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What is the Purpose of the Book of Job? An Excerpt from John Walton's Commentary

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It doesn't take long in the course of pastoral ministry to experience the reality firsthand that life isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And often we’re left asking the very question that parents who’ve faced the loss of a child, spouses who’ve endured the pain of divorce, and congregants who’ve suffered in any number of ways ask: Why?

9780310214427One of the sharpest, most potent responses to this weighty question was given to humanity through the book of Job. In his introduction to his commentary on the book, John Walton explains that its purpose is not only to explore how God works in regards to the suffering in the world, but to transform how we think about it.

Whether you are currently a ministry practitioner, a student training for future ministry, or even the one who is helping cultivate ministers in the classroom, Walton’s commentary provides a superb engagement with one of the most perennial of human questions. And the below excerpt from Walton’s introduction will help you better understand how God answers that question through Job.

The purpose of [the book of Job] is to explore God’s policies with regard to suffering in the world, especially by the righteous or the innocent. In the process it seeks to revolutionize our thinking about God and the way that he runs the world.

Most importantly, the book shifts our attention from the idea that God’s justice ... is foundational to the operation of the world to the alternative that God’s wisdom is the more appropriate foundation.  It does not offer a reason for suffering and does not try to defend God’s justice. 

It does not answer the “why” question that we are so prone to ask when things go wrong. Instead, we are to trust God’s wisdom and, in the process, to conclude by faith that he is also just.

In truth, we will never be in a position to evaluate God’s justice. In order to appraise the justice of a decision, we must have all the facts, for justice can be derailed if we do not have all the information. Because we never have all the information about our lives, we cannot judge God when he brings experiences to us or make claims and demands. We cannot reach an affirmation about God’s justice through our own limited insight or experiences. We affirm his justice by faith directed toward his wisdom. As we will see, God’s speech at the end does not offer a defense of his justice, but of his wisdom and power.

The book, therefore, wants to transform how we think about God’s work in the world and about our responses in times of suffering. Most people look at the book, thinking that it deals with the question of why righteous people suffer. Instead, the book sets out the question as, “Is there such a thing as disinterested righteousness?”  In this sense the book is about the nature of righteousness, not the nature of suffering.

As the book unfolds, we are going to discover that Job’s motives are indeed pure (he values righteousness over benefits), but his concept of God and his understanding of God’s policies are going to need modification. (pg. 22)



by John H. Walton

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Here John Walton discusses whom NIVAC: Job is written for, and how its perspective may surprise you:

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