Introduction to Job by Stephen Ricker
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Introduction To Job


Since the book of Job deals mostly with suffering, I thought it best to look at a few questions and answers concerning the subject of suffering before an introduction to the book. The introduction is after these questions.

What does "suffer" mean?

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, suffer means, "to feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment."

What are different ways people suffer?
(usually a person experienced more than one of these at a time)

1) Mentally
   a) Fears either real or imagined
   b) Delusions
   c) Obsessions and Compulsions
   d) Discouragement
   e) Dreams

2) Socially
   a) Non-acceptance/Rejection
   b) Ridiculed/Shamed
   c) Rebuked/Yelled at/Corrected
   d) Laughed at, but not "b" above.
   e) Hate
   f) Broken relationships (i.e. wife/husband, child/parent, friend/friend)
   g) Lack of love/affection
   h) Racial prejudice
   i) Death of friend or family member
   j) War/fighting/arguing

3) Physically
   a) Disease/Chemical Imbalances
   b) Addictions (i.e. Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco, Caffeine)
   b) Sickness
   c) Injury accidental or intentionally self imposed
   d) Natural fact of life (i.e. child bearing, ageing)
   e) Unattractiveness
   f) Tiredness/Lack of sleep/Insomnia
   g) Sexually

4) Spiritually
   a) No relationship with God
   b) Demon possession
   c) Resentment towards God
   d) Lack of a thankful heart
   e) Don't praise God/Lack of meaningful worship
   f) Stubbornness/We temporarily turn our back on God
   g) Pride
   h) Sin

5) Our feelings
   a) Depression
   b) Sad
   c) Angry
   d) Jealous
   e) Hate/Malice
   f) Shame
   g) Discouragement
   h) Grief/Bereave

6) Financial
   a) Not enough to meet basic needs
   b) Obtain more in a day all the time than can spend in one day all the time

7) Materially
   a) Not having what is needed
   b) Losing something of value real or sentimental
   c) Not having what one wants

Why do people suffer?

  1. Superficial reasons.
    1. Something a person does wrong (intentionally or unintentionally) whether it be a mistake, error in judgment, lack of judgment, stupidity, or ignorance.
    2. Something someone else did wrong that affected us (intentionally or unintentionally) whether it be a mistake, error in judgment, lack of judgment, stupidity, or ignorance.
    3. An act of nature. In other words a natural act caused us to suffer.
  2. Reasons with the acknowledgement of God as the Almighty, Omnipotent, and Loving (There may be more than one reason we suffer.)
    1. In general because of the curse in Genesis 3, which came because of Adam and Eve's sin, which all human beings have inherited.
    2. Because of a specific sin that we have committed thus being:
      1. punishment
      2. rebuke
      3. training
      4. correcting
    3. Because of a specific sin that our parents committed.
    4. Because of someone else's sin.
    5. To purify our faith in God/To teach us a spiritual reality.
    6. To test our faith.
    7. Because of the spiritual battle Satan and his kingdom against Jesus/God.
    8. To display the glory of God.
    9. God wants to use it in his redemptive plan.
    10. Physical cause and effect. (i.e. breaking a leg while bungee jumping, a child putting his hand on a hot stove). This is God's natural way of keeping a person healthy/alive.
    11. No apparent reason that we can fathom.
    12. An act of nature. In other words a natural act caused us to suffer.

Reactions to suffering.
(This will depend on what we perceive as the cause of our suffering whether we are right or wrong, and/or Godly inspired or worldly inspired. Also none of these will have to be or could be permanent or temporary. We could have more than one of these responses at a time.)

   1) Nothing/ No reaction or response
   2) Repent
   3) Thank God
   4) Turn against God/Curse God/Hate God
   5) Turn against God/Stubbornness
   6) Confusion
   7) Disbelief in our suffering
   8) Learn from our suffering
   9) Ask a lot of questions to self/God/others/idols
   10) Read a book on our suffering or on suffering in general
   11) Impose another suffering on ourselves or impose sufferings on others

The following is from:
Bruce, F.F. (Ed.) (1986). The International Bible commentary with the New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

The Purpose of the Book

Every reader of this magnificent and timeless book realizes that its purpose is to deal, in dramatic form, with the problem of suffering. But it is important to understand exactly what the problem of suffering means for the author.

To many people of the modern world, obsessed with a need to discover the origins of things and convinced that by that method alone one can come to a true understanding of things, the problem of suffering is the question: Why does suffering happen? What is its origin and cause? and more particularly, Why has this suffering happened to me? To that question, serious though it is, the book of Job gives no satisfactory answer. Judged as an answer to the problem of the origin or reason for suffering, the book is a failure. To be sure, the question is ventilated, and partial answers are given by the friends: suffering comes about sometimes as punishment for sin, sometimes as warning against committing sin in the future and sometimes, as in the case of Job himself, for no earthly reason at all but in order to justify God's claim to men's disinterested love of himself. But the reader cannot learn from the book what is the cause of his own suffering, and it is much to the point that Job himself never becomes aware of the origin of his suffering. To him it remains a mystery to the last, and from that fact we may perhaps infer that the author does not regard this as the primary question about suffering.

A second problem about suffering is both raised and convincingly answered by the book: Is there such a thing as innocent suffering? The fact that we no longer doubt the existence of innocent suffering is partly due to the book itself, for the book speaks out clearly against all cut-and-dried theologies of guilt and punishment by its insistence that the Job who suffers is a righteous man. Not only the author (1:1), not only Job himself (e.g. 6: 30; 9: 15), but also God (42: 7 f.) attest Job's innocence, and yet there remains a very natural human tendency to ask, when one suffers, What have I done to deserve this? The book of Job, without denying the possibility of fully deserved suffering, answers, Perhaps you have no need to blame yourself-, suffering is not always a matter of desert. But even this question and its answer are a secondary issue in the problem of suffering.

The third, and essential, problem of suffering as expressed in the book of Job is, rather, an existential one, that is, How can I stiffer? What am I to do when I am suffering? In what spirit can I go on suffering? By comparison with this question of existence the first question, about the origin of suffering, is virtually an academic one, and the second, about the existence of innocent suffering, is straightforward. This third question is the one that it takes the whole book of Job to answer.

Two different but complementary answers are given by the book as it portrays Job's reactions to his suffering. The first is expressed in the prose prologue of the first two chapters. Job's reaction to the disasters that come upon him is a calm acceptance of the will of God that is able to bless God both for what he has given and what he has taken away (1:21), both for good and for harm (2:10). The sufferer who can identify with Job's acceptance, neither ignoring the reality of suffering by escaping into the past nor so pre-occupied with the present grief as to forget past blessing, is fortunate indeed. Many sufferers do not come to acceptance so easily: they are rather a blend of Job the patient and Job the impatient. The second answer to the question, What am I to do when I am suffering?, emerges from the distress and turmoil of Job's mind as it is revealed in his poetic speeches. When acceptance is no longer, or not yet, possible and bitterness and anger and a sense of isolation from God, even persecution by God, are overwhelming, what Job does is what must be done, so the author would have us know. Job does not attempt to suppress his hostility towards God for what has happened to him; he will speak out 'in the anguish of (his) spirit' and 'complain in the bitterness of (his) soul' (7:11). Above all, this is not some aimless venting of anger and frustration: it is directed towards God. Even though Job speaks rashly and unjustly of God, his protests are in the right direction; he realizes that it is God himself with whom he has to do. it is just because he calls upon God persistently that in the end God reveals himself to him (chs. 38-41) and Job's tensions are resolved by the encounter with God. And it is just because Job directs himself to God in his suffering, and not toward the secondary causes of his distress (the Sabeans, the natural forces) that God in the end can praise him for speaking of him what is right (42:7 f ).

By all means, the book means to say, let Job the patient be your model so long as that is possible for you-, but when equanimity fails, let the grief and anger and impatience direct itself and yourself towards God, for only through encounter with him can the tension be resolved.