The King James Version of the Bible has become infamous for its misleading translations in recent history and ironically, the New Testament book bearing the same name of the protestant monarch is no exception to this modern notion. A mistranslation of the Greek term ὑπομονὴν led to the popular phrase, “the patience of Job.”
Now, the word patience denotes the ability to tolerate something unpleasant without getting upset; without protest. A better translation of ὑπομονὴν, which literally means “under-remaining,” is persistence, which is certainly a more apt depiction of Job’s demeanor, as it does not preclude Job’s freedom to protest his exceedingly unpleasant predicament. Without a doubt, the Book of Job has been commonly thought to be a work of theodicy, however I suggest that this is perhaps not the intention of the author at all.
God is not portrayed as being interested in defending God’s justice to anyone.
Theologians, ministers, philosophers and poets alike have praised the book of Job for centuries as a poetic masterpiece and the most important piece of Wisdom Literature in the Bible. Curiously, the book is canonically situated among works influenced by the Deuteronomistic Historians’ theological worldview: God exclusively blesses the righteous and exclusively curses the wicked.
Even more curiously, the book is not even a little concerned with the nation of Israel and the protagonist is not an Israelite, which, along with the book of Jonah, incurs implications regarding the prevailing Jewish paradigm of rewards and punishments, as well as the salvific universality of God. However, I must limit my concentration in this post to Job’s archetypal plight in relation to God’s disposition regarding suffering and evil.
Assuming the rabbinical hermeneutic that Job was not a historical person, I approach Job as fictional parable, which in its final form interweaves both prose and poetry. God’s character in this lengthy parable is depicted as being remarkably attentive yet not omniscient; sovereignly permissive yet not formally omnipotent; allowing the pernicious satan character to manipulate God into allowing the horrifically meaningless suffering of the blameless Job.
After Job loses everything valuable to him, his trinity of friends begin a dialogue. They espouse the Deuteronomistic “orthodoxy” in asserting, initially very gently, that Job must’ve sinned to incur such curses from God, however Job remains convinced of his innocence. As a righteous man, Job knows the only proper response to evil and suffering is protest. Job laments the pervasive misery of human existence in imperfect relation to God and wishes for death because of his experiential nihilism.
Job’s friends treat him as a dangerous heretic suggesting upsetting notions about the God-human relationship that threaten their theological and existential security. The writer of Job portrays these antagonistic friends to be even worse off than Job, the sufferer himself, because of their stubborn clinginess to their system of belief. Ultimately, God responds to Job’s protest but does not justify God’s actions (or inactions) or even answer Job’s questions but rather, God questions Job!
The great Baptist theologian, E. Frank Tupper, once posited, “Life is arbitrary. God is not.” I believe this to be an excellent hermeneutic lens by which we should interpret the existence of evil and suffering in light of God’s characteristic goodness. God created a free universe, in which the horrible is equally as possible as the good and we continue to exist in a yet unrealized perfect relationship to God. Thus, God is categorically enigmatic and we need not assume that God is the cause or apathetic bystander of suffering and existential evil but ultimately, that God reacts to suffering in a similar fashion as the righteous Job; as a protest.
It is not that God causes suffering or even allows it because God wishes to manipulate it to be a formatively redemptive and sanctifying experience but rather God is a fellow-sufferer who reacts to the existence of evil and suffering by creatively flourishing good and beauty as a protest against evil and suffering in God’s creation.