For my History and Lit of the Bible class – I had to write a paper on this question: In your opinion, which of the Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job) most speaks to the meaning of life?
I have LOVED taking a class like this at a secular university because all of the papers are done publicly on a Group Discussion Board and people read the papers and comment on them. So it forces me to speak and analyze in “unreligious” ways and to keep it short and personal, instead of long and formal like most papers. And faith, although a part of the argument, cannot be the entirety. My answers cannot be “I believe because I believe.” My classes are filled with people in all arenas of faith – and so it is an interesting exercise in thinking through the “why” of my belief system and responding to theirs as well. So, here goes, for those who dig these kind of things. My analysis of the Book of Job.
Of the three books of wisdom literature, in my opinion, the book of Job most accurately portrays the meaning of life. And it’s unfortunate and difficult to come to grips with, because it removes the meaning of life from our control, and even our context, onto a plane in which we are powerless and seemingly insignificant.
Of all of the books of the Bible, the one I most have personally struggled with was Job. Initially, as a child, I learned that Job was a story of a righteous man with judgmental friends, being tested by God. But upon my personal study, the arguments of the friends seemed not judgmental but entirely logical, and God seemed far and uncaring. So I had to work through what I thought about it and align my mind with what I knew to be true as I processed this basic question: How could a God who was loving allow the death of so many people in some test of a righteous man’s faith?
Only upon maturity in the faith, and an ability to disconnect from taking the relative insignificance of humankind personally, did I come to peace with the Book of Job. As an adult it has given me comfort that the we cannot find “the meaning of life” in the world that we live in. It is obvious from looking at the world around us that the moral law found in the Sinai Covenant of “God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked” is at best terribly misunderstood and at worst, fundamentally false (Hauer, 185). The righteous contract cancer. They lose their homes. They see their children die in horrific accidents. Meanwhile, the wicked seem to thrive.
This seeming violation of the moral law does one of two things – it denies the power and goodness of a Creator or it forces me to accept the reality that God’s ways are not my ways and His judgment of the world is not equal to my judgment.
I have often wondered who I would be in this story. Would I be Job, “willing to accept good and evil from the Lord without question”? (Hauer, 184). Or would I be the friends, confident in a misguided truth? And if I were one of those people, would I reject God once things got really bad? Is my faith strong enough to withstand ultimate testing?
The story of Job forces me to relate to God not based on a reward system, summed up well in our textbook, “So, in the final analysis, the Book of Job dramatizes two quite different roads to the basic truth that faith in God cannot be a conditioned response to the expectation of reward or the fear of punishment.”
The Book of Job confirms that I am not the center of the universe and that my understanding is miniscule compared to God’s understanding. It also forces me to judge failure and thriving by something entirely separate – the nearness of God. If I see the nearness of God as my good, instead of health, wealth, and happiness, then I see with the eyes of faith that the righteous do get rewarded. Even in the story of Job, when Job was questioning God with a vigor that bordered on recklessness, God appeared. And God yelled. And God put Job in his place. But He appeared.
Job was granted an audience with the Most High God. God cared enough to speak into the life of a mortal. Even more, God answered the questions of a disrespectful man.
So the meaning of life, according to Job, is that life is not about us. It isn’t even about this planet. It is about the glory and purpose of a God greater than us. And the most we can hope for is a part in that glory and purpose, even if that part is horrifically painful for us to play. And the ultimate reward if we are incredibly blessed and if He so chooses is a glimpse of the God we are serving.
So is that a fun, easy concept to grasp? No. Do I wish that the meaning of life could be found in a moral law so simple as the righteous succeed while the wicked fail in a blaze of glory? Sometimes. But in the final analysis I think I, like Job, have grown confident in a God who is bigger than my understanding.
I think the book speaks tremendous truth when it says “Humankind must learn to accept what seems like temporary injustice, secure in the knowledge that there is divine justice that will ultimately prevail.” (Hauer, 189) And that justice will be in God’s terms and His timing – and not mine.
Thank you for your thoughtful interpretation of the book of job. It is very helpful to me.