Job and Genesis do not seem like they belong together.
The two books have different authors, different contents, and different literary styles — variances that seem validated by how far apart they are located in the Old Testament. Genesis is part creation poem, part proto-history, and part ancient history. While Job is the tale of how one man clung to his faith amid existential misery. In a way, Job is both ancient and ever new, speaking in a particular way to our discontented time.
As strange as it may seem to say that, the parallels, once you go looking for them, are quite striking, despite the obvious differences. Here are a few of them:
■ Paradise to poverty. Both begin with man in a state of abundance, from which he experiences a tragic fall. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden. Job is a wealthy man with thousands of livestock and a “very large household,” making him “greater than anyone in the East.” Adam and Even sin and are banished from paradise. Job experiences a series of calamities that claim the lives of his children and wipe out his wealth.
■ Satan is the main antagonist. In both accounts Satan is the main adversary. In Genesis, he tempts Eve. In Job, Satan is the cause of Job’s many misfortunes in an effort to also tempt him.
■ Both involve court-like dramas. In Genesis 3, God’s interrogation of Adam and Eve has the feel of a cross examination of witnesses. Job constantly seeks to plead his case before God (see Job 13:3, 13:8, and 23:4).
■ Both concern a quest for knowledge. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Job also is seeking a kind of knowledge — the knowledge of the origin and purpose of things, what we call wisdom (see, for example, Job 28).
■ Both confront the problem of evil and suffering. The problem of evil is a dominant theme in both accounts, which offer different yet complementary perspectives. Genesis 1-3 addresses moral evil as something introduced into the world through man’s faulty exercise of his free choice. Moral evil leads to punishment through suffering — man’s labor and woman’s labor pains in giving birth. Job picks up on this theme of suffering, seeing it as something we must accept from God (see Job 2:10).
■ Both deal with the question of death. Ultimately, the early Genesis account ends in an explanation of death as man’s final punishment for sin. Again, Job takes this fact as a starting point, seeing death as both a relief from the miseries of this life (Job 7:15) and a potential risk of sinful man encountering God (Job 13:15).
While both Job and the early chapters of Genesis overlap in thematic content, Job has the added advantage of speaking particularly to our times (which is not to say that Genesis 1-3 are not relevant!). Today it is hard for us to imagine man in a state of paradise. We see a world in poverty — whether the literal poverty of much of the Third World or the moral and spiritual poverty of the West. Our world is one so broken that we cannot even begin to imagine what a world where everything is right would look like.
Enter Job. This book meets us in our misery. It takes as its starting point the reality of suffering and death and man’s fundamental desire for justice and knowledge.
At the same time, Job contains one of the most challenging messages of any in Scripture. People looking for easy answers and simple solutions should look elsewhere. This is after all a book that begins with the hero asking why we should not accept adversity as well as good from God (Job 2:10) and reaches its climax with God rebuking Job for presuming to think he could ever comprehend God’s mysterious ways (see Job 38).
Perhaps the comfort of Job is not so much in cut-and-dried answers — there aren’t really any of them anyway — but in the compelling and authentic way the hero of the book struggles with the questions. Job accepts the reality of suffering without brushing it under the rug or dismissing it as a temporary hardship soon to be alleviated by a health-and-wealth-providing God.
While it is true that Job’s fortunes are restored at last, the message of the book hardly depends on it. In the end Job promises no neat and tidy answers on the problem of evil. It does not hold out much hope for man’s enlightenment. It does not say that his quest for justice—as least as he defines it and understands it—will ever be satisfied.
Job promises neither health, nor wealth, nor happiness, nor knowledge. Instead, Job promises us only one thing: God Himself — a God in whom we must trust ‘though He slays us.’