Job: The Great Controversy

Theodicy, or the justification of God in the face of evil, is a presumptuous undertaking. Why should deity necessarily be the epitome of all that is good? The ancient Mesopotamians didn’t assume so. The Sumerian and Babylonian gods were capricious, fickle, and only sometimes beneficent; there was no expectation of ultimate goodness. These were as humans on a higher plane of existence—what we are to the animal world. We cherish some, we eat some, we exterminate others. It was a long journey to Anselm’s assertion that “God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” The life of Jesus was transformational in showing God’s universal love and compassion for all creation. This was the Good exemplified perfectly in a life on Earth (Mark 10:18). But suffering exists. So how could God also be all-powerful?

Job presents two or even three theodicies. The good friends who come to comfort Job press the Deuteronomic principle that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. It is still a popular principle considering the runaway success of the little book, The Prayer of Jabez, a few years ago. It is appealing to believe that doing right brings material as well as spiritual blessings. Job, in his suffering, challenged this worldview. He too had assumed it, but experience forced him to reject it. And not he alone, for many on Earth the hard world interposes and results in Job-like questing for new answers.

God’s speech condemns the friends’ view of evil but pushes the answers to the unknowable realm. It is not a fully developed theodicy. Job is humbled, rebuked, but also vindicated in his protest that he has not brought this suffering upon himself by his actions. He gets no ultimate answers, but neither is he blamed.

But it is with the inclusio (Job 1-2, 42) that Adventists have most identified. The Great Controversy Scenario (GCS), the idea that evil originates in quasi-externality from ourselves and lingers for reasons bigger than our bit-parts in the cosmic play, pushes the problem beyond our lifespans. It is apocalyptic in the sense that like apocalyptic prophecy, justice comes at the end. Good and evil are played out on Earth to show the outcomes: that God is good and evil is not a viable alternative. The Good sustains, but its counterpart, in fruition, destroys. In subordinating God’s power to his goodness for the sake of preserving freewill, we have to assume the cost of suffering. Why so many; why so much; why so long?

The answers in this theodicy aren’t completely satisfying. Like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in mathematical logic[1], which states the truth of a system can never be proven from inside the system, the complete picture can only be viewed from beyond.

In teaching a class on the prophetic books of the Bible some years ago, I closed the last class of the quarter with a question to my students: Which book did they most resonate with. Some chose a minor prophet, others a major work, I chose Isaiah. Only one individual in the large class chose an apocalyptic book (4th Esdras was our reading). He was the most damaged child. The one who had cried out again and again each time he was sexually abused for God to stop the older males; but God did not. For him there were no explanations worth the breath exhaled. Only an answer from beyond, at the end of all things, chanced to satisfy.

The GCS has been a long time in the making. The first and last chapters of Job frame the inexplicable suffering of Job, the treatises of the friends, and God’s monologue, in a cosmic story. Beyond Job’s purview, events are unfolding for the vindication of God’s claims. Good and evil struggle to prove the root of goodness. Is it bought or chosen freely? At what cost is goodness and truth? Is it worth the lives of Job’s ten children and their families? Is it worth the cost of the quotient of suffering in Earth’s history? Job’s final verses (42:10-17) run the risk of reinstating the theology of the friends. So God does make it right in this life, after all? Walking through the ruins of the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers, I knew there was not always deliverance. Innocent children, desperate mothers and fathers, prayed for God to intervene. But God did not.

Central to the vindication of God before Satan was whether Job chose God of his free will and not from coercion or bribery. The role of free will is central to the GCS and has its roots in two thousand years of Christian reflection.

The early Church Father, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyons, France), a hearer of the aged Polycarp who was himself a student of John the Apostle, came close to a free will theodicy. He wrote that God allowed evil because to intervene to prevent evil would be to interfere with free will. The free will of my student’s abusers must carry through; the free will of a Nazi regime accomplishes its final solution.

But of course this can only beg the question. Is freedom this precious? Is this really the greatest good? Yet anything less places God with the Mesopotamian deities who don’t always choose the highest good. When is enough, enough? Like Gödel, we can see an unassailable answer is not available from inside the system. In effect, we return to God’s monologue, “How can we mortals presume to know?”

The GCS was expanded in hexameral literature by playwrights and poets in the Middle Ages. Their morality plays and verses provided scenes of heavenly warfare, scheming fallen angels, and even the immediate effect on weather when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Heaven and earth were not far apart, but a great gulf was fixed.

The Copernican revolution posed a theological crisis to the medieval worldview where heaven was above, humankind was at the center, and perdition lay below.[2] Newton’s clockwork universe further pushed back God’s place in space. But in time a fixed, orderly universe was incorporated in theological cosmology and was held to reflect the mind of God.

In Paradise Lost, John Milton concatenated established traditions and elaborated on medieval scenes. He placed them in a universe of stars and planets wheeling about in their fixed motions. Earth, the newest creation, became the home turf of the expelled angels.

Milton’s Satan, Adam and Eve, angels and God navigated the realms of a relatively small Heavens and Earth. E. G. White fitted them in a Herschelian universe of expanded dimension and multiple worlds, but still quite Newtonian. Fixed, orderly, permanent, only Earth suffered the ravages of the unleashed forces of nature. Life on the exoplanets was peaceable, perfect, and permanent.

In an age of Hilbert space, stellar life cycles, colliding galaxies, proton decay, and a universe destined to heat death or big crunch, perhaps it is time for a UCS (Universe Controversy Scenario). Our purview has now extended 14 billion light-years into the past and beheld the dynamic composure of the universe. Not all of the answer can be ascertained from inside the system, but the entire universe is God’s origination; God, permanency, and the answers lie beyond. Perhaps we should all be “apocalyptic theodicists” in accepting this. Could our entire universe be the stage and all its parts merely actors? Good and evil play their parts and in the end expire.

A morally compromised universe that nurtures originality and free will that in the end answers eternally, ‘What is Good?’ might be worth it. With Job, we can’t really speak, but we can live for the Good. With Job, we will someday know.

[1] See Douglas R. Hofstadter's popular book, Gödel, Escher, Bach for some ruminations on the implications.

[2] Max Wildiers outlines much of this history in his book, The Theologian and His Universe.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7677

Thanks, Kent, for your observations! Welcome back to Spectrum.

While the above cited may not be the current SS topic, it has long been my perspective of the “Creation: When?” debate: evolutionists caught in a finite system.

May it be blessed.

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My commment : Also manymany thanks for this isight you gave us.

So to say : “Off toics” : Please everyone read the complete book of Job, meditate about every verse - this discussions we also conduct, the problems that are ours, - the environment / technology in chapter 28 (and not finding wisdom !)- the description of a man lving in probity ( -do I, do you, do we ? ) in chapter31, the Maior depression is precisely described - ( The oldest I know of !!) and its meaning for returning to a godly life included - in chapter 33 - - -

Let me apologize for this my addition right here - just in time at the begining of this great Quarterly !

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Many thanks to the author for these reflections and insights. Job is the most mysterious Bible Book to me. I will NEVER understand, as historical,this narrative featuring deliberately inflicted torture by Yahweh to win a bet with Satan.I therefore regard it as a fiction and religious fantasy written to somehow illustrate the ultimate rewards to be gained by steadfastness of faith in the almighty, even though it may seem that the opposite view is warranted. The prominence of Satan I attribute to what I believe may well be true , namely, that Satan was NOT the civil war rebel, and that he is, in fact a respected member of the Government in Heaven. His , perhaps unwarranted, infamous reputation among the sons of men was that he was a strong advocate AGAINST the creation of H. sapiens , fearing that the creators would want to push the envelope by creating a being even more intelligent than the average inhabitant of heaven leading to the splitting of the atom in a relatively short time. The real rebel according to the Mesopotamian records was a person named ALALU, and he was expelled from heaven for seeking to usurp power from ANU and his son Yahweh according to the Mesopotamian scriptures. The Mesopotamian records also claim that when scientists in heaven began to create life forms they pushed the envelope and made huge monsters (perhaps dinosaurs) which killed some people. They were expelled from heaven by governmental order(including Satan) and in seeking a sanctuary FOUND the earth suitable. There they established a predatory ecology. Each life form in the chain being the food of a higher lifeform, except in the case of mankind. Man is the only creature that has the ability to think on the level of his own creators, and so God(Yahweh) and the blessed celestials are hoping we can understand and so overcome the lower animal drives which were “hardwired” into our brains and so create a paradise in the “earth made new” ,that is after say a thousand years of time for radiation to leave the atmosphere, the food supply and the sources of potable water, after the horrific WW3. Einstein dramatically illustrated this horror by saying that WW4 will be fought with sticks and stones.

Could it be that the Book of Job is a poetical work of Jewish folklore, an allegory told solely for the sake of the art of storytelling?..With no theodicy implications legitimately drawn? I maintain that it simply paints a picture of the randomness of life in a stochastic, rather than deterministic universe. Like modern art, what you draw from it says a lot about what you bring to it.

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Or, perhaps it’s time to outgrow the “controversy” theme, and mental religion, altogether?

It is inconceivable to me that the Creator of this universe has enemies or emergencies.

Poetically, it seems to me, Job was reduced to his chthonic depths, from which no words were possible, but from which the Redeemer emerges.

Might Job be the type of what Adventists refer to as “the little time of trouble?”

Ellen White: At the commencement of the time of trouble, we were filled with the Holy Ghost as we went forth and proclaimed the Sabbath more fully.
http://ellenwhite.org/content/topic/little-time-trouble

What is the Sabbath? Can it be proclaimed, or can it only be lived?

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The Sabbath “proclaimed more fully” is the abundant life lived in Christ - I have come to understand. When God blessed the seventh day, He rested from the task of creating and He pronounced it all good and blessed it - every day is blessed and a rest. All work is a holy work, done in Christ. There is no need for the sun to go down before we can celebrate that rest.

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Not according to Ezekiel, who believed Job to be a real person, as is evidenced by his inclusion with the names of Noah and Daniel (who were real persons) in Ezek. 14. And, according to Paul, Ezekiel was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what he did. And then there are Job’s “friends,” some of whom were descendants of real people, such as Eliphaz the Temanite. Why are so many professed Christians so eager to relegate Job to the status of myth or allegory, rather than count him as an historical figure?

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Leaving out the particulars and essence of the GCS removes the clues to provide analysis of the theodicy. Those who have insight into volition have little trouble with God’s level of input and involvement in the affairs of Earth. Atheists and agnostics have as much trouble as deists and universalists. They all create imaginary idols.
Those who go up in the learning curve of altruism, outreach, supervision & management can easily handle the historical record in Job. If one understands and accepts any of the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ words & actions, this is sufficient.
Just a heads up…contemporary Christianity is preparing the world for acceptance of the anti-Christ which is just the God that churchgoers want. …a strong arm controlling deity that will temporarily satisfy the population, whose priority is security & affluence.

The story of angels rebelling against God, when taken literally, suffers from the same kind of logical weakness that all good stories do when you insist on their historicity. Stories require suspension of disbelief to be enjoyed. It is a conspiracy between story teller and audience. The same does not hold true for history. When story is turned into history, be it the Flood or the story of Cinderella, it turns into comedy.

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job was apparently from a region founded by uz, a great-grandson of noah…being a descendent of shem (through the aram line) suggests job may have inherited a strong, developed faith, and his wealth and priestly initiative suggest he may have inherited extensive birthright privileges and responsibilities…but what i find surprising is that the existence and activity of satan don’t seem to figure in either job’s or his friends’ thinking…their whole way of looking at the world seems to be restricted to a consideration of god’s sovereignty and humanity’s accountability…this apparent obliviousness to satan seems to be a characteristic in other biblical patriarchs’ religion, as well, for instance abraham, who was also a descendent of shem (through the arphaxad line)…perhaps this reflects a lack of knowledge of the existence of satan, although it strains credulity to think that the story of eden and the fall wasn’t preserved by the descendants of shem…or perhaps it was the case that job and other patriarchs believed that the less satan was mentioned or acknowledged, the less importance and respect they were giving him…i think the concept of respect is still a deliberate and finely tuned feature in asian cultures…but of course, we could be looking at transmitted and vestigial sensibilities stemming from the overwhelming terrors of the flood…perhaps the shem line had settled it that the only thing that mattered, in the end, was obedience or disobedience to god…

the writer of the book of job, whom i believe was moses, ST: Feb 19, 1880, seems to see job’s suffering in terms of god’s challenge to satan, through the use of the case of job, that satan didn’t really rule earth, like satan’s claim to “walking up and down in it” implied…this view seems to suggest that an ongoing battle between god and satan over sovereignty of earth hinges on which power the people of earth serve through the actions of their lives, whether it is god through obedience to him, or whether it is satan, either through direct worship, or through the default of disobedience to god…i think this gives jesus’ resistance to satan’s direct temptation on this point, immediately after his baptism, added significance…

if this is the real meaning of the story of job, it helps to explain why job isn’t given answers that could help him in his ordeal…after-all, faithfulness in the face of no answers is a larger achievement than faithfulness when all is understood, and can be seen and felt to be true…but perhaps we should also consider the possibility that humanity doesn’t have the right to know these kinds of answers, which attempts to understand the book of job generally presume…strictly speaking, a traditional GCS strongly implies this possibility, and also explains why so few tangible answers to the question of suffering are given in the book of job…but regardless, i think it is definitely useful to adopt a UCS, along the same themes as a GCS, in order to interpret job…clearly, all the answers we want can’t be deduced from within the system of job, which means that if we’re considering that system to be the infinite universe, we must be prepared to accept that these answers belong to a level of cognizance that we’re incapable of achieving, given our finite abilities…i agree that the best we can do is live for the good, and trust that we will some day have a stronger ability to know…but of course, unless we believe we will one day be infinite, we’re conceding that while we can live for the good, we’ll never come to a point where we know…this may or may not be disconcerting…

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I believe Job is written in the style of a parable, rather than fact. The loss of all your camels, and I alone have survived, repeated for each form of livestock, and finally for his children. The first part where Satan represents our world along with the other “sons of God” from other worlds. Job is an attempt to provide a theodicy, but it is not very successful, imho. Is this supposed to imply that when bad things happen to good people, God has allowed the Devil to test them? I suppose it represents the ancient world view, but our understanding today is that we can only ask God to forgive us for our own sins. And hardest of all for me to understand is how more children can take the place of those who were destroyed. Yes, perhaps it is outside our understanding. But again, how long does it take to convince the other worlds that Satan is wrong? Maybe they need to come down here and live for a few days!

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