Some would argue that the story of Job actually happened. There was a person named Job to whom a series terrible tragedies occurred and the book of Job accurately tells us his story. Some would say that Job is a thought experiment. It was written to explore the idea of how God is at work in the world. Some would say Job is most like a play or a drama about spiritual transformation. +
At this point there is no way to know for certain which idea is correct. But thinking about what the original audience thought they were reading when they read Job is something worthwhile to consider.
Certainly ancient people had serious and complex philosophical and theological discussions. We still read Plato and Aristotle, for example. And certainly ancient people read and wrote in a variety of genres.
Is it a problem for us, if Job isn’t historically true?
It’s a problem if you buy into scientism’s premise that truth consists only of facts and data. If truth is nothing but what we can measure, tabulate and verify, then the historicity of Job is crucial.*
If truth is more than facts and data, we can let the historicity of Job be an interesting question, but not a problem. If Job isn’t historically true – even if there was not someone named Job who had Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu for friends and to whom terrible disaster struck- his story rings true in a larger sense. We all know someone or have experienced something of Job’s situation for ourselves. Unexpected and explainable tragedy affects many of us. Or affects someone we know and love. We all have said to someone, what Job’s friends said to him. And we have had friends say those things to us.
Whether Job existed as a real person or not, we recognize his story. His anguish and his questions are real and honest and true.
What is truth?
Can a novel speak the truth?
Can a symphony speak truth?
Can a painting?
Was Job a real guy? I don’t know. In the most important ways, it doesn’t matter. The Bible is full of all sorts of literature and to think that Job may not have existed doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t exist. The book of Acts and the Epistles are different sorts of literature than Job. They each use different methods to tell us about God and how God is at work in the world.
Is God bound by the facts and data of our material world?
The Incarnation and the resurrection would suggest not.
We can find signs of God in facts and data, but God is not constrained by facts and data. The wonderful thing is that God is at work and present through all sorts of stories.
Surely God is present through history, but God is also known through poetry and epic tale. And through the wonders of nature and the universe.
Is Job real? I don’t know.
Is Job true? Yes!
I’d like to know, what do you think?
+ See the ongoing series on Job by RJS at Jesus Creed on Job as thought experiment and see Thomas G. Long’s What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, on Job as drama.
*We’ve tackled the issue of truth and what it is more than once on this blog. You may read the posts tagged “truth” if you are interested.