Tuesday

27 January 2015

“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 89:1-18


Background

Although much of the Bible is presented as a fly-on-the-wall account of proceedings, it's hard to imagine how we could be a fly on this particular wall of the heavenly court. Clearly, the author of Job did not sneak in and eavesdrop on the conversation in which God and Satan discussed Job, to whom God points as an exemplar of a "blameless and upright man" (Job 1:8). The author cannot have heard God give permission for Satan to take away all that Job had, to test whether Job's piety was only the result of gratitude for his comfortable lifestyle and vast riches (see Job 1:2-3).

Sections of the Bible like this scene in the heavenly court may not be a literal historical account - but they are a vehicle for exploring greater truths of a different kind. As Dumbledore responds (in J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) when asked by Harry whether a vision is real or only in his mind, "Of course it is happening inside your head… but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"

The author of Job is exploring the great question of how and why a benevolent, all-powerful God can allow evil and suffering in the world (this exploration is called 'theodicy'). In this passage alone, Job loses his children, his livestock, his servants and his health, and we are left with the question: why? Many theories are explored in the Bible - here, that Job's suffering is the result of a wager between God and Satan. Of course, no great resolution is given to this great question by the end of the book of Job - and yet the story as a whole is far from unsatisfactory. In his book Studying the Old Testament (London, Epworth Press, 1979), Harry McKeating suggests that "The answer to this anomaly is that the problem of suffering is not the main issue for Job. It is only the way into the main issue. His problem is: How can I go on believing in God? … His answer… is the answer of religious experience. He can go on believing because he has met God for himself. This being so, the problem of suffering can be left on one side… Job still cannot answer it, but he can live with it, because he has met God, and knows God and trusts God."


To Ponder

  • Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, when we recall a time of great suffering and loss. We are still without a satisfactory answer to the question of why God allows such pain and destruction, but like Job, we are invited to meet with and to trust in God. How do you answer when asked "why do bad things happen to good people"?
  • How do you respond to sections of the Bible that are unlikely to be a factual account of events for which the author was present?


Bible notes author:
  Naomi Oates

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