Why does God restore Job?

As a young boy, I watched my grandmother die from cancer. I remember vividly her hair slowly falling out from chemo, her body emaciated as it succumbed to the disease, and the nurse comforting me as I crumpled into a ball outside the door where she took her last breath. I remember even more vividly her singing “Amazing Grace” and speaking about God’s faithfulness during the whole ordeal.

It took decades to understand what my grandmother was teaching me those last few months of her life: humans are humans and God is God. Our place is to trust him, not to try to be him.

The book of Job teaches us the same lesson. Why does God restore Job? I won’t bury the answer: God is God and he does what he wants. He wants to restore Job. This is what the entire book drives at. Job’s restoration rests completely on God’s sovereignty and nothing Job (or anyone else) does.

When we reach the book’s final eight verses—after more than 41 chapters of dense poetry—we’re at risk of missing this point. At first read, we may think the book of Job is about suffering. This theme does play a significant role in Job’s narrative, but ultimately Job’s suffering and the long diatribes about what causes suffering, who should experience it, and how to avoid it are just vehicles to deliver the book’s larger theological message.

The real issue Job, his friends, and we today must face is that humans cannot control—or even influence—God.

Job Doesn’t Deserve Suffering

We know Job is a sinner (Rom. 3:23), but the book’s prologue sets readers up to be shocked at what unfolds, for it introduces Job as “a man of complete integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1, CSB). Verse 3 recounts Job’s enormous wealth and seems to imply it results from Job’s uprightness—an interpretation consistent with the blessings for obedience described in God’s covenant with Israel (Deut. 28:1–14).

Job isn’t privy to God’s assessment of his character or the conversation between Yahweh and the adversary in chapter 1. But his primary complaint throughout the book is that he doesn’t deserve to suffer as he is because he’s committed no sin to provoke such an exacting punishment. Job’s friends, on the other hand, argue his suffering is proof he’s being punished for some sin. Readers know Job is right, but as he, his friends, and we will discover, that isn’t the point. The point is both Job and his friends are operating with a wrong view of God.

There’s a faulty presupposition underlying both Job’s insistence he doesn’t deserve to suffer and his friends’ insistence he obviously does: that humans can control through our actions whether God blesses or curses us. It’s true, as Deuteronomy 28 and even New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 11 make clear, that God does have categories of reward and discipline that are related to a person’s choices. But the parties in the book of Job assumed more than this.

They had a mechanistic view of the relationship between suffering and sin, blessing and obedience. They assumed blessing is always a reward for obedience and suffering is always a punishment for sin. Conversely they assumed that obedience always results in blessing while sin always results in suffering. Such a view reduces God to a cosmic candy machine that can be manipulated through the right sort of actions. This elevates humans and lowers God. That’s why Yahweh rebukes Job’s friends and why Job must repent.

Job Doesn’t Deserve Restoration

The book of Job ends where it began—recounting Job’s enormous wealth and many children, which are clear markers of blessing (Deut. 28:1–14). It’s as if the author flashes a smile and offers readers the posttest. Perhaps the audience can be forgiven for thinking Job deserved the blessings he received in chapter 1. But will the error persist? Have we gotten all this way and still don’t understand? Or, having read of Job’s ordeal and Yahweh’s incredible self-revelation, will we agree with Job that God is free to do whatever he deems good and right in His infinite wisdom and justice?

Chapter 42 doesn’t explain God’s restoration of Job. Job certainly repents for talking out of turn: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5–6). And yet the book still holds Yahweh responsible for the evil done to Job: his friends “showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (42:11, emphasis mine). We know from other Scriptures (e.g., Gen. 31 John 1:5James 1:13) that Yahweh doesn’t cause evil, but this passage and others (e.g., Amos 3:6) make it clear God is sovereign over evil and uses it for his purposes. It’s part of the mystery of God that humans can’t unravel.

Yahweh doesn’t explain his reasons for “all the evil” he brought upon Job. He offers no rationale for why he “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12). He just does it, and to interpret the book’s ending as dependent upon Job in any way runs against the grain of the preceding narrative, especially against how Job interprets his encounter with Yahweh.

When we finish reading Job, we still have questions about suffering and God’s purposes in the world, but it’s at least clear an experience of blessing or cursing isn’t an appropriate way to measure a person’s righteousness. God is free to bless or curse as he sees fit.

By Russel E. Meek / Why Does God Restore Job? (thegospelcoalition.org)

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