27 September 2010

Job 1:6-22

"Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing?'" (v.9)


This is the beginning of one of the strangest books of the Bible. God seems to be tempted into a deal with Satan in front of a crowd of heavenly beings. Satan suggests that God's servant Job only follows God because of all the good things God gives him. Would Job still follow God if all these things were taken away? God grants Satan permission to find out and very quickly Job loses his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, the servants looking after them, and finally all his sons and daughters.

How does Job respond to these calamities? He accepts them and does not blame God - no doubt to Satan's disappointment.

But how are we to approach the story of Job? It has often been seen as a way of thinking about the questions: 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' or 'Why God allow bad things to happen?' Many Christians would not read it literally as a reliable history of dealings between heavenly beings (how would we know?), but as a way of thinking about faith in God, especially in hard times.

Truths can be communicated through stories that aren't history. The fairytale Cinderella, for example, teaches that to be poor and humble, like Cinderella, is better than to be rich and haughty, like the ugly sisters. Just because the story didn't happen doesn't mean this message is false. The Bible isn't just a collection of fairy stories, but it may at times use similar ways of communicating its message. The earliest Christian interpreters of the Bible thought many of its stories were symbolic of spiritual truths in this way and should not be understood literally. This has been the position of many Christians ever since.

The beginning of this story makes us wonder what Satan will do next, how Job will respond, and what God will make of it all. To find out, we will have to follow the story through the readings for the week.

To Ponder

How do you approach the Bible? Do you read it all literally, including odd stories like this one, or does it depend on the part you are reading?

Have you ever been challenged, like Job, by bad things that have happened to you? How did you respond?

Have you ever wondered about how God could be responsible for a world in which many suffer? What conclusions have you come to?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.