The Book of Job – A Rod to Beat Ourselves Up With

The Book of Job – A Rod to Beat Ourselves Up With January 14, 2024

The purpose of this article is to expose the devastating harm in the common, Evangelical interpretation of Job, and to free those ensnared by it. It can be a daunting thing to reassess foundational beliefs established in childhood, for fear that the whole structure might come crashing down, and yet that is exactly what is required to have a mature and authentic adult faith.


Some of the beliefs that were loaded on my shoulders in the church of my childhood are as dangerous as can be, taking great lumps out of my wellbeing when I was unable to defend myself. Today, I want to address one of the most harmful aspects of that inheritance.


The way Job is taught in the Church is, in my view, devastating to anyone who hears it, because it confuses believers about the nature of God. The essential message is:


  • That God can and might consciously permit the most dire sufferings in your life, including the loss of your loved ones and the shattering of your health, to test your faith.
  • That in the midst of terrible tragedy, the only acceptable response is to say, ‘it is well with my soul’.


The soul is not some lofty part of us, unaffected by loss or difficulty. It is the very seat of our emotions and our identity as individuals. No soul is a facsimile of another; each is a unique expression of the divine artist, and in this life, can be beset by trouble and downcast. Psalm 42: 8-11


Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.


Given that the soul and our human vulnerabilities are inseparable, claiming ‘it is well with my soul’ when you’re torn up inside is straightforward dishonesty, putting pressure on yourself and others to deny the grieving process and suppress emotions that need to be expressed.


Worse than that, the common Evangelical interpretation of Job is that God is responsible for the sufferings of our souls by consciously, verbally agreeing to let Satan persecute us, at Satan’s request. It’s an extraordinary set of beliefs that contradict the mass of Biblical teaching on the goodness of God. For example, James 1: 13


When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.


The word ‘tempt’ equally means to ‘test’, making it abundantly clear that God is not the source of any tests or temptations, which are essentially the same thing. James feels the need to double down on this in verses 16-17:


Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.


Don’t be deceived, dear brothers and sisters! The Lord cannot give what he doesn’t have, dispensing only goodness and mercy, and every good and perfect gift. He is the Father of Light, in whom there is not even the faintest hint of turning!


The book of Job contradicts the goodness of God from the very start, if you take the opening chapter literally. Job 1:6-12


‘One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’


Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going to and fro on it.’


Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’


‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’


The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’


Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.


Believers face several insurmountable difficulties if required to interpret this as a literal, historical narrative. Does God have meetings with Satan, where he baits him into attacking his children? Do we believe that God is capricious, proud of us one minute, and giving us up on a whim, the next?


In the church, we rightly sing of God’s faithfulness – that morning by morning his mercies are new. Does anything we know about God, in all the years of his love and faithfulness, affirm the idea that God gives us up so easily, and to the enemy he’s promised to protect us from?


The Book of Job is largely taught in a way that contradicts the nature of God, as revealed by scripture, and the Gospel narrative. I am confident in saying God does not have meetings with Satan or taunt him into attacking us.


For me, the only credible way to treat the opening of Job (God and Satan having a conversation) is as a framework for the story. The substance and meaning of the book is all in the dialogue.


The worst and least accurate interpretation of the text


Evangelical teaching on the book of Job insists that the early statements about Job being a righteous man bear out in his refusal to curse God, and that in the end his good heart is affirmed by the Lord. When studying the book for myself, chapter by chapter in the presence of the Lord, I was greatly relieved to discover that the narrative I’d been told in my youth is the exact opposite of what happens in the story! It is literally the worst and least accurate interpretation of the text – a package of untruths that smear the nature of God and throw ordinary believers into spiritual jail, some for the entirety of their lives.


To demonstrate this with absolute clarity, I’ve written a book called Job: A Story of Salvation that examines the text chapter by chapter (under a pen name, James Bewley). For UK readers, Job: A Story of Salvation can be found here.


I’ll be writing a series of articles on this topic, examining aspects of the text, but I urge any reader stuck in the godless interpretation of Job I was brought up with to get this book and read it with an open mind and heart. It will throw open the windows of your soul.

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