Job, Theologian of the Cross

Chad Bird
Monday, July 16th 2007
Mar/Apr 1999

The book of Job is a catechism on the theology of the cross. Throughout the centuries countless believers, bruised by the rod of suffering, have embarked on a pilgrimage into the heart of this ancient story to inquire, "Why do the innocent suffer?" Many have retreated from the answers sadly disappointed, others passionately frustrated, and still others-like Job-faithfully content. Perhaps the reason some find the answers inadequate is because they have failed to ponder a far weightier question, "How is God known by man?" Truly, that question lurks behind every syllable of this holy book. And it is that question which jerks the head of the sufferer upward, and rivets our eyes on the cross of Jesus Christ. For only there is the divine understanding of suffering revealed.

The Life and Times of Job

The prologue of Job introduces the reader to a patriarchal hero who is exemplary in piety, blessed with affluence, paternally productive (seven sons, three daughters), and the scrupulous household priest of his close-knit family (1:1-5). All is well in the life and times of Job. Then one day the satanic serpent slithers into the throne-room of Yahweh and argues that Job walks in the path of righteousness only because of his material blessings. Satan challenges God, "But put forth thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse thee to thy face" (1:11). Soon thereafter, through a blitzkrieg of natural and supernatural disasters, Job loses livestock, servants, and all ten of his children. Unmoved, however, from his firm stance of faith, Job confesses, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:21).

The devil reappears before God and this time argues, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth thy hand, now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse thee to thy face" (2:4-5). With divine approval Satan then "smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head" (2:7). At this, even Job's wife mutters, "Curse God and die!" Nevertheless, Job persists in his integrity.

With the advent, however, of Job's three friends-Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar-and a seven-day, seven- night vigil of silent suffering, the tenor of the account changes. What follows in the main body of the book (chaps. 3-37) are three cycles of ever intensifying debate-like speeches between Job and his unholy trinity of accusatory friends. Job vigorously defends his innocence in the face of their legalistic claims that he must have sown vast seeds of iniquity to be reaping such ghastly fruits. Finally, when the friends have blunted their arguments against the iron wall of Job's defense, a spectator named Elihu enters the fray. He first chides Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for their poor arguments and then proceeds to offer his views. Although sharpening the previous arguments, Elihu too falls short in his endeavor to probe into the mystery of suffering.

Finally, wisdom speaks. Hiding and revealing himself within whirlwind and storm, Yahweh puts Job on the stand in the celestial courtroom, twice interrogating him (chaps. 38-39, 40-41). The divine questions are exquisitely crafted to evoke humility, awe, fear, faith, and wisdom in Job. In response to this twofold interrogation, Job twice utters confessions of repentance and faith, ultimately coming to terms with his suffering and his God.

The epilogue paints a joyous portrait of complete reversal-one might even say "resurrection." Job is publicly vindicated by God, while his friends are indicted because they did not speak of God rightly (42:7). The suffering patriarch becomes their sacerdotal intercessor, offering sacrifices to atone for the sins of their mouths. The Lord then restores Job's fortunes by doubling the number of livestock he had previously possessed, granting him ten more children, and bestowing upon him a long life and, finally, a blessed end.

Job's, His Friends', and God's Response to the Afflictions

As the painful narrative of Job's tribulations unfolds and questions of "Why?" begin to surface rapidly, competing answers are voiced. The nakeded-I-came-from-my-mother's-womb-and-naked-I-shall-return-there" Job we meet in the prologue is soon the one who curses the very fact that he ever emerged from the womb (3:1-26). No mute stoic stance will do! Job bitterly laments the elusiveness of death when death is desired (10:18-22). He describes himself as an archery target for the bow-wielding Deity with poison-dipped arrows (6:4; 16:12-13). With-out claiming sinlessness (13:26), Job protests that he has done nothing deserving such unspeakable agony (31:1-40). He bemoans his current condition and hungers for happier days of yore (29:1-25). Job appeals to God for an impartial hearing, either before or after his death, convinced that he will not be proven guilty because of his faith in God (27:1-12).

Even as these hailstones of verbal agony rain from Job's mouth, he tenaciously clings to his hope in God and awaits final justification. The light of faith shines in the darkness of his doubt. Job fully realizes and openly acknowledges the futility of a man attempting to justify himself by works (9:1-25). (1) Most importantly, he yearns for an "umpire" between God and man (6:32-35) and finally confesses faith in such a One: a "witness in heaven" and "advocate on high" (16:19) who will be his living Redeemer. This one will take his stand on the earth, and resurrect justified Job so that with his own eyes he will behold God his Savior (19:25-27). In these bold statements of trust in the redemption and mediation of God against God, Job points ahead with a prophetic finger toward the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that Suffering One, Job the suffering one and all with him, receive justification.

As Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sit with their boil-covered friend on his ashes of mourning, grieved though they are by his sad plight, their theology will not allow them to understand suffering as anything but direct, divine retribution for iniquity. For them, the burn of suffering is always caused by playing with the fire of sin. Eliphaz gives classic expression to this faulty conviction, "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it," (4:7-8). Job was reaping in this life what he had sown in this life, plain and simple. These accusers reason, first of all, that God always rewards the righteous with material prosperity and happiness while punishing the wicked with poverty, pain, and suffering. (They were the health-wealth-and-happiness preachers of the day.) Reasoning backward from effect to cause, therefore, they conclude that Job's suffering is a punishment from God for his transgressions.

The God of Job's friends is a tit-for-tat legalist devoid of grace, shackled by the chains of cause and effect, a demander but not a forgiver. Their theology remains pregnant with law while the Gospel is aborted. There is no room for faith, only penitence, submission, and blind obedience. Because they see God only through nature, reason, and experience, and not by faith founded on revelation, they misconstrue God. They would never have fathomed God in the crucified man on Golgotha, but would have contemptuously berated him as they did suffering Job, his forerunner. They were-to use the term Luther would later coin-theologians of glory.

How, therefore, does the Truth himself respond to suffering Job? In his first interrogation, Yahweh sounds forth from the midst of a whirlwind, demanding, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!" (38:2-3). In question after question, God declares the mystery of his divine power as Creator of heaven and earth. Through wisdom and might, unsearchable and unknowable by man, God has created and sustains the material world and all that is in it. How does this, however, help answer the question of the suffering one? Is Job merely being instructed to keep his mouth shut and let the sovereign God be sovereign? Hardly. Yahweh roars forth example upon example of his divine power not merely to sew Job's lips shut with the strong thread of divine sovereignty, but to reveal that this almighty God-inscrutable in majesty, hidden in wisdom, beyond mortal comprehension-must be known in a far different kind of revelation. Job is not only humbled by the litany of God's creative power; more importantly, he is brought to the realization that God must reveal who he is to man in a radically different way. And such a way he demonstrates in the second divine speech.

When God speaks again, he tells Job, "Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him; and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; bind them in the hidden place. Then I will also confess to you, that your own right hand can save you," (40:12-14). He then directs Job to gaze upon two mysterious creatures called Behemoth and Leviathan. The exalted, intricate description of this pair of beasts evokes images of supernatural, otherworldly monsters: untamable, ferocious, menacing. Behemoth is called "the first of the ways of God," (40:19), a description equally attributable to the angelic host, one of whom is Satan. Leviathan is similarly painted with devilish hues.

In 41:20-21 he breathes forth fire like a dragon (cf. Rev. 12:3). Leviathan inhabits the sea (41:31-32), which in Job and the rest of the Scriptures is an "incarnation" of chaos and evil (Job 9:8; 26:12-13; 38:8-11). Job 41:33-34 says Leviathan rules over all the worldly "sons of pride" as their king, and "on earth is not his equal" (cf. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). He is Satan, prince of the demons. (2)

These types of Satan are who Job is commanded to humble, tread down, hide, and bind-a feat impossible for man! But where man falls far short, God surely accomplishes. Job is assured that God can and will control and ultimately conquer the evil and injustice perpetrated by the Foe. To this eschatological defeat of all that is evil, God directs suffering Job.

This, then, is the answer to the problem of the righteous sufferer given in the book of Job. Though the righteous may now suffer, God has won the eschatological battle, and God tells Job, the righteous sufferer, that through faith he participates in God's victory. The theophany reveals to Job that he too is involved in God's work in the universe. According to the theology of the cross, the righteous sufferer is comforted since he participates in God's eschatological victory over sin, death, and the devil. (3)

Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross

The foundational struggle in Job is between what Luther called the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Here the weighty question is asked and answered, "How is God known by man?" This anguished query of Job is pondered anew by sufferers of every generation. Has God forgotten to be gracious? Why does he hide his face?

In 1518, at the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther penned several theses which illuminate these questions. They cast light not only on the problem of pain but also on the more fundamental question of where God is in the midst of a believer's pain.

[Thesis 19] That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.
[Thesis 20] He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
[Thesis 21] A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (4)

The glory-theologian, gaping heavenward and earthward, cannot chatter sufficiently regarding God's attributes of power, virtue, wisdom, justice, goodness, and eternity, all of which he beholds solely through the trifold lens of nature, reason, and experience. From these manifest materials of the created realm, the glory-theologian constructs the edifice of his theology. His creed depicts a deity who accepts only those men worthy of his acceptance, a God who rewards the righteous with good and smites the evil with misfortune, and who has absolutely no truck with such foolish things as suffering, weakness, trials, pain-no interest in the cross. The glory-theologian calls evil good and good evil; the day of crucifixion can, for him, only be termed "Evil Friday."

The glory-theologians of the book of Job are Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. Job's sufferings are grist for their theological mills. Nature, reason, and experience dictate unequivocally that Job is accursed by God because of his sin. They cannot understand his sufferings differently because their God is only a God of law and retribution. Obedience not faith, law not Gospel, are the hallmarks of their theology, and morality the article upon which their "church" stands or falls.

Conversely, the eyes of the cross-theologian see reality through the crucified corpse of the suffering Son of God. By the light of faith, the cross-theologian sees Jesus as the Son of God and his cross as the disclosure of how God comes to man and brings man to himself. The cross, therefore, is not only the place of salvation but of revelation. In it is revealed the visible and manifest things of God. Reason, nature, and experience can only see a mostly naked man, blood oozing, hungry flies buzzing, thorns piercing, dry tongue swelling, chest heaving, crowd taunting, eyes closing, breath stopping, stabbed side flowing. By faith, however, the cross-theologian sees on the cross the Savior of the world, the incarnate love of God, life, peace, joy, hope, forgiveness, and heaven. In the midst of suffering, in other words, he sees God.

The cross-theologian understands that faith is the "evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). For God, therefore, to reveal himself to man he must hide himself beneath the cloak of that which seems to nature, reason, and experience most ungodly. But the cross-theologian can see Job, clothed with ashes and moistened with ooze from his sores, and declare that suffering man to be closer to God than Satan who stood in the glorious, exalted throne-room of Yahweh. The cross-theologian views the sufferings and trials of believers not as divine punishments for sin but as holy relics to be treasured and received with glad and thankful hearts. (5) Job, therefore, typifies not only the suffering Christ but exemplifies the suffering Christian. He is a theologian of the cross.

Job: Type of Christ and Paradigmatic Disciple

It was not without reason, therefore, that the church fathers spoke of Job and his sufferings as a type of Christ and his sufferings. Gregory the Great (540-604), for example, says of Job:

And therefore it behooved that blessed Job also, who uttered those high mysteries of His Incarnation, should by his life be a sign of Him, Whom by voice he proclaimed, and by all that he underwent should shew forth what were to be His sufferings; and should so much the more truly foretell the mysteries of His Passion, as he prophesied then not merely with his lips but also by suffering. (6)

In his innocent suffering, final vindication, and priestly intercession for those who had wronged him, Job showed forth the pattern of the One in whom he believed. In both Job and Jesus the theologian of the cross sees paragons of how God makes himself known to man.

For that reason Job is also the paradigmatic disciple. As St. James says, "As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and merciful." (7)

James holds up the "endurance" of Job as exemplary. Earlier in this epistle, James had encouraged his suffering readers using similar language. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (1:2-4).

Job is the model sufferer not because of a stoic acceptance of pain, but because of his certain hope of final, eschatological vindication. He was a man who came to a true knowledge of the purpose of suffering and found therein true knowledge of God-the God who hides himself in suffering, trial, shame, and lowliness in order to reveal salvation, life, and peace. From Job we learn what it means to live the theology of the cross.

1 [ Back ] Contrast this with the legalistic babbling of his works-righteous comrades (4:7-8; 17-21; 5:8-26).
2 [ Back ] Christopher Mitchell, "Job and the Theology of the Cross," Concordia Journal 15 (1989), 168.
3 [ Back ] Ibid., 169.
4 [ Back ] Luther's Works, American Edition, ed. H. T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), Vol. 31, 52 (hereafter as AE).
5 [ Back ] Luther states, "A theologian of the cross (that is, one who speaks of the crucified and hidden God) teaches that punishments, crosses, and death are the most precious treasury of all and the most sacred relics which the Lord of this theology himself has consecrated and blessed, not alone by the touch of his most holy flesh but also by the embrace of his exceedingly holy and divine will, and he has left these relics here to be kissed, sought after, and embraced," Explanations of the Disputation Concerning the Value of Indulgences (1518), AE, vol. 31, 225.
6 [ Back ] Moralia in Job, II. 96-99. For other Fathers who understood Job as a type of Christ, see, e.g., Jerome's Commentarii, PL, XXVI, 801-802; Zeno of Verona's Tractus XV, PL, XI, 439-443; and Hesychius' Commentary on Job.
7 [ Back ] Ibid.
Monday, July 16th 2007

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