Did Job’s wife speak foolishly?

September 1, 2007 at 11:44 pm 12 comments

A few thoughts from a Bible study on Job this morning:

The book of Job starts out with Satan accusing God of placing a hedge around Job. The implication is that Job only serves God because God had blessed him. Satan declares that if God were to strike Job, the latter would curse God:

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

In the next chapter, after Job’s wife sees all the calamities that have befallen him, she recommends to her husband that he do exactly what Satan wanted him to do: “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asks him. “Curse God and die!” (2:9).

In response, Job tells her she is speaking “as one of the foolish women.” After all, “shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (vs. 10).

My question:

Was Job’s wife speaking foolishly or not?

Whenever I’ve read this passage before, I always assumed that it would be wrong for Job to serve and praise God only as long as God blessed him and cared for him. Even if God had turned on Job, he should still continue praising God.

When I read the passage again this morning, however, I started wondering: If God had indeed struck Job, wouldn’t it be legitimate for Job to curse Him? Satan accuses God of being unfair for blessing and protecting Job, but the accusation seems…well, silly. Job was a faithful servant, and if God had suddenly started tormenting him for no reason, of course Job should curse him.

In that sense, I think Job’s wife is not necessarily foolish. Of course, her advice is wrong in this case, because it is not true, as she assumes, that God has arbitrarily afflicted Job. Since Job is confident that God is not as arbitrarily ruthless as it appears, he is right to defend God’s character. But had Job’s wife’s assumption been right, then her reaction, I think, would be legitimate.

What do you think?

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Back to student life What good does a dying God do?

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Matthew  |  September 2, 2007 at 8:45 am

    To me, the reality of total depravity is that even if God turned on all of us right now, there are too many blessings we’ve been given thus far in our lives that will always outweigh the negatives. Our mere existence is a gift from Him, and even if He did suddenly torture and torment us, we still have reason to thank Him.

    Job was only a faithful servant because of God’s grace. Yes, he tried his hardest and God certainly must respect that. But even still, our faithfulness is contingent on His. Fascinating thought though…I’m still chewing on it.

    Reply
  • 2. Jamie  |  September 2, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Matthew: You’re saying that if God randomly decided to torture and torment us (as Job’s wife thought), God’s actions would be legitimate? Even after we’ve responded to his overtures of grace and have decided to serve him? Now, sure, our existence might be a gift from Him, but what sort of a gift is it if it includes random torture?

    Now, if God has an underlying purpose, such as testing Job’s motives in serving him (i.e. does Job serve God out of love or out of greed?), I think that’s legitimate. But you’re implying that even random torment is ok if God’s the one doing it, and I can’t imagine you mean that.

    P.S. Original post slightly edited for clarity.

    Reply
  • 3. Stephen  |  September 2, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    I enjoy that you’re doing these Bible study posts recently.

    It’s a good question you ask here. On the one hand, Job does say at one point, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (13:15). The idea perhaps is that God is sovereign to do as he pleases. Who are we to question him, let alone to curse him?

    Indeed, as I’ve said before, God never does answer Job’s question at the back of the book. (Satan is mentioned only in the preface, an explanation which Job is evidently unaware of … and which may not have been part of the book originally.) Instead, God comes and recites all the marvelous things that only God can do. Then Job clamps his hand over his mouth and says, “I guess I’ll shut up now.” The message seems to be, who are we ignorant and impotent mortals to hold God accountable, even if he does act capriciously?

    On the other hand, you’re really asking What if God suddenly demonstrated that he was someone completely different than the God of orthodox faith? What if God turned out to be a cosmic killjoy or (worse yet) a cosmic sadist? Should we go on worshiping him regardless?

    And of course the answer is No. It wouldn’t be appropriate to worship such a God as that — not worship of the sort practised by Christians. We could fear such a God, and offer sacrifice in a desperate attempt to placate him. But we couldn’t love such a God, or gladly give our lives in sacrificial service to him.

    So, as I say, it’s a good question.

    Reply
  • 4. Nathan  |  September 2, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    God is never random or arbitrary, so the wife’s “assumption” is her sin. Instead of allowing her assumption to justify her bad advice, I would rather believe we are all accountable for our presuppositions.

    Reply
  • 5. Matthew  |  September 3, 2007 at 1:44 am

    You use the word torture while I leave it all vague…but I want to ask: How can you claim it’s not fair if God turned on us? Fairness as a scale is entirely based on God (that it is fair compared with how He has/should treat us). Who will we complain to that God is not fair? Who else would listen or care?

    Stephen said, in reference to God being a “cosmic sadist,” that we should not worship a God like that. Why? If it were not for God we wouldn’t know that sadism is bad. My basic point from all of the above is: If God is not good then virtues and sins disappear altogether. To call God a cosmic sadist at that point is an empty thing, because one cannot prove that it is bad or good.

    Job seemed to mildly blame God (“shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”) even though he couldn’t explain why. The wife was obviously very bitter and was unable to give Him the benefit of a doubt. She was confronted with evidence of God’s character that ran against her perception of Him (a perception that was right) and she took that evidence of His sinfulness. She was foolish because she thought the evidence we humans can see is enough…but we see so very little into the heart of God or the work in heaven. She fell for that old lie, when Eve saw the Tree and thought that the knowledge would make her like God.

    Reply
  • 6. Jamie  |  September 3, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Stephen: I enjoy that you’re doing these Bible study posts recently.

    I tend to blog about whatever reading material I’m immersed in, and since I’m eating, breathing, and sleeping theology now, there will probably be a lot more theology around here in the future!

    On the one hand, Job does say at one point, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (13:15).

    Perhaps Job used this extreme language in a loose sense to convey his complete and unwavering confidence in God’s goodness, in which case I think it’s fine.

    But if Job meant this literally, then I take issue with his sentiment. If he really meant that he would continue hoping in God even if God utterly turned on him, then Job sounds psychologically messed up. I mean, his statement is the kind of thing a physically/sexually abused person says, and I can’t imagine it should be a model for us. You shouldn’t continue to “hope in” someone who abuses you.

    Nathan: God is never random or arbitrary, so the wife’s “assumption” is her sin.

    You might be right in a sense, but I’m not inclined to be quite so harsh toward her. This woman was in a desperate, desperate situation, for she had lost every bit as much as Job had. She had no answers. It may be that her attitude might have been sinful, but I don’t think doubts on such occasions should automatically be classified as sins (at least not without qualification).

    Secondly, while I do not want to let her assumption justify her bad advice, I do think her question is a relevant question to consider. How do we know God is not arbitrary? And should we blindly serve him if he is arbitrary? I ask these questions because they are fundamental issues to me in being able to trust God or have any confidence in him. This is not an idle problem, but something that a lot of people (including me) have to confront on a gut level.

    Matthew: If it were not for God we wouldn’t know that sadism is bad. My basic point from all of the above is: If God is not good then virtues and sins disappear altogether.

    I see your point. By the same token, however, if our knowledge of good and evil does come directly from God, then God ought to match what we know as “good.” If he doesn’t, then we have a problem, no?

    For that reason, Stephen can rightly say that we shouldn’t worship a cosmic sadist. There would be something utterly contradictory about God saying he is good while acting like what he has told us is evil. Even if it wouldn’t make sense to say that was “wrong,” we could at least say it is wildly inconsistent (and arbitrary).

    She was confronted with evidence of God’s character that ran against her perception of Him (a perception that was right) and she took that evidence of His sinfulness.

    What I want to get at is the appropriate reaction to a circumstance like hers. How should we respond when confronted with apparent evidence of God’s arbitrariness?

    What you seem to be saying is that we should, as Job said, continue to hope in God even if he slays us. In other words, it doesn’t matter if he’s arbitrary; he’s sovereign, so we should praise him and serve him regardless. That’s a common sentiment among many Christians, I think.

    But I’m not sure that’s really the message of the book. If you accept the first chapter of Job as accurate, then one of the major points of the book is that God is not as arbitrary as he might appear to us. We shouldn’t, then, defend God’s prerogative to do as he pleases; better to defend his character, using this story to demonstrate that there are things going on behind the scenes that mean God is not so arbitrary as he seems.

    The difference in these two responses is subtle, but nevertheless real, and I think the distinction is important.

    Reply
  • 7. Matthew  |  September 3, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Jamie: We shouldn’t, then, defend God’s prerogative to do as he pleases; better to defend his character

    OK, beautiful point. I agree. Perhaps part of the mystery of God is that He very well might cease to be God should He ever be found to be arbitrary. If it is true that the universe is built on love and that God is love (ontologically?) then He very well might cease to exist (somehow?) should He not love. Mystery I say…

    Reply
  • 8. Matthew  |  September 3, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Ha ha, I just realized that I had posted that “dreamy sigh” quote regarding a certain learner of Latin on my X. Well…not sure how shocking that was but if you could read back several years you’d understand my love of latin and utmost admiration for all who undertake – and succeed – to learn it. For contextual purposes, that’s all I meant 🙂

    Reply
  • 9. Jamie  |  September 3, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Matthew: I love it when people use the word “ontologically.”

    As for your last comment…lol. That is hilarious. 🙂

    Reply
  • 10. Charles Churchill  |  September 7, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Jamie, there are some interesting questions and observations here already. I’ll reply to a few if it’s ok:

    it doesn’t matter if he’s arbitrary; he’s sovereign, so we should praise him and serve him regardless. That’s a common sentiment among many Christians, I think.

    If God were arbitrary, do you think we would have a word that always means arbitrary? 😉

    We shouldn’t, then, defend God’s prerogative to do as he pleases; better to defend his character, using this story to demonstrate that there are things going on behind the scenes that mean God is not so arbitrary as he seems.

    The point is that God’s pleasure and His character are inseparable. There is nothing greater than His pleasure by which to define His character. There is nothing greater than His character by which to define His pleasure.

    Reply
  • 11. Jamie  |  September 9, 2007 at 12:35 am

    The point is that God’s pleasure and His character are inseparable.

    Yes, but what I meant is that we shouldn’t defend God’s prerogative to do as he pleases if it means God being cruel or unjust. Otherwise I agree with you.

    Reply
  • 12. Melina  |  December 20, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    very interesting. i’m adding in RSS Reader

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

Recent Posts


%d bloggers like this: