An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

The Impatience of Job

The Book of Job has a fairytale-like beginning: “There was a man in the land of Uz named Job.” The setting is an ancient, pastoral land. Job’s wealth is measured in herds of animals. Although the setting fits better with the time of Abraham than with the later prophets, most scholars believe the book was composed between 600 and 400 BCE. Chapters one and two may have originated as a much older oral tale.

I find this book slow-going after the first two chapters. Job’s conversation with his unsympathetic friends lasts much longer than my attention span. For those who want a short, pithy version of Job, check out Jana Riess’s Twitter version. http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/2011/01/does-god-respond-when-we-suffer.html

Job is a complex story and the King James Version is not as useful as newer translations based on the best available Hebrew texts. The Hebrew word translated as Satan in the KJV more literally means “accuser” or “adversary.” The Adversary apparently functions as a sort of patrolman reporting on God’s earthly creatures. (1:6-8)

Chapter One lists Job’s impressive list of virtues. The Adversary poses a question: Is Job good only because he’s so richly blessed? God agrees to let the Adversary try Job by stripping him of his possessions—everything but his life—although the lives of Job’s children are not exempt from the wager.

With his wealth and children gone, and tortured by boils, Job does not curse God, but comes close as he rails against the injustice inflicted upon him. (The term “patience of Job” comes from James 5:11—James apparently not having read the middle chapters).

 Job demands of God: “Does it benefit You to defraud/To despise the toil of Your hands/While smiling on the counsel of the wicked?/Do You have the eyes of flesh?/Is Your vision that of mere men?/ . . . It is something to be proud of to hunt me like a lion/To show Yourself wondrous through me time and again!” (10:3-4, 16) He accuses God to his friends saying: “He destroys the blameless and the guilty/When suddenly a scourge brings death/He mocks as the innocent fail.” (9:22-24) While Job stops short of cursing God, these are hardly the words of patience personified.

Job’s friends offer him conventional wisdom: The righteous are blessed; only the wicked are punished. Job, however, knows he’s done nothing to deserve the punishment he’s receiving.

Mormons, as well as other Christians, often quote Job 19:25-26: “I know that my redeemer liveth/ . . .  And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God,” as a passage about Christ and the resurrection. The Hebrew word “go’el” translated as redeemer in the KJV is “the legal term for the person in the family responsible for avenging the murder of other members.” (Jewish Study Bible, 1529) Newer Bible versions translate “go’el” as vindicator. Scholars tend to believe the reference to seeing God in his flesh refers to either having a spiritual meeting with God in this life or Job living to see his vindicator avenge him. According to Bible scholars, the notion of an afterlife developed very late in the Hebrew religion. In several verses Job speaks of going “the way of no return” and of death as final. (Job 7:21; 14:10, 14; 16:22; 17:13-16)

God finally appears in chapter 38, but answers no questions and offers no comfort as He compares Job’s puny human abilities to His own might. The only comfort Job receives is hearing God accuse his friends of false statements when they presented their conventional wisdom—that suffering is punishment for sin.

God restores Job’s fortunes—even blessing him with ten new children—and in a culture that considered children as property—receiving ten new children to replace the ten who were killed would be just. Job lives happily ever after. We are left not knowing why suffering exists, but realizing that conventional wisdom—the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer—has limitations.

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