Job and Christian Theodicy

Frank Turk at Evangel is doing a short series on theodicy. I asked him how/when he would connect his discussion with Job and got the following response.

Job is where everyone goes. I think the Scripture pretty much screams out from about every third page an answer which we don’t need Job to tell us.

For the record, I think Jesus and the Gospel do a better job of making sense of suffering from a top-down standpoint than we get from Job.

Job makes good use of Job’s place in creation, but in Job, God says to Job, “dude: if you think you can do a better job, I’ll ask your advice when you can answer my questions.” I think the rest of the Bible says something a little more revelatory and Christ-centered.

I think this is partially mistaken, and because Mr Turk offered that he enjoys a little disagreement and discussion, what follows will be a few points on which I disagree with his remark.

The reason we go to Job (and should go to Job) for questions of theodicy is that Job isolates the question. Job stages one question and isolates that from historical accounts. Additionally the common assumption shared by the four interlocutors in Job share a common assumption of the sovereignty of God over earthly affairs. That is to say God’s assent is required for things to occur in the world, which means that suffering and evil in the world requires an accounting with God for those same things.

The Orthodox cycle of readings places three readings of Job in Holy week, those who set up the cycle clearly felt that Job (and therefore theodicy) were relevant and Christ-centered. Now one of these reasons for thinking so is that Job was seen as a type of Christ but I feel that on reflection there are other (possibly more important) reasons for doing so, which will the main point of the following.

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently confounds expectations. One of the way he does this is by inverting the natural moral algebra. The natural moral algebra is where we expect the good to be rewarded with good and evil with evil. The publican and the pharisee is one example. One would expect that the pharisee, a leader of the community would be the one found righteous, but that is not the case. The point is that we find story after story were our expectation of who should be rewarded and how they should be rewarded are confounded. This is a feature shared with Job. The expectation of his interlocutors is that Job must not be a righteous man because of his misfortune.

In much of the Old Testament in the prophets and Kings the natural moral algebra is held. For example David being punished by God for stealing Bathsheba from her husband and Israel and Judah being punished by being conquered and exiled for failing to hold to the faith of their fathers as is repeated told by the minor and major books of the prophets. In the book of Job, as with the Gospels, this natural algebra is broken. Job is in fact righteous and nevertheless God allows Satan to, well, fall on him. 

From Job 42:17 (page 30/696):

And it is written that he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.

A statement which seems quite consonant with the Gospel.

Mr Turk offers a curt dismissal of the relevance of the final lesson of Job. I find this odd, in a person who derides theological liberals for picking and choosing their Scriptural lessons decides in much the same manner to decide that this is the final lesson of the book of Job. And this is a sticking point. Job is a book explicitly about theodicy, if you aren’t going to be a theological liberal who is going to pick and choose those particular passages and books which one finds pleasing to your sensibilities, then there is a problem. The non-theological liberal (Christian) needs still to demonstrate who logically their theodicy is in tune and consonant with the theodicy argument contained in Job, for the argument of Job is in fact consonant with the message of the Gospels and is exposing directly the question at hand, which was the reason for my question in the first place.

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