Surely there are few more endearing characters in all biblical and literary history than Job. Mankind universally identifies with the conundrum of innocent suffering and the questions it brings. Though the person of Job in the Old Testament is a historical one, the book of Job itself, irrespective of a literal interpretation, is regarded as one of the great wisdom literary masterpieces of all time, written mostly in the form of didactic poetry to address the age-old problem of why bad things happen to good people.

From the land of Hus, possibly a king, and living around the time of the patriarchs, Job is not an Israelite, but he worships the true God and is described as “simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil” (1:1). His wealth and general blessings are singular, as is his piety. Satan challenges God by suggesting that were Job to be stripped of these copious blessings, he would curse God to His Face. God permits Job’s great deprivation. Job loses his wealth, his children, and his own health to leprosy, is subjected to the wrongful accusation of his friends (who believe his turn of fortune must be a consequence of his sin), and undergoes the temptation of his wife to “curse God, and die” (2:9, RSVCE).

Not only does Job refrain from blaspheming God amid his unspeakable suffering, but he also does not doubt nor deny His existence. Rather, he affirms his faith in making his famous declaration, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. . . . Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). There is joy at the heart of Job’s sorrow, “the joy of his belief in the presence of God.” Job knows that his “Redeemer” lives and even indicates belief in the resurrection of the dead.

In the Old Testament, suffering and evil are at times synonymous in that the cause of evil is sometimes seen as the transgression, which is the position of Job’s friends. Given Job’s incomparable calamity, his friends therefore cannot reconcile their understanding of a just God without insisting upon Job’s guilt. The friends join punishment with guilt, not unlike Satan joining prosperity to piety.

Job defends his innocence while attesting to God’s justice during considerable debate with his friends. A youth eventually interjects that “suffering may be sent by God as a means of probation and purification for higher glory.” God Himself is then revealed in the storm wind and explains that since man cannot comprehend the greatness and wisdom of the Creator and Ruler of the universe, he should in affliction and suffering bend humbly and trustingly under the hand of the Almighty. God warns that Job must therefore be careful, in attempting to justify himself, not to “condemn” his Creator (40:3).

Job does penance for at first not confessing properly his lack of humility in speaking too much of his own afflictions and not enough of God’s goodness toward him when seeking an explanation from God for his loss91 (tantamount to complaints that God had unjustly smitten him). Job is not free to judge God, for God is the highest standard of justice.92 Wisdom, instead of scrutinizing the behavior of God, is rather, practicing “fear of the Lord” and “depart[ing] from evil” (28:28). Fear of the Lord consists in adhering to His laws of morality in humility. Man, therefore, is not free to determine right and wrong. God alone has that right and is not subject to the moral “constraints” of man.

God is pleased with Job’s penance and humility and praises him, while Job’s friends are reprimanded for not speaking “the thing that is right before [God], as [His] servant Job hath” (42:7). The friends offend God, even while endeavoring to “defend” Him; they are rebels against the truth, “which they imagine they are serving by their false assertions.”93 By ignoring the truth of Job’s innocence, in attempting to prove that God’s justice is necessarily manifest in life’s circumstances, they essentially “define” God as unable to do otherwise. God requests that the friends offer Job’s face to Him (rather than their own) in seeking reparation for their injustice. Job does intercede for his friends, and God is “turned at the penance of Job,” such that he and his wife have more children, his wealth is restored to him twofold, and he lives to an old age, happily just as Job would have it be all along. God chooses to reward Job in this life for his virtue, despite His being completely “free” to do otherwise.

The book of Job is replete with moral lessons. The most obvious is that, although suffering remains a mystery, not all misfortune is consequential to transgression (which allows for Job’s righteousness despite his great misery) and that suffering potentially may also lead to conversion and a return to virtue. Another, more suited to the theme of this book, is that man is not allowed to create his own truth—as in the case of Job’s friends contorting the truth of Job’s innocence (by ignoring it) to fit their narrative that the circumstantial events of one’s life necessarily correlate with one’s guilt or innocence, thereby “limiting” God to act in this way. Similarly, one is not free to decide his own morality; Job initially scrutinized God in his attempts to defend his own innocence. Man is not free to justify himself at the price of questioning God, who is the highest standard of justice. Man does not “get” to decide what is right behavior of God, nor of himself. Finally, reparation must be made for these grave offenses to the majesty of God.

Because he did atone for his own sin of accusing God of smiting an innocent man and because he was, in fact, otherwise innocent, Job was more worthy to offer sacrifices than his friends in seeking the required reparation for their injustice. God chose to give Job an essential role in the salvation of his friends.


This article on The Lessons of Job is adapted from the book Unveiling the Sixth Station of the Cross by Mary Jane Zuzolo which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on a reflection from “Unveiling the Sixth Station of the Cross” by Mary Jane Zuzolo: cover used with permission; Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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