The Book of Job: A God Unworthy of Praise
I. The Central Characters
• The Satan
II. The Pointlessness of Job’s Torture
• Eliphaz’s Argument
• Zophar’s Argument
• Bildad’s Argument
III. Refuting Jobian Claims
• Limited Knowledge
IV. Dear Savior, Save Us From Yourself
Here at the WWGHA forum, I’ve discussed the problems within the Book of Job many times over the years. From the implications the story has on the Christian concepts of justice and morality to why the torture of Job was pointless and inexcusable. Recently, a few of our Judeo-Christian members have pointed at the Book of Job, claiming that it is a testament to the goodness of their god. This post will serve as a compilation of my arguments to which I will direct Jobers rather than continuously creating weakened, abridged versions of my arguments. If you happen to be one of those people, then welcome- I hope you’ll take this topic as seriously as I do. I will be illustrating why Yahweh’s actions do not lend support to the idea of a benevolent deity and why this story is one of obedience rather than faith, as well as refuting the typical Jobian claims. This god, Job’s god- is a god unworthy of praise.
Before I begin, I can say with a high level of certainty that nearly all of our resident nonbelieving members are aware of the theology of the Book of Job and the philosophical arguments presented from both sides. I also suspect that most Christians who visit WWGHA are at least somewhat familiar with the book of Job. For those reasons time and space won’t be wasted summarizing the story. If you aren’t familiar with the Book of Job, please read it here
before continuing on. If you are, then begin by asking yourself a simple question: If God is just, why did he allow Job to unjustly suffer?I. Central Characters in the Book of
Job Obedience• The Satan
. I’m calling this character “the Satan” because currently the translation is open to interpretation. I’m not interested in arguing whether or not the Satan found in the Book of Job is the actual antagonist devil character we are introduced to in later Christianity, or if Job’s Satan translates to “the adversary” and is a standard prosecuting angel from the heavenly court. I’m inclined to believe the later, but this character only appears in the prologue of Job and has no bearing on any of my arguments, so go with either- it isn’t important.• Job
. First, it is important to note that Job’s faith is not the same as a modern Christian’s faith. In this story this deity’s existence is known and it actively meddles in human affairs and allows its existence to be observed (booming down orders from the sky, etc.). So Job’s faith is a faith that Yahweh will reward him for being obedient, not a faith in Yahweh’s existence. Job is described as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job regularly offered up burnt sacrifices just in case his children had sinned; Job was a thoughtful, selfless, and faithful man. Yahweh even said there is no man like Job on earth and he is called “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:2).
Job's obedience is rewarded up until Yahweh decides to play a celestial gambling game. In Yahweh’s bet, Job has everything taken away from him; Job loses all of his assets: his land is torched, his cattle stolen, his servants slain, his sons and daughters murdered- everything is forfeit. For a short time, Job is able to maintain his faith as he frustratingly says “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away […]” (Job 1:21). But it isn’t long until Job breaks. The celestial ante is upped and Job’s body is struck down. Job’s suffering is so unbearable Yahweh witnesses Job curse the day of his birth, allude to the unfairness that has been brought upon him by God, begs for death saying, “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life” (Job 2:8-9), and he demands an answer from God. With those spoken words, the Satan arguably takes half the pot by having Job doubt, question, and make a demand of Yahweh.• God
. If you declare this story is one that supports a morally good and loving deity, let’s evaluate this claim. One of the main points this story stresses is that there is no balance of justice in the world; Yahweh is the sole arbiter that dispenses rewards and punishments on a whim. This is shown when Yahweh allows Job’s acquisitions and family to be used like pawns on a chess board (Job 1:12-2:8
) after gloating to the Satan. Job himself admits that he doesn’t worship Yahweh because of any moral affection: “He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason” (Job 9:17). Job is obedient out of fear, this much is evident; Yahweh is king because he rules with an unpredictable iron fist.
But when Job demands an answer from God for the injustice set upon him, how does Yahweh respond? Rather than attempting to defend his innocence, Yahweh offers his supremacy as an answer: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him” (Job 40:1-2). In other words Yahweh will do what he wants because he has the power to do so. So Job is rightly upset being wronged and God isn’t innocent, but so what? Yahweh is carrying the biggest stick; one moral of this story is that Yahweh’s power should be obeyed. Given that Yahweh has absolute power, that power should be obeyed absolutely, regardless if that power is used to unjustly inflict pain on you.II. The Pointlessness of Job’s Torture
During Job’s torture he is visited by three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar), each of whom offer up their reasons as to why Yahweh doled out his punishment. Unfortunately, all three arguments are shutdown with some critical thinking, and as if that weren’t enough, we have Yahweh’s words at the end of Chapter 42 to confirm that their guesswork is wrong.• Eliphaz’s Argument: You reap what you sow. -Job 4
This argument is invalid on the grounds Job was truly righteous and undeserving of the punishment. So he did not reap what he sowed. Yahweh says it himself that Job’s suffering is “without any reason” (Job 2:3).• Zophar’s Argument: God’s ways are too mysterious. -Job 11
This argument is invalid on the grounds that unless Job can grasp the reason he is suffering, the torture of Job serves no purpose other than to inflict pain for no reason (This type of argument is a common last line of defense for believers. Is it surprising we find a version of it in the Book of Job?) Zophar asks Job, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below —what can you know?” (Job 11:7-8). The refutation is simple enough: If God tortures a person so they will learn a lesson, but God does not bestow upon them a means to learn the lesson, then the torture is pointless. Zophar’s argument is broken.• Bildad’s Argument: Does God pervert justice? -Job 8
This argument is invalid on the grounds we are shown in the Book of Job that justice is not an objective thing Yahweh must follow. In other words, the Book of Job answers the question: “Is something right because God commands it, or does God command it because it's right?” I counter with my own question: Can murdering a man’s family on the whims of a bet be considering just or right? No, it would seem. Therefore, true justice is not a concept that can be in harmony with the arbitrary whims of a deity. Yahweh confirms this when he says to Bildad, “You have not spoken the truth about me” after Bildad suggested Yahweh cannot be casually unjust when it suits him(Job 42:8
). These words are not only applied to Bildad, but were extended to Eliphaz and Zophar as well.
So what do we learn from Yahweh’s anger and rejection of these three arguments? First, that one doesn’t reap what one sows. Yahweh is not watching from above with a celestial abacus keeping track of the good and evil in everyone’s life as some sort of divine balancing act. Second, we have the ability to make moral judgments and decide what is just and unjust, right and wrong. And last, a peasant is in no position to question a king; Yahweh will not offer a defense for himself and will simply do as he pleases. The Book of Job presents a stark contrast to how Christians now view this god as all loving and fair.III. Refuting Jobian ClaimsArgument from Limited Knowledge
: “We have limited knowledge and cannot know the mind of God, and we should be mindful that God owes no man an explanation for what He does.”
We’ve covered this in Zophar’s “God’s ways are too mysterious” argument (Job 11). Not only is this a poor argument, it in no way excuses God from inflicting unjust torture, it only says you shouldn’t question him when he does something that appears evil. As far as moral defenses go, these “Don’t think, have faith” type of arguments are the weakest. I also think these are the ugliest and most dangerous types because they attempt to put human reason and critical thinking in comas so blind faith can flourish.Argument of Comfort
: “The Book of Job and the rest of the Bible bring comfort to the lives of Christians and explain why bad things happen to good people.”
So what? There are Suras in the Koran that bring comfort to the lives of Muslims. There are chapters in the Book of Mormon that bring comfort to the lives of Mormons. There are creeds in Dianetics that bring comfort to the lives of Scientologists. The fact of the matter is that I’m not interested in comfort. If I was I would still be a Christian. What I’m interested in is reality, and none of these texts, including the Book of Job, offer me reality.Argument for Benevolence
: “The moral of the story is that God is always good and just.”
I suppose this would be a fair argument if the person making it would believe that Job’s torture is good and just. Consider this good and just scenario: A child is murdered, but all is well because the murderer delivers a more beautiful child as a form of payment with interest for the parents’ intense pain and anguish. But that isn’t good nor just, is it? Even Yahweh himself says that the torture of Job was unjust: “And he still maintains his integrity, though you [the Satan] incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3). But was Job the only person treated unjustly? When the story of Job is discussed we often focus on him but forget about his murdered children. Sure, in the end Job was rewarded with more aesthetically pleasing replacement children, but where is the murdered children’s justice in this story? Perhaps Christians should stop envisioning themselves as Job and instead place themselves in the blood stained shoes of his dead children.IV. Dear Savior, Save Us From Yourself
Christians often believe that the story of Job is a story not about a capricious God, but a loving and merciful God with his full attention on the salvation of his creation. It is often excitedly juxtaposed with the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus: a man innocent to the torture that came upon him. They claim the story of Job is both beautiful and invaluable insomuch that it helps us better understand why an innocent man needed to suffer. But the story of Job shares the same problem as the story of Christ: it is a savior saving us from itself. The same suffering that Yahweh saves Job from is the same suffering that he set upon him. If we are to believe that Jesus is God, then he came to save us from a hell he created and an eternal torture that he set upon us himself. Both stories make no sense for the reason that we shouldn’t need to be saved from a savior by a savior. Can you imagine opening a comic book to find that Superman has nearly destroyed and leveled a city, only to swoop in at the last minute and save the city from himself? The story of Job and the story of Christ make just as much sense as this pro-antagonist Superman.
In short, the Book of Job presents us with a god that 1)
is aware of torture, injustice, and suffering, 2)
is able to stop these things, but 3)
does not stop them. And not only does this god choose to not stop these things, it 4)
takes a proactive role to help indirectly inflict them- a liaison of torture, injustice, and suffering if you will. To say that this is a characteristic of a good god is, quite frankly, a joke. This god is one that is unworthy of praise.