Job was "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." That's how he is introduced. We are also told that he is richly blessed with possessions, family and has a genuine love for his children (as shown by his willingness to do the equivalent of praying for them every morning: vs. 5).
To Job's surprise, everything (except his own life and his wife) are taken away: his children, his possessions, his servants and even his good health. What happened?
Unknown to Job, God and Satan have a bet going on between them (interestingly enough, it was egged on by God, not by Satan). God brags about Job's faithfulness and righteousness to Satan and Satan says Job's faith is only based on how God has blessed him. He bets that if everything is taken away he would curse God to His face. So God lets Satan take everything away from him and Job still worships God. Then Satan approaches God a second time and bets God that if he strikes Job physically that Job will curse him to his face. So again, Satan makes his move and puts Job's body through hell (so much so that job scrapes off painful sores with broken pottery). Job still doesn't curse God. At this point the narrator focuses in on a series of conversations between Job and his friends. The story concludes with God speaking to Job, Job being humbled and God once again blessing Job.
One interesting part that I have to highlight is after the second bet, Job's wife has had enough and her advice to him is to "curse God and die." Job's response? "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Not exactly a Proverbs 31 wife. Then the narrator says that "in all this, Job did not sin in what he said."
How does Job respond to all of this? Well, even though he doesn't curse God, he does go through deep depression, questions God about why its happening and persistently communicates his innocence.
I want to correct something. "The patience of Job" is a terrible cliche' because Job isn't patient! He doesn't curse God, but at times he does have some demanding requests of God that aren't exactly descriptions of waiting in patience. Also, Job never asks for his family and possessions back, what He asks for is actually fair, he asks to hear from God.
So, what does all this have to do with the question of theodicy (see previous post for definition)?
First, I think one of the major points God intended for us to get out of Job is that it is too simple and limiting to conclude that sin causes suffering. Job is an example of an innocent man who still experiences terrible suffering. I believe God wants us all to know that there is more to suffering than just a cause and effect relationship with sin.
Second, I believe Job is a pre-Jesus example of how to suffer well. He grieves. He suffers deep situational depression. He's honest with God about his frustration, anger and sadness. He boldly questions God about why it happened. He asks to hear from God. He shows integrity by maintaining his innocence before his friends that are incessantly unwavering in their assessment that he has an unconfessed sin that brought this suffering upon him. Once he hears from God, he is humble and repentant about his attitude. Job shows us how someone mature in their faith can and should handle suffering.
Third, we see that Satan has limited power on earth. The only way Satan can touch Job is with God's permission. I'm still not exactly sure what that means, but its interesting to think about. I understand it by thinking of it this way: God lets Satan borrow power for a specific purpose. The question then becomes, does that make God out to be manipulative? If so, then it doesn't fit a perfectly loving God, because manipulation would not behaviorally fit a God who loves perfectly. (See the comments section at the bottom of the post for more on this).
Fourth, God teaches us both how to be with someone who is suffering and how not to be with someone who is suffering. Job's friends show up at the end of chapter 2 and do a great job of comforting him just by their presence. They weep, tear their robes and sprinkle dust on their heads; all three are Hebrew ways to show someone you are with them in their suffering. Then, they just sit with him for seven days. That's how to be with someone in suffering. As soon as they open their mouth and try to teach Job pop theology, they become an unhelpful nuisance to Job. They're common cliche's and bland platitudes do no favors for Job during his suffering. That's how not to be with someone in suffering.
Fifth and last, God uses Job to remind us that He is God, which means he does not have to answer our questions, but we have to answer His. When God does speak, He puts Job in his place (chapters 38-41)and Job is humble enough to declare his lack of knowledge before the almighty. God uses several examples of creation to remind Job that He is much bigger than one persons suffering. I think it is also intended to remind Job that there are things going on that he can't understand, that only God can understand.
I would encourage you to read Job for yourself, its just before Psalms. Its probably my favorite book in the Bible. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments either about the post or about the book of Job in general.