Job No. 2: Retribution

It was clear as day to his friends – Job was a sinner. His experience was because of God’s divine retribution on him. Eliphaz had seen it before: “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same, and they are consumed by God’s anger” (4:8-9). The wicked man writhes in pain all of his days (15:20). Bildad’s words complimented his friend’s experience because he could not believe God perverted justice; therefore, these calamities were God’s hand against Job (8:3). Bildad even blamed the death of Job’s children on their sins (8:4) and he beckoned Job to plea for mercy while he still had a chance, for God would not reject the blameless man (8:5-6, 20-22). 

The ancient conversation (between these friends) revolved around a prominent worldwide assumption: God micromanages the world with His justice.

That assumption preaches that whatever we get in this life, whether good or evil, is because we deserve it. We “had it coming” to us. And in reality, this assumption is attractive to many. We view God as all-just and all-powerful; therefore, we assume that whatever happens in the world reflects God’s justice. If the world is not just, it seems like we are blaming God and undermining his power, his justice, or both. Therefore, it can be a much more attractive view to say that every action under the sun is just. It is much easier to justify God then, right? It seems like Eliphaz believed that, too. In chapter 22, he starts to attribute all kinds of evil to Job, essentially making sins up, in order to prove that what happened to Job was not a problem with God (i.e., that God was not just) but a problem with Job (i.e., God is just, and He is punishing him for his sins). 

This view is so ingrained in our world that even the Jews of Jesus’ time worked from this assumption as well. Jesus’ disciples saw suffering in a man born blind and naturally surmised that this was because of his sin or his parents’ sin (John 9:2). A crowd of Jews seem to imply in their conversation with Jesus in Luke 12 that the suffering of the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with sinners was because of their sin (12:1-4). 

Two-thousand years later, it does not look like this worldview is going away any time soon. We live in a world that believes in “what goes around, comes around” (a.k.a. karma). Many who espouse the Christian faith even believe our prosperity on this earth is tied to our relationship with God (e.g., the health and wealth gospel). The implication throughout it all is that if you are suffering, it is your fault. Your suffering is because of your sin. If you just turned to God, he would heal you of all of your suffering and give you a physically abundant life. 

The book of Job throws a wrench into this thinking.

As is revealed to us in the heavenly council in the first chapter of the book of Job, Job does not suffer because of his sin but because his righteousness! (Job 1:8-9). Job did not get what he deserved and his suffering was not his fault because the world is not ruled by the simple “suffering for a sin” justice. The universe is much more complex than that. There is more to the story. There is more going on behind the scenes. 

As far as we can tell, Job never knew the reason for his suffering. When God answered him, He did not reveal the reason for Job’s suffering. Instead God spoke of His wisdom in the creating and sustaining of the world (Job 38-41). From this declaration, Job is able to see something profound – if God has enough wisdom and power to create and care for the world, then He has enough wisdom and power to rule our lives. And whatever He gives us to endure or allows to happen to us in this world, we must entrust ourselves in humility and submission to the one who’s understanding is too wonderful for us (Job 42:2-3). 

Moreover, we who are Christians can trust Him even more, because the Creator and Sustainer of the world sent His own Son to suffer. Jesus did not get what he deserved. The perfect Lamb of God got what we deserved. Yet through this act, we – sinners – can have life eternal. If all things in the world were just, He would not have suffered. We would have. God went through all of that just so we will not have to suffer apart from Him in eternity. 

So, when we do suffer on this earth, it is not a time to blame God or wonder why God is making a righteous person suffer.

Instead, it is a time to trust God. While we might not understand why He is allowing us to suffer, we can remember God’s wonderful wisdom and Christ’s selfless sacrifice and know that God is working all thing out for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 

Editor’s Note

The theological problem of retribution runs deep through the entire book of Job. It permeates the ancient world of the patriarch and gives reason to the actions of Job’s friends, his wife, and even our hero himself. That assumption is full of tragic consequence. While we can’t possible tackle it all in a post of this length, Adam did a great job of introducing us to the topic. I’d like to encourage you dig deeper by following these links below.

Penetrating Questions from the Book of Job

Divine Retribution – A Forgotten Doctrine

Is it Worth it to Serve God?

The Incarnation of Job and Retribution Reconceived

Adam Noles is the preaching minister at the Green Forest Church of Christ in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. A graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and Harding Graduate School of Theology, he is married to Bethany and the father of Evelyn and Eden.