We might even blame ourselves.
As we continue to practice faithfulness during times of ease and times of struggle, we come to a deep truth that is healing: While life is hard for those who do wrong and those who do right, God is everlasting and offers us a relationship which transcends suffering and death.
Sometimes we get stuck in the more childish understanding of things and think those who do good should get good and that those who have hardships caused it by their own actions. Faithfulness involves following the rules and doing the right thing. But the reward of faithfulness is not mere happiness or good fortune. The reward of faithfulness is a deeper relationship with that which is eternal, God himself.
We begin faithfulness by doing good in order to get good. We are invited to grow into doing good simply because it is good.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.