Is God good? If he is, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people? Are people really good? If they are, why does tragedy happen to them? Don’t people get what they deserve? God is just, right? So, if he allows something to happen to a person there must be a direct connection to their actions, right?
The book of Job confronts and rejects the premise that only good things happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people. It goes like this:
Job says, “I don’t deserve what is happening to me.”
Job’s friends say, “God wouldn’t let this happen if you didn’t deserve it.”
Job says, “My complaints are valid. I don’t deserve this.”
Job’s friends say, “Does God pervert justice?” “You should admit your sin and ask for mercy.”
Job says, “I’m going to ask God to relent and let me enjoy my life a little.”
Job’s friends say, “God exacts less of you than your guilt deserves.”
Job says, “The wicked prosper.”
Job’s friends say, “The wicked will suffer… that’s you.”
It’s borderline comical. The longer the discussion lasts, the more sin Job’s friends accuse him of - they make up sins they accuse him of committing. Not only is it not helpful, it is insulting to Job (If you think about it, if their belief that people get exactly what they deserve in this life was accurate, they are implying they are all completely good and only deserving of their good circumstances. They sit in judgment of Job.).
Job’s friends believe they are defending God from being accused of not being just. Because they believe God’s justice is wholly revealed and expressed in this life there must be a tit for tat response from God. They believe we experience God’s justice more or less in real time.
Job protests his innocence and cries out to God in bewilderment, anger, and despair. Whatever he thought about God’s justice is challenged by his circumstances. Job believes he is innocent. He is angry, tired and full of questions. But Job does the wise thing. Job cries out to God in his anger and with his questions.
Finally, God answers Job. At first glance the answer doesn’t seem very satisfying, God just says, “I am God and you are not. Who are you to question what I do? You don’t know anything.” Again, Job responds wisely, he says “You’re right, I repent in dust and ashes.”
Through the book we see Job grow from being a good man (even God says Job is a good and righteous man) to a wise man. We are about to learn more about wisdom as we read Proverbs. Job lays the foundation for understanding biblical wisdom and justice.
The wise person believes God is God, and a wise person’s concept of justice is rooted in the understanding that life extends beyond this life and depends on God’s eternal power and righteousness.
The wise person trusts that God is just and will do justice, even if he can’t see how. And so, Job can say “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” - Job 15:13