Feast upon the Word Blog

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Thanks for Nothing; Two Ironies of the Book of Job

Posted by BrianJ on August 26, 2014

We just discussed the Book of Job in Sunday School. Two ironies* struck me:

1. Do not be grateful.

Job exclaimed, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return…: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job rebuked his wife saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Throughout the book, we see Job experience more and more trouble. Everything he would have considered a “blessing” gets violently stripped away: health, posterity, home, friends, wife, wealth. When you say your prayers at night, how many of those make up your thanks? When you count your blessings, are there any other categories?

All of that taken away…and where does that leave Job? Can he still be grateful? For what? Someone in my class quoted Elder Uchtdorf:

But some might say, “What do I have to be grateful for when my world is falling apart?”

Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count…. It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?

Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be….

I see what Elder Uchtdorf is trying to convey, but even while being thankful in a situation, that thanks must be for something. That’s just how the words “thankful” and “grateful” work. They can’t operate without a direction. The question remains: what could Job be thankful for? Elder Uchtdorf continues:

We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.

This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair…. When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.

Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.

Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God…. True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.

Ah, there it is: after losing all categories of what he might be blessed with on earth, Job could still look to his blessings in heaven. His suffering and loss could draw his heart away from the temporal to focus on the eternal. The Book of Job seems to be saying, “None of this ‘stuff’—house, health, family, etc.—really matters. It’s fleeting.”

That’s okay, I suppose, but I see some irony in that message when viewed in relation to the Gospel as a whole. When I go to pray and give thanks, I’m now left with a greatly abbreviated list. And if I’m not to harbor thanks for my family, my job, my whatever, then I’m no longer going to look for God’s hand working through those means to bless my life—or will that kindle God’s wrath? Now I’m confused.

2. The Artful Dodger.

The other problem with Uchtdorf’s talk vis-a-vis Job is found in this quote:

In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”

That’s exactly the problem Job faces: he doesn’t know who or what God is anymore! The most essential thing he thought he knew about God was that “God is just.” But Job’s circumstances prove that God is not just. His friends offer all sorts of wisdom to appease or counter Job’s complaint, but none of them succeed in offering a valid argument for why Job suffers at the hand of a God who certified him as “blameless.”

Job demands an audience with God—not to speak to him, but to summon him to court. Job wants an answer: Why do you, God, get to do whatever you want instead of abiding by a moral code? And why do you demand that we follow a code when you don’t? Job knows he’ll lose—not because he’s wrong, but because super-smart God will outsmart him. Job presses anyway because: a) what has he got to lose? and b) he knows that his “redeemer** liveth” and he will vindicate Job; i.e., Job will still die, but at least the court records will show that he was right.

Miraculously, God answers the summons and it seems as though Job will get an answer. That is, in fact, the implied promise of the whole book: that after 30+ chapters of flawed arguments, we’ll eventually answer Job’s—and ours—big question.

So what does Job learn from God? For four chapters God essentially says, “You don’t even understand the question you’re asking, so I’m not going to bother answering it.”***

Oh, well, in that case: I’m glad Job asked.


* Okay, maybe they’re semi-ironies.

** Job does not mean Jesus Christ—or, well, maybe it is Jesus Christ, but not in the sense that we usually think of Christ as the Redeemer. The word Job uses is “go’el,” which is better translated as “vindicator” than “redeemer.” In other words, Job knows that somewhere out there is someone who can stand up to God and carry Job’s challenge. Hence, “after my skin worms destroy this body, I will still get to see God (while hiding behind my go’el).” (See also, here.)

*** While writing this post, I was reminded of this thoughtful post by Seraphine.

One Response to “Thanks for Nothing; Two Ironies of the Book of Job”

  1. Mary Ann said

    The book of Ecclesiastes is a helpful comparison in this context. It’s written in the same Wisdom tradition, and it addresses many of the same issues that Job encounters (why the injustice in this temporal life, why can’t we see the positive/negative consequences God promised for our choices). The Preacher suggests that it is indeed appropriate to offer thanks to God for the blessings of family, land, labor, etc. that we DO receive. It is inappropriate to assume God is not just because of the injustices/oppression found on the earth. The Preacher repeatedly affirms that good men will ultimately be rewarded for their faithfulness in the final judgment. With everything in this life being temporary/ethereal/vanity, we should not expect the temporal blessings or injustices to be accurately reflective of the eternal justice of deity.

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