The Book of Job as Ancient Wisdom Literature (Come, Follow Me: Book of Job) – powered by Happy Scribe
From a literary context. The Book of Job, though, Scripture functions as ancient wisdom literature. If you look at other parts of the Bible, you have the Proverbs, our wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes, and each of these takes a slightly different perspective on how wisdom is gained and it could be deployed. For example, Ecclesiastes is very pragmatic and sometimes a bit pessimistic. It seems like it was composed after a very long life that somebody has had lots of life experience and realized that even doing wise things doesn’t always turn out perfectly the way you expect.
So it’s kind of a pragmatic approach. The Book of Proverbs has a bunch of very pithy, short, wise scenes that are based on observational perspective that people from the ancient world gathered over many years. Really beautiful books. The Book of Job, as a piece of wisdom literature, is interesting in that it focuses on what is called a the Odyssey. That’s a technical or fancy word meaning the question of why do people suffer?
More specifically, why do righteous people suffer? And the Book of Job is not the first time anyone in human history has asked that question. There are other texts from the ancient world that take up this very theme of how is it? If God is good? Or when pagan said it, if the gods are good, why should anybody suffer?
The Book of Job is actually taking on this very difficult question that is still with us today. I mentioned in a previous presentation that the revelations of Joseph Smith and DMC 121 and 122 also deal with a similar question. Joseph Smith is suffering in Liberty Jail and he’s wondering, why should I be suffering? God, when will you deliver me? We get this beautiful statement from God.
God says, My son, peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thine affliction shall be but a small moment. And then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee high. Thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Know thou my son or my daughter?
That all these things shall give the experience and shall be for thy good. The Son of man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? I’ve read of a lot of the world’s great literature, including many of the the Odysseies or these documents about the suffering righteous, wondering about the justice of God why would God let bad things happen to good people? I find the revelation Joseph received to be one of the most compelling responses I’ve ever heard.
God knows us. And in the grand scheme of the eternal system that we’re in, the amount of suffering we’re having here is limited. I don’t want to diminish the fact that the suffering is real and acute, and many of us suffer for long periods of time and never know when that suffering is going to end. And yet God says it gives you experience. Sometimes that experience actually is very educational.
Sometimes it’s simply experience and we don’t yet always understand how that experience is relevant to helping us have joy or greater perspective. I don’t know all the answers. I’ve had a lot of suffering in my life and I’ve asked these questions and God has not always explained everything to me. But I do know by experience and by the power of the Holy Spirit that God does have a purpose for everything that happens. So in this context of this big question of why does God let the righteous suffer, we have Job dealing with the very same question.
If you look at verse 20, chapter 24 of Job, you might compare it to DNC, chapter 121, the first couple of five or six verses where Joseph seems to be complaining. And I mean, this is kind of a positive sense. He’s like, God, you’re everything, you’re all powerful. Where are you? Why are all these bad things happening?
You have Job for an extended chapter doing the same thing, laying out his complaints or his concerns or his worries to God. Let me read a couple of verses, verse one why seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty, do they that know Him not see his days? Some remove the landmarks, they violently take away flocks and feed them. He’s saying bad stuff happens. Why is God letting bad things happen to good people?
And chapters go on in this vein, and if you turn to chapter 38, the other chapter from today’s reading, you have God’s response. And it’s a very interesting response because most of us is fallen nature humans. We want a nice simple answer, a nice package with a bow, and it’s all super easy. And what do we get is God essentially says that, Job, I am God, I am in charge, and you need to trust me. He never really gives a full answer of why everything happens.
Now we get more in the Doctrine of Covenants, DMC 121 and 122, as I mentioned. But even there, God says it’s for experience. That’s one of the key things. But even then, we don’t always know what’s the purpose of a certain experience we’re having. Let me just read a couple of verses of what God says kind of helping Job to realize that Job’s perspective is not God’s.
And therefore, since Job is not yet like God, he cannot understand like God why the righteous will suffer. Look at verse four. Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. It’s interesting.
So we all know we were there in the primordial life, but God is the one who made everything happen. He’s just saying, Listen, I’m the one who did all this. If you didn’t make the Earth and you’re not the one who launched the planet salvation, until you are fully like me, you will not fully understand all the reasons why life is difficult. Therefore, Job, I want you to trust me in my life. I think that is probably one of the most difficult things that I have had to work with or work towards is choosing to trust God in all things, at all times.
I know I desire to do that. I confess I’ve had times in my life where I haven’t felt very trusting because I wanted God to make things a little simpler for me to trust Him. And yet the whole force of the witnesses of the Scriptures is to show that God again and again and again is entirely trustworthy. That he will bless his ancient saints and his modern saints and that if we do trust Him, eventually everything works out for our good, even if they’re suffering in the meantime. I wish I could make things simpler.
I think one of the tough doctrines in the Gospel is that we do have to suffer. It’s not something that we like to talk about. I don’t get a lot of pleasure talking about suffering, but it’s something that’s real and it’s a core ingredient of why we are on this earth. Again, I’m like Job. I don’t know all the reasons, but I also try to be like Job when I listen to Chapter 38 and say, yeah, who am I compared to God?
Who am I to counsel God? Who am I to tell God how he should be running his planet salvation? Who am I to tell God that my limited understanding of suffering and injustice is unnecessary? It seems that way to me at times. My hope is that we all could just endure a little longer and be a little bit more patient with ourselves, those around us, and with God.
That we too can ultimately become like God and see with a full perspective of the purifying, sanctifying, ennobling power of every experience that we’ve ever had in this life. That’s my prayer. That’s my heart hold.