There are a few very important things that Bible students learn in their earlier Old Testament classes, very important from where I’m sitting anyway. It is this, Job’s first and last chapters were added at a later date than the center pieces. This means that everyone’s favorite sections about Satan and God having a betting contest, and God’s whirlwind episode, were pinned on after the initial content had been written. What does this mean? Well no one can be sure, but considering the conflicting messages contained within either section, I’d say it wasn’t a friendly addition.
In Old Testament class, my professor proposed a theory that Job was an anonymous rebellion against something that we still encounter today, prosperity gospel. Now, what Job is talking about is more like, anti-prosperity gospel. It discusses how the ancient Hebrew people viewed sickness, tragedy, and imprisonment. As you read the Old Testament, take note of what it says when Israel is exiled or in trouble, it’s because they did something wrong, worshiped wrong, committed idolatry, something. And when something goes right? Same story, it’s because Israel was faithful, prayed right, ate right, believed right. Job is a message to the Hebrew people, talking about situations in which those effects are clearly untrue! God doesn’t work that way! It seems to say.
So what is it trying to say? The same thing that your average logical Christian will tentatively point out to their friends. If God rewards the good, why do bad people continue to flourish? If God punishes the evil, why do so many good people have bad things happen to them? And you know what so often used against these questions? Job! The whirlwind of God at the end of Job proclaiming his unfitness to question God’s decisions. However, you know who else questioned God? Abraham. You know what God did? Bless him with a bajillion children and an entire nation. Anyone else? David. Who was David? The man of God’s own heart. Seems slightly contradictory wouldn’t you say? That’s because it is.
Job was intended to put a wrench in retributive theology, that is, what we do has a direct effect on how God treats us. How fickle is that, am I right? Now, stick with me as I’m about to throw something crazy in the sauce. What if we looked at the entire Old Testament before Job, all of God’s supposed actions and reasons for doing things, as if they were being interpreted through retributive theology? In other words, what if we take what Job reveals about the minds of ancient Hebrew people, and apply it to their understanding of God.
Alright, hard to grasp I know, here’s a famous example. God hardened the heart of pharaoh. Boy have scholars gone to town trying to explain how this is okay! However, if we apply a little bit of Jobian logic, we can deduce that the ancient Hebrew people believed God hardened pharaoh’s heart, because pharaoh said, “no” so many times! Think about it, if you believed God was in direct control of every word, wouldn’t someone saying “no” mean that God had also said, “no”? In which case, God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let His people go, so that God could have the courtesy of replying “no”, so that God could then destroy the Egyptians. Well, if you believe in retributive theology, this is exactly what would happen, and it’s exactly what is described by God to Moses!
BUT! What if you didn’t believe in retributive theology? What if Pharaoh saying “no” was the act of a free man, beloved by God? A normal, arrogant, and selfish absolute ruler of a people? We certainly don’t have any of those around these days. What if we extrapolate this idea, this theological belief held by the Hebrew people to all of the times in the Old Testament when God acted? Might it allow us to believe that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are actually, possibly, the same entity? If the Old Testament is a record of the ancient Hebrew perspective on God, and the New testament is the record of the ancient Christian perspective on God, isn’t in possible that they are slightly different? However, we believe that God doesn’t change, and as Christians we believe in Jesus, so how might we reconcile the two? By realizing the theology of the ancient Hebrew people, and reading scripture through the lens of retributive theology.
Think about it this way, how different is your perspective on God from people just 60 years ago when truth had a capital “T” and the best thing for every man was to get himself a woman to stay home and cook for him? Now imagine that multiplied by centuries! It’s different! Wouldn’t their God act differently from your own? Yet you both believe He is the same person? Exactly!
Now, I want to state right now that I trust 2 Timothy 3:16, but I think it can be just as applicable if the scripture was written by inspired men. Scripture is a true at heart, inspiring, amazing, miracle of a record of human interaction with God over thousands of years. However, let us not forget, God is alive. Speak to Him with your heart, ask Him of those times recorded in scripture that you are uncomfortable with, see if you find a whirlwind, or a loving embrace.