If you take a World Literature class in college, you’ll likely read stories such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey, Beowulf, or the Mahabarata. These are some of the stories which form the “canon” of classic literature. You may be surprised to find that the book of Job is a part of that list.
Job sits on the list next to works of Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway, John Milton, and Dante Alighieri, because like these, it’s a literary masterpiece.
The book of Job masterfully plumbs the depths of human experience. More than that, though, it relates common human experience to profound and mysterious theological realities. The book of Job is about creation, suffering, God’s sovereignty, wisdom, friendship, endurance, and far more. In other words: the book of Job is about human life in God’s world.
Chapters 1-2 and 42:7-17 are the prologue and epilogue. All that’s in between (Job 3-42:6) forms a poetic dialogue between Job, his friends, and eventually, God. The poetry is striking, beautiful, and terrifying.
In one part of the book, Job says, “Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice. He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths” (Job 19:7-8 ESV). Job’s cry, here, reveals one of the book’s main concerns: what do we do when we feel like God is our enemy?
Like all literature, the book of Job uses literary devices. A prominent device in this book is irony. Irony, in literature, means the reader is aware of what is really happening, while the protagonist of the book does not. For instance, Job is concerned why God has afflicted him, but the readers know that really Satan afflicts Job, by God’s permission. God is not Job’s enemy. Satan is. Job, however, is not aware of this. We call this discrepancy between Job and the reader, irony.
This frame of reference reminds us of our own limited perspective in the world. Only revelation from God can enlarge our perspective.
Suffering reaches every one of us. We all suffer in this world. Job helps us peer into the mysteries of our suffering—and come away humbled by what we cannot understand, comforted by a God who has total control even of the evils we experience.
Job helps us peer into the mysteries of our suffering—and come away humbled by what we cannot understand, comforted by a God who has total control even of the evils we experience.
Job helps us see that this world is more complex than “Do good and good things will happen to you.” It leaves us with unanswered questions like, “Why do good people suffer? Why do evil people prosper?”
Do you want to learn more about the nature of suffering and God’s hand in it? Wisdom, a deep understanding of the world and how to live in it, must be revealed to us—and that begins with a fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
Job asks, “But where can wisdom be found, and where is understanding located?” The answer is that “God understands the way to wisdom, and he knows its location” (Job 28:12, 23). And this is why God gave us Job—to graciously grant us wisdom.
James, a New Testament writer, interprets the aim of the book of Job for us: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).
God gave us Job to encourage us towards steadfastness in trials and to let us see that his purposes in our suffering stem from his compassion and mercy—always—even when it feels like he is against us.