I really love what the people at The Bible Project are doing. Recently, I began listening to their podcast from the first episode and now I’m finishing the episodes on Job. Job is a strange and difficult book (and no I do not pretend to understand it). Job begins as a rich and powerful man; place of honor and power is arbitrarily taken from him. He spends the bulk of the book, chapters 3-41, trying to understand the why if God is just, did this injustice happen. This is a thought provoking problem and in the reality of life it can be difficult to deal with suffering when we demand a just God. But, as I listened I remembered another problem introduced to me by an Old Testament professor, namely chapter 42. Many people who study the book struggle with the fact that Job’s fortune arbitrarily increases at the end of the story (and more troubling is that those who do not study the book think that is the way the story should end). Basically, scholars are saying that Job just learned to live with nothing he should not get everything back, it ruins the message. Meanwhile, the average reader is saying that the point of the suffering has been made and understood to either Job or The Satan, and now the just God must restore him. Frankly I do not like either; they both forget that Job is an intricately crafted book meant to teach wisdom to the reader.
Again, I want to be abundantly clear I do not pretend to understand the book of Job and I would love for someone with more wisdom than I to correct me; but this is where my mind has gone. The book is not about proving something to The Satan about Job’s righteousness (Job is not a trophy believer to put on display against evil). Nor is Job about teaching us about temporary trials (how to handle when “God tests our faith”) and that God will vindicate us in the end. Rather, it seems to me that Job is teaching us that sometimes the world does not work the way we think it should and that God has a higher level of wisdom than we can comprehend (I think about the deeper level of magic that caused Aslan to rise that the White Witch never understood). Obviously, this is an oversimplification of the book of Job, but if this is the starting point then I think chapter 42 makes more sense.
Rather, what seems to me as a good reading of the text is that just as Job had to learn the deeper wisdom of God in poverty, now he increases in wealth to learn the same lesson. He was not made poor because of some sin or defeat, but because a higher wisdom than he could understand was ordering the world. Likewise, now that his wealth is restored to him he must realize that his blessing does not come because God is specially pleased with him or his righteousness. The book wants us to look beyond material fortune or poverty to recognize there is a fundamental order to the cosmos which God alone knows. We may understand bits and pieces of the way the cosmos works, but we are incapable of understanding the way God does. What might look like disorder or injustice to us might only be so because of our vantage point. Our condition is know to God and we must sit and listen and commune with God rather than self-justifying our lives.
If this is true of the poverty Job experiences, then it is equally true of his fortune. God does not restore him to “make up” for his temporary inconvenience, rather, Job is being taught the same lesson from reverse. His blessings are part of the mysterious order of God. (For those who care I liken this to the cliffhanger ending of Jonah where the text cuts away and we are left to stew on the confusing ending).
This little adventure into Biblical studies is good, but what does that mean for us today? It means that those of us who live in Western Civilization (if we can still talk of such) and who have material blessings, need to reevaluate our philosophy of wealth. For practically my whole life I have heard people saying that as long as you earned it honestly you have a right to your wealth and God only cares about your ten percent. But Job seems to say to us that both material wealth and material poverty function within a system designed by God and that neither circumstance belongs entirely to you. Echoing the theme of Scripture that the earth and everything in it is God’s, Job is telling us that the circumstances of our wealth are outside our control and that we owe it to God to remain righteous and just in the midst of our wealth the way Job was righteous and just in his poverty. We must look after those with limited or no physical resources. We must understand that money did not flow to us because we worked hard and did everything right; no money flowed to us because God so ordered it and we have an obligation to use that money for God’s designs. Job spends his life of poverty arguing that he did everything right and still ended up on bottom, and God comes along to say that’s right, I am not punishing you, but you are experiencing a deeper reality which you were not prepared for. At the end of the book Job is forced to say that despite my riches, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. (Job 1:21 NIV)”
The trouble is we like to say such things when hard times come, but can we say them when the affluent times come, can we say this in our prosperity? If we learn to do so we will have a deeper level of compassion for those who are on the outside looking in and perhaps we can help them a little more out of the money God has put in our pockets.