Job - "Why Things Go Wrong"
A radical new look at the story of Job
"When we peel away the layers we find a pattern that still is in operation today: when we make mistakes, even small ones, or do things which are wrong (usually called 'sin'), we give the enemy power over us to do us harm."
In 2016 I was browsing in a Christian bookshop back in the days when you could do such a thing.
After finding what I wanted I went for the shelves which contained teaching and found three books written about the book of Job. I checked out how each author handled chapters 1 and 2 of Job and was surprised (more like stunned) that none of the writers got it right: each one had entirely missed the point. I had learned while still at school that if your early observation or statement was wrong, then your conclusion would also be wrong.
And that's exactly how it tends to be when people talk about Job.
I knew that in the very first chapter there are five serious mistakes listed which Job made in regard to the way he dealt with his children, which ultimately cost them their lives, yet each book praised him as a caring father interceding for his children in the manner of a priest!
Even by searching the internet today I cannot find one correct exposé of Job (although they might be there, buried in obscurity).
Why is understanding Job so critically important for us today?
When we peel away the layers we find a pattern that still is in operation today: when we make mistakes, even small ones, or do things which are wrong (called 'sin'), we give the enemy power over us to do us harm. That harm can take many forms; in fact, anything that can be considered 'bad' can be and probably is a result of something that someone, somewhere, or a group of someones, has done.
So is life itself, but God has provided enough information for us to successfully navigate through life and even, when we understand the way things work, avoid problems that most people consider are a normal or unavoidable part of life itself.
Job is not a story about the sovereignty of God, but about the responsibility of man. That is the first step in the path to understanding how to avoid sickness, pain, accident, loss, destruction and untimely death. We walk it together.
Scroll past the Table of Contents below to continue with the Introduction, or click on a topic listed to go straight to that point.
Job is one of the most important books in the Old Testament because it explains how and why things go wrong.
Most people miss these truths because they focus on the words of the storyteller (the appearance) in the first two chapters, rather than examining the details of what he is saying (the content).
The problem with the Book of Job when we examine what it says, though, is that the first two chapters are written upside down.
When we look at them it's like looking at a field of potatoes ready to be harvested: the bright, green leafy plant material on top looks great, but we have to dig and turn the plant over to get to what we want, the part that is hidden underneath, the potatoes themselves.
And so it is with Job.
Most commentators see the green, leafy part on top: they think they see a story about the sovereignty of God, that He can do what He likes, when He likes, with whomever He wants to.
That is not the message of Job.
Instead, we will dig and turn over what seems obvious to reveal the treasures below. And unlike a whole field that has to be harvested, we only need to look at two chapters, 1 & 2 in Job, to find what we need.
This could easily be called "Job's Six Mistakes" or "Job's Five Mistakes That Cost His Children's Lives" or something similar. But there's more to it than that: when we look at it with our eyes open, the Book of Job has been written to confuse the minds of those who do not look with their eyes open, or listen with their ears and understand.
Remarkably, that confusion is the result of something that God has built into His kingdom-connection with us. It seems that most people, even theologians of great standing, have missed this point.
Setting the Scene:
God Does Not Always Make Things Easy to See
In Luke 8:10 Jesus is recorded as saying to His disciples, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, and to the rest in parables; so that 'looking they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'"
In context, Jesus had just told the Parable of the Sower, which His disciples did not understand until He explained it to them. A part of his explanation is the idea that God does not always make it easy for people to "see" or understand the things of the kingdom.
Jesus was quoting from the prophet Isaiah. See Isaiah 6:8-10.
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
"And He said, Go, and tell this people:
Hear, and understand not; see, but do not understand with your mind.
"Make the heart of this people fat,
and make their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn again and be healed." Isaiah 6:9-10
On first glance it could appear that God wants to see the destruction and loss of some of His people, but that is not correct. This passage uses a figure of speech called antiphrasis, where the person speaking says the opposite of what is intended to happen, in order to shock their audience into seeing or seeking the truth.
We only need to consider 2 Peter 3:9b which says, "...but (the Lord) is extraordinarily patient toward you, not intending that any should perish, but that all should make room for repentance" to know that the heart of God is in salvation, not destruction.
In other words, when we miss an important truth of God it is not Their fault, but ours. Ezekiel puts it like this:
"An appalling thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule at the hands of the people. And My people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?" Ezekiel 5:30-31.
It's important to remember that the Book of Job was written in this period when the eyes and ears of people were covered at times so that, unless they searched diligently, they could easily miss the truth.
But God Promises That We Will See and Hear
In talking about our future under the New Covenant Isaiah had this to say:
"Behold, a King will reign in righteousness...
"...then the eyes of those who see will not be closed or dimmed, and the ears of those who hear will listen.
"And the mind of the foolish will understand knowledge and have good judgment, and the tongue of the stammerers will speak plainly." See Isaiah 32:1-4
In the Book of Proverbs we are encouraged some more to press in:
"...those who seek Me diligently will find Me." Proverbs 8:17b. In this case finding God is analogous to finding knowledge, truth, wisdom and learning His ways.
In Mark 4:22-24 we see some excellent teaching from Jesus (that still applies today) about the way hearing from God works.
"For there is nothing hidden except to be revealed, nor is anything kept secret except in order that it may be made known." v22
Whereas Isaiah spoke, under God's authority, to close up the eyes and ears of the people, Jesus spoke under His Father's authority (the same authority) to actively reverse any suggestion that God intended people to miss the truth.
"If any man has ears to hear let him be listening and let him see and understand." v23
Jesus goes on with an even more outstanding claim in the next verse, and The Amplified Bible puts it so well:
"Be careful what you are hearing. The measure of thought and study you give to the truth that you hear will be the measure of virtue and knowledge that comes back to you - and more besides will be given to you." v24
The Shelf Principle
In John 16 Jesus taught about the third person of the Godhead, Holy Spirit.
"And when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak His own message but will tell whatever He hears." v13
It seems that this doesn't always work as intended, because there's a wide range of christian opinions on all sorts of matters.
The word, the promise itself surely can't be at fault, so what is the problem?
If we think we already have "all truth" we won't be open to receiving something new.
If we belong to a particular denomination, (and even most non-aligned groups are part of a "denomination," even if they are not aligned with anyone else,) then we tend to interpret christian teaching according to what we have been taught so far, according to our denominational stance. We tend to listen to and interpret christian thought according to our own ideas, preconceived or otherwise. This does not leave a lot of room for Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth,
What to do?
Instead, we could adopt The Shelf Principle, where we place all of our preconceived ideas "on the shelf" for a time, way up there out of reach, so that new thought can enter, so that Holy Spirit can once again reach us. It doesn't have to be permanent (but it can be). Instead of relying on ideas of men we start to read scriptures that present a particular idea. We don't even need to attach a particular label, like evangelical or reformed or pentecostal or whatever, to new thoughts or new ideas, we can balance them against scripture.
That's how Holy Spirit works, anyway, outside of those boundaries that we like to set.
Filters - The Way We Accept Some Ideas and Reject Others
Filters are everywhere these days.
A filter is used to separate one thing or more than one thing from something else.
We have filters for air, filters for water, filters for breath droplets, filters for lots of other things, and filters for truth.
Here are some filters:
"That's not the way we do it..."
"That's not the way we do things..."
"We have our ways of doing things..."
"Our team handles all the ministry here..."
"Who is teaching this?"
"That doesn't sound right."
< Filters >
"Our way is of those who believe and by faith preserve the soul."
Some Basic Principles of Logic or Argument
"Always be prepared to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully." 1 Peter 3:15b (The Amplified Bible)
Many years ago our high school English teacher went off-syllabus and taught us the basic elements of logic. I've been extremely grateful ever since.
Even something faith-based, like Christianity, has to be built on a reasonable or logical framework. If it was just based on feelings ("I feel that this is from God,") or subjective impressions (I think God is saying this") or random events ("Did you see that dove fly past? God wants to tell us something,") we could easily end up in confusion.
Scripture does not follow a systematic or logical order - one teaching does not follow another. It is not arranged in order or pattern like an instruction manual. However it still follows a pattern of sorts, and Isaiah 28:10 describes it like this:
"For it is precept upon precept (a precept is a general rule or principle), line upon line, here a little, there a little..."
And so we need to read Scripture (observe) and then assemble what we see into a pattern of truth or teaching. Not everyone sees the same thing, though, or looks with the same background knowledge, while others jump to conclusions that are not supported by an intimate knowledge of God of the sort that Jesus spoke about.
A logical argument can easily be split up or simplified into three parts:
1) An observation or statement
2) A second statement or observation relating to the first
3) A conclusion based on connecting the observation and statement.
Here is a correct example:
1) Statement - All cats have four legs
2) Observation - This is a cat
3) Conclusion - Therefore it has four legs
Barring an accident or genetic mutation, that conclusion would be correct.
Here is another example, one in which the logic is false, which catches many people out when the subject matter is not quite so simple:
1) Statement - All cats have four legs
2) Observation - This has four legs
3) Conclusion - Therefore this is a cat.
The animal being observed could be a dog or a cow or one of dozens of other very different creatures having four legs, and so the conclusion is wrong. For the conclusion to be possibly correct it would need to be:
3) Conclusion - Therefore this could be a cat.
However, more evidence would be needed to support the idea that the animal observed is actually a cat, such as its size, its skin covering (fur, soft hair, coarse hair) and whether it goes me-ow, or woof, or something else. Cats climb trees, but if it was hanging from a thin branch by its tail the animal observed would most likely be a possum, a similar-sized, furry animal, but not a cat. Sometimes we need more evidence than just one verse in scripture (one observation) to correctly understand what God is saying (as a statement).
For an Argument To Be True to Truth, Each Statement and Observation Must Also Be True.
If we rewrite the second argument above we can have an argument which is logically correct but factually wrong, because it rests on a faulty statement:
1) Statement - Only cats have four legs
2) Observation - This has four legs
3) Conclusion - Therefore this is a cat.
This type of mistake is made with some Christian teaching, because a mistake is made right at the beginning, which then means that any conclusion which is made will also be faulty. This is the fundamental, underlying issue with the book of Job and most people's understanding of the book of Job, as we will see shortly.
Sometimes what we think we see is wrong because we are looking at the situation from the wrong point of view and our observation is wrong. If we were to look at a cat as it sits on its haunches with its front legs extended, from a three quarter position we would see the two front legs but only the back leg closest to us, making three legs in all. Then we could say:
1) Statement - All cats have four legs
2) Observation - This has three legs
3) Conclusion - Therefore this is not a cat.
We call this perspective distortion or error because the subject is being viewed from a single, particular perspective or viewpoint from which all the possible information is not available. As silly as this example seems it is actually the fault underlying the most common misunderstanding about Job.
If a Statement or Observation is Wrong, Then the Conclusion Will Also Be Wrong.
We will show how this works in Part 1, "A Narrator Mistake."
Perspective: From Where We View Things.
Because we live in a three-dimensional world, physically speaking, with width, height and depth, the position from which we view an object or scene can change what we perceive, or think that we see.
Viewed from this side the object could be anything. To make it even more obscure there is a reflection which seems to blend in with the marble countertop.
Viewed from this angle the object could be mistaken for a wooden box, or a wooden lid for a box. We need more information, a wider view, to determine just what it is
Turning the object 180 degrees reveals it to be a painting in a metal picture frame, but even now our view is restricted so that we cannot see all of the detail.
In the same way if we take a narrow view of Job we see a book which seems to show the sovereignty of God, something it is not designed to do. We need to view it in detail, looking carefully at its content and then comparing that with the rest of scripture.
Or think of a maze: a series of passages which turn into dead-ends or turn back upon themselves, with usually just one correct way to get from the entrance to the exit. Sometimes the walls are wooden panels with mirrors attached, which make it harder because you can see where you came from, but not where you are going.
Sometimes mazes are built with hedges or in cornfields, but whatever the method they all have the same problem - there's no way to find the correct way without moving forward. And sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. Just imagine, though, if you had an aerial view of the maze from a ladder, or a cherry-picker, or even a drone - you would soon work out the best way to the exit.
Life seems like a maze at times - seemingly lots of dead ends and no easy way out from our perspective, from our viewpoint from where we are.
But there are two promises in Scripture which are meant for times like this. These two promises are like the one about Holy Spirit leading us into all truth: they are there for us but unless we cash them in we won't get the value.
"And He raised us up together with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places." Ephesians 2:6
In other words there is a place from which we can see things like Jesus, or like Jesus would. That place, being "in heavenly places," allows us to see an overview, from God's perspective, of where we are and where we need to go. It also allows us to understand something like the book of Job by comparing it with the rest of scripture, or parts of the rest at least.
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him...because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14
"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16
For those truths to work for us we need to apply them. It's not too unlike having $100,000 deposited in a bank account we don't normally use: Unless someone tells us about it, or unless we actually make a withdrawal or transfer, that money will be of no use to us.
The Structure of the Book
Chapters 1, 2 and 42 tell the story of Job through the eyes and words of a narrator or storyteller.
Chapters 3 to 31: Job and his three friends speak about his problems - some good wisdom here!
Chapter 32 - 37: A fourth friend responds and starts to correct Job and the others.
Chapters 38 - 41: God responds to Job
There Are Three Types of Mistake in the Book of Job
Story Errors: Statements or claims by the narrator/storyteller which are wrong. These change the way we must look at the content of chapters 1 & 2.
Job's Mistakes: Mistakes, wrong decisions, thoughts, words or actions which Job made, which are revealed in chapters 1 to 3. These dramatically affect what happened to him and his children.
Other Mistakes: Mistakes made by Job and his three friends as they discuss the situation in chapters 3 to 31. Note that there is much wisdom in what Job and his three friends said, but that is not the focus of this article, nor will we examine the mistakes they made in assessing the situation or giving advice, nor in seeking to correct each other.