The story of Job confronts directly the problem of evil in the world. The Scriptural narrative does not deal with the problem abstractly, not offer a theological or philosophical thesis, but the harrowing account of one man’s agony. The three friends and Elihu do their best to apply general principles to Job’s case; but they do not help him, and what they say is finally declared invalid by God himself. This is a surprise, for their arguments sound familiar to the kind of things we might say when a friend or loved one suffers.
Suffering and evil in all its forms, is a particular problem for people of faith who believe in one God who is all-powerful and all-loving. Outside such faith there are many explanations of evil which involve a denial, or a limitation, of either God’s sovereignty or of his goodness. The argument has been expressed with philosophical clarity as follows: If God were perfectly good, he could not tolerate the existence of violence, disease, etc.; therefore there must be some limit to his ability to control such events, that is, he is not almighty. Alternatively, if God does have complete power over everything that happens, his failure to curb the wrongs that occur must be due to the fact that he does not see anything wrong in them, that is, he is not good.
The book of Job is the story of one man, his loss, his search and his discovery. This search takes place entirely within the context of faith. All the characters, the three friends and Elihu as much as Job himself, are fully committed to faith in God.
As we consider Job’s story in the coming month we will discover the power of his testimony for the doubts of the faithful and for the faith of the doubtful.