When Bad Things Happen to Good People

2. The story of a man named Job [pages 31-45]

Summary of Job: Job was a fortunate and pious man. Satan charges that Job is pious only because he is fortunate. To prove a point, God lets Satan take away all that Job has, including his children, and to cover his body with boils. Three friends come to visit Job, and their conversations are the bulk of the book. Job complains that his suffering is an injustice from God. His friends defend the idea that God is just with a variety of arguments, including that Job must have done something to deserve his suffering. Job declares his innocence and challenges God to be his accuser. God appears in a whirlwind and points out that He and Job are not equals. Job is silenced. God then reproves Job's friends and restores Job's health and fortune.

"To try to understand the book and its answer, let us take note of three statements which everyone in the book, and most of the readers, would like to be able to believe:

  1. God is all-powerful and causes everything that happens in the world. Nothing happens without His will it.
  2. God is just and fair, and stands for people getting what they deserve, so that the good prosper and the wicked are punished.
  3. Job is a good person.
As long as Job is healthy and wealthy, we can believe all three of those statements at the same time with no difficulty. When Job suffers, when he loses his possessions, his family and his health, we have a problem. We can no longer make sense of all three propositions together. We can now affirm any two only by denying the third.

If God is both just and powerful, then Job must be a sinner who deserves what is happening to him. If Job is good but God causes his suffering anyway, then God is not just. If Job deserved better and God did not send his suffering, then God is not all-powerful.…Job's friends are prepared to stop believing in (C), the assertion that Job is a good person. …Job's solution is to reject proposition (B), the affirmation of God's goodness. Job is in fact a good man, but God is so powerful that He is not limited by considerations of fairness and justice. … Let me suggest that the author of the Book of Job takes the position which neither Job nor his friends take. He believes in God's goodness and in Job's goodness, and is prepared to give up his belief in proposition (A): that God is all-powerful." [pages 37-42]

"I take these lines [from God's speech at the end of Job] to mean 'if you think that it is so easy to keep the world straight and true, to keep unfair things from happening to people, you try it.' God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can't bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims. But could man, without God, do it better?" [page 43]

I have to point out that this is a most unusual reading of Job, and I don't see much support for it in the text, in which God very explicitly gives Satan license to persecute Job. I would claim that the position of the author of Job is not much different from the position Kushner ascribes to the character Job. Kushner comments on this view:

"That is to say that the morality of the Bible, with its stress on human virtue and the sanctity of human life, is irrelevant to God, and that charity, justice and the dignity of the individual human being have some source other than God. If that were true, many of us would be tempted to leave God, and seek out and worship that source of charity, justice, and human dignity instead." [page 42]

"If God is God of justice and not of power, the He can still be on our side when bad things happen to us. He can know that we are good and honest people who deserve better. Our misfortunes are none of His doing, and so we can turn to Him for help. … We will turn to God, not to be judged or forgiven, but to be strengthened and comforted." [page 44]

"We can be angry at what has happened to us, without feeling that we are angry at God. More than that, we can recognize our anger at life's unfairness, our instinctive compassion at seeing people suffer, as coming from God who teaches us to be angry at injustice and to feel compassion for the afflicted. Instead of feeling that we are opposed to God, we can feel that our indignation is God's anger at unfairness working through us, that when we cry out, we are still on God's side, and He is still on ours." [page 45]

Return to outline