From Amanda Carden on Shutterstock
In recent job interviews, I have been asked time and time again what my favorite book is. I have struggled to grasp this answer because it’s not something I think about all the time — I have given the standard answer of Crime and Punishment from Fyodor Dostoevsky due to its lessons on morality and guilt.
But after thinking a lot, I have a better answer for the best book in human history, even if it isn’t my favorite to read.
Although the Bible is the best-selling book in human history, it is one particular book of the Bible that teaches universal truths that is particularly the best book in human history for all — religious and secular, bourgeoisie and worker, employed and unemployed, man and woman, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone in-between:
The Book of Job
For people that don’t know the Book of Job, Job is a man who is a righteous follower of God and absent from any evil. He is God’s beacon of righteousness and crown jewel, making all the sacrifices God wanted. Job was a rich man who God gave favorable treatment to.
And then Satan tempts God to test Job. God calls Job “a blameless and upright man, who fears God,” and then Satan taunts God, and tells Him that Job fears God for no reason. Satan brings up the good point that Job loves God because God gave Job prosperity, riches, and luck, and then Satan taunts God in Job 1:11 to:
“Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
God takes up Satan’s challenge and starts to test Job. He takes away Job’s property and kills all his children. He starts to attack Job’s health and give him a disease — all due to taunting from Satan. While Job’s wife urged him to curse God, he refused and remained steadfast in his faithfulness.
Thankfully, Job has three friends that sit with him — but Job’s mood takes a quick turn. He starts to curse his birth, and then Job’s friends quickly reveal that they’re fair-weather friends. They start to suggest pretty aggressively that Job deserved his suffering and that he must have done something terribly wrong to have all these terrible things happen to him.
Job continues to pray to God, and his life does not improve. One of Job’s friends tells him that he deserves even more suffering, that “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Job continues to pray and remain faithful even when his life is terrible and his friends tell him he must deserve having a terrible life.
His friends start to attack whether he is faithful to God in the first place, that God punishes wicked people like Job, and that he deserves to suffer. Even during this time, Job remains faithful. They continue to attack Job for his wickedness and how he deserves his suffering.
And then Job starts to doubt, asking where God is, but still maintaining his prayer and integrity towards God. He starts to have to defend himself against his friends that God is still great, even though Job’s life is miserable.
A man named Elihu condemns Job and his friends for losing faith and becoming fair-weather believers, and God comes to ask Job one of the most important questions in the Bible in Job 38:4.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
At the end of the day, Job repents and is in awe of the power of God. Job’s friends are rebuked by God’s anger, and Job’s fortune is restored.
Job was the first book of the Bible I read when I became a serious Christian. It had me very, very confused — what was the point of all this? Why is God making a good person like Job suffer so much? What’s the lesson in all this?
It has been three years since I proclaimed my faith, and my understanding of Job has vacillated over the years. But I think Job is the best book in human history because it makes us realize that shit just happens.
That’s right — it doesn’t matter whether you paid all your taxes, give to the homeless, and treat everyone around you with respect. Bad things will happen to you. You will suffer. And that fact of life is inevitable no matter what you do.
Job teaches us that this notion of karma does not exist. Good things do not happen to you because you’re a good person and you do good deeds. You should gain validation from doing good deeds themselves, not from the transactional nature of God or the universe paying you back.
I wish that everyone didn’t have to suffer, but we often suffer in ways that make no sense whatsoever. And that’s why Job speaks to all of us in far better ways than any other book of the Bible does.
Why do good people suffer, we ask? Why, if we’re good people that don’t hurt anyone, do we suffer?
I know that some of my students ask these questions as the core of their pain and disillusionment with the world. And I don’t have any answers or explanation for how they could have their parents not in their lives at a very young age, or why they were given up to a foster home. There are some situations where there is genuinely nothing you can do, no good explanation for why things are, and just a sense of powerlessness that cannot be transcended.
Job teaches us the life lesson that there are no life lessons. Again, shit just happens, to the best of us, to the worst of us. Sometimes, the most morally depraved people in the world win and have great fortune, people who kill, steal, and profit off the suffering of others. At the same time, other people who help the poor, treat people with respect, and go out of their way to comfort their friends can often be afflicted with bad health and extreme suffering.
Shit just happens. There’s no natural order to it. You can believe that God preordained for all of it to happen, but it’s hard to acknowledge how much sense it makes.
In Job, there are no answers for why Job suffered. The best answer we can give as readers is simply that God had a fickle game with Satan where he wanted to prove Satan wrong, all at the expense of ruining a man’s life.
Job’s friends had answers and explanations — and they were that Job must have done something terribly wrong and deserve it if he had such bad circumstances. And we all know people like this in real life, or are these people in real life, that think that if someone is not doing well, they must deserve it.
Well no one deserves to suffer. No one deserves to have cancer. No one deserves to witness genocide to their people, and no one deserves to be treated with abuse.
Why do these things happen? No one knows. No one has the answers.
But the answer for sure is not that someone deserved it — as Job’s friends thought. The best thing Job’s friends did was comfort him and listen, before they got on their high horse and thought that they were much more righteous than them because their children still lived and they still had means.
The world is organized very randomly. People get lucky enough to be rich, to be happy, but they are not special because they are. You may get jealous or feel that the world is unfair — because it is. The pieces fall in a way that no one can control or preordain, and Job is the book that teaches us that the natural order in the world is disorder, a world where shit makes no sense.
What can we do with the book of Job? How can we proceed? Why is it in fact the best book in human history when it is so depressing?
Job helps us accept the world as is. We don’t have to be necessarily happy about it, but Job is an indictment of all of our explanations of why the world is what it is, and a confirmation that no one knows anything. We don’t know anything. We don’t have any of the answers.
So what do we do?
Perhaps Job tells us that what we do is just live instead of seeking all the answers. We may have a meteor crash down on us, and that’s something we’ll never be able to control. Likewise, we might nonchalantly win the lottery, and it’s not because we’re smart and savvy — but rather because we were in the right place and right time and got lucky.
The world is a random world where no one has control, no one can predict the future, and no one has any answers for why things are the way they are.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, struggle and toil, but that evil does not spare any prisoners.
The fact that God restores Job’s riches at the end is confusing. I have heard people say that Job is special because he never wavers — but he does. He starts to regret his birth and existence and he does not always cry kindly to God. God challenges him more than He did anyone else, and Job reacts like even the best of human beings would.
What Job knows towards the end is that God is incomprehensible, so in colloquial terms, that he doesn’t know anything and he doesn’t have any answers for anything. God, when He says, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” really means “shut up, you don’t know anything.”
The God of Job is right, too — we don’t know anything besides the fact that in life, we’re going to die, we will pay taxes, and, as an addendum, we will suffer. And we won’t ever know why. We just know that that’s the way life is, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.
And also in Job, God is childish. He has some beef with Satan and wants to prove Satan wrong, so he inflicts a massive amount of pain and suffering on his most loyal follower. What kind of leader does that? Only a God that functions a lot like a human.
Job’s friends are the voice of reason — and yet they are condemned. God never gives a reason for Job’s suffering. And we, as such, will also never find a reason for our suffering.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t find our own in our own experience as we live through the absurdity of life. As Kierkegaard, one of my favorite philosophers once said,
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to experienced.”
So experience life and live trying to make sense, but being at peace with the fact that things make no sense. There is no order — only the order we ascribe, and even then, we must take a step back. And we must not condemn the people who are suffering, unlike Job’s friends, because our answer isn’t the unquestionable answer.
God just wanted to show off to the devil — maybe the explanation for life’s suffering may be as trivial as that. And that’s why Job because of all the nonsense and confusion it throws us into, is the best book in human history.
Originally published on Publishous on Medium on May 25, 2020.