Job and Theodicy

Job 1:20

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.

21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.

It is common for those suffering grief to become angry over their loss. That anger is ultimately directed at God because of our awareness of His rule over all things. Job himself became angry with God over the loss of his property, family and health but it is Job’s wife which expresses this sentiment fully- “Curse God and die.”

Job’s friends deal with Job’s anger by trying to blame Job for what happened. Their argument is that God’s actions could only be just if Job was a sinner.

NKJ Job 11:1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:

2 “Should not the multitude of words be answered? And should a man full of talk be vindicated?

3 Should your empty talk make men hold their peace? And when you mock, should no one rebuke you?

4 For you have said, ‘My doctrine is pure, And I am clean in your eyes.’

5 But oh, that God would speak, And open His lips against you,

6 That He would show you the secrets of wisdom! For they would double your prudence. Know therefore that God exacts from you Less than your iniquity deserves.

God rebukes Job’s friends for their words. It is not only insensitive, but false and wrong for us to declare that all suffering is the direct result of someone’s sin, though of course all suffering is the result of the curse. Job’s suffering was not the result of his sin, and Job’s friends had no way of knowing one way or another.

But this is what is known as a “theodicy”, an attempt to justify God. The friends believe that the only way to protect God from a charge of evil in Job’s life is to make Job’s own actions the cause of Job’s sufferings. The disciples take a similar approach when asking Jesus in John 9 whether the man was born blind because of his sins, or because of his parent’s sins.

There is another way open to justifying God against such a charge, however. And that is to say that God simply isn’t responsible for what happened. Some other force caused the suffering. But the problem with that approach, all too common in the Christian church today, is that it undermines God’s sovereignty. It is definitely not Job’s approach to the problem, for he says, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” He acknowledges that God was responsible for what happened, and yet never “charges God with evil.”

How could God be in control of what happened to Job, and yet not responsible for evil? Only if God, in doing it, was perfectly just. This is, in fact, the answer that the young man Elihu begins to elucidate in chapter 32. In Ch. 34 he says:

10 ” Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding: Far be it from God to do wickedness, And from the Almighty to commit iniquity.

11 For He repays man according to his work, And makes man to find a reward according to his way.

12 Surely God will never do wickedly, Nor will the Almighty pervert justice.

13 Who gave Him charge over the earth? Or who appointed Him over the whole world?

14 If He should set His heart on it, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath,

15 All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.

16 “If you have understanding, hear this; listen to the sound of my words:

17 Should one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn Him who is most just?

Elihu’s argument here is that it is impossible for God to commit injustice, since He is the judge. That is, it is God who determines what is right and wrong. There is no superior standard to Him. There is no one who set God up as the judge of the universe, or who appointed him King. He is king and judge by His own right and authority. How can we talk about God doing injustice to us, when we only exist by His decree? At His desire we would all cease to exist, and He would have taken nothing from us that He did not give in the first place.

Therefore, it is not necessary to insist that Job’s sins are the cause for Job’s suffering. But it is also not acceptable for Job to question God’s reasons for doing what He did. Job should have justified God instead of himself, and not because Job knew the reasons for what God did, but because Job knew the character of God, who is always perfectly holy.

But it is God Himself who provides the final answer for the controversy:

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

2 “Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge?

3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.

4 ” Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.

5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,

7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

God here questions Job’s right to ask the question in the first place, as well as the sufficiency of Job’s knowledge or power to understand the answer. Job is not the equal of God, and Job lacks the necessary perspective to judge God’s behavior. God created all things for His own glory, and we can do nothing more than tremble in awe and worship.

Job 40:7 “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me:

8 “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?

This is the answer of Scripture everywhere. God is the definition of righteousness, and what He does is right because of who He is. He asks Job if Job would attempt to annul God’s decision, as if Job believed that he were a superior authority to God. Job is properly humbled:

Job 42:1 Then Job answered the LORD and said:

2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

3 You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.

6 Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”

He has learned that he simply lacks the capacity to even ask the question in the first place, and has repented. He has learned wisdom.

But note something very important: God never told Job why the suffering came on him. God never told him about the contest between Him and Satan in front of the angels. And God never told Job that He intended to restore his family and possessions to him. God defends Himself only in one way: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Job repents and realizes his great foolishness, even though he is no closer to understanding why God did what He did. The one thing he learned was that whatever God did, it must be righteous, not because it conforms to Job’s ideas of righteousness, but because God is Himself the standard of righteousness.

Jesus answers the disciples in John 9 in a similar way. He says that the man was born blind not because of anyone’s sins, but purely so that God could be glorified when Jesus healed the man. God had done the man no injustice by taking his sight, since it is God who gives every man his sight in the first place. All things come from God’s hand, and if He takes them from us, they were His to begin with.

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

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