Job was a righteous man who had it all, that is, until Satan was given full access to Job to test his faith. At his lowest moment–without family, health, or home–was Job blessed or cursed? Simple answers are simply inadequate. It is obvious that Job was blessed in the beginning and end of the narrative, but it would be radically counter-intuitive to say that he was blessed in his bleakest moment. Nevertheless, there is something disconcerting about saying that a man who is righteous before God is cursed. What, then, shall we say?
Job in Context
Job is part of the biblical corpus called “Wisdom Literature.” Proverbs outlines the way to a good and wholesome life. Ecclesiastes points out the complexity of life, the importance of appreciating subtleties, and the need for humility. Job is sometimes categorized as a theodicy–a defense of God’s character–but I believe this misses the book’s central focus. Job is about the limits of human judgment and God sovereign ability to bring about the greatest good from the gravest evil. We cannot judge God, ourselves, or others based on the state of our circumstances. Job’s friends, except for one, assumed he was guilty of some terrible sin against God for such great misfortune to befall him. Sometimes Job opposes their interpretation, but there are moments when he is convinced of this same assumption. Job cannot think of what he has done against God, but he must have done something to deserve this. Job’s thought-process eventually leads him to conclude that God is being unjust in allowing him to endure such suffering.
When God appeared to Job, His response was not so much “I’m big, you’re small, so shut up and don’t ask questions!” It was, rather, “How dare you presume to think you are in a place to judge cosmic events?” Just because a person is “well-off” does not mean that they have favor before God. On the other hand, just because a person has a hard life does not mean it is God’s wrath or judgment. These are not sure indicators of God’s favor or indignation. Ultimately, we cannot judge what God decrees or permits because we do not have a God’s eye-view of the world.
Favor or Blessing?
Although Job had favor with God, even while he was suffering, is favor the same as blessing? I think a distinction should be made. Favor refers to a disposition, while blessing refers to the effect that normally follows favor. In a fallen world, however, God’s true disposition is not always evident from temporal effects. Bad things happen to good people, and the wicked sometimes enjoy the spoils of injustice. People are purified through trial and God’s glory is revealed when great evil gives way to a greater good which triumphs over the former.
Sometimes apparent curses are blessings in disguise. On the other hand, apparent blessings are merely the bait above the pitfall. Still, sometimes evil befalls good people without any apparent rhyme or reason. When God allows Satan to torment Job, God does not curse Job directly, but it certainly seems that God allows Satan to curse him–even to the point of welcoming it! Job had favor with God, but during his time of trial it would be inaccurate to say that Job was blessed. Job was quite cursed, in fact. How should this be understood?
The Righteous is Cursed
Job is not the only righteous man we see who is cursed undeservedly. Indeed, Job is an Old Testament type of Jesus Christ. Jesus was righteous, without sin, but became a curse for us upon the cross (Gal. 3:13). Just as Satan antagonizes Job, the ancient serpent “bites the heel” of the Son of the woman–as foretold in Genesis 3:15. God allows Job to be cursed in order to shame Satan, resulting in Job’s glorious restoration. Similarly, by allowing Satan to curse Christ, the devil is shamed and overcome by way of the glorious resurrection. Job and Jesus are both vindicated by the Father when what Satan has taken is restored with interest.
Job as Humanity
Job is not only a type of Christ, but an eponymous representative of humanity. Satan accuses Job of only blessing God because God places a “hedge” of protection around him (Job 1:10). A hedge is a fence made of shrubbery. Job’s stellar life is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Mankind, like Job, was upright and enjoyed God’s “hedge of protection.” For some reason, however, the serpent is given access to the primordial couple (Gen. 3), just as Satan is given access to Job (Job 1).
Adam’s fall was in his presumption that he was capable of “knowing good and evil” as God did, deciding for himself what was right and wrong (Gen. 3:6). Job had a similar presumption in thinking that he knew how things ought or ought not to be for him (Job 32:6 & 7). God contended with Adam in the garden (Gen. 3:10-21). God also contends with all of mankind as seen by the flood and the tower of Babel (Gen.6:17-19, 11:5-9, & 12:1-3). God contends with Abram and Sarai (Gen. 16), Jacob (Gen. 32:22-32), and the Israelites (Ex. 27:1-7) even as He contends with Job (Job 38-41). After contending with Job, God restores him to an even greater state than that which was lost (Job 42:10-17). This parallels the biblical hope for the Age to Come. God will restore Adam, but not to a garden. God restores mankind to a New Jerusalem, a precious city (Rev. 21).
We see in Job a story that parallels the biblical narrative of the human condition, while also bearing witness to the Messianic hope. Job is not merely an individual example with whom we can identify as individuals. Job is us–the eponymous embodiment of the human collective; but he is also a Messianic figure whose accursed state is what God uses to shame Satan. Humanity’s renewal is tied up in the renewal (resurrection) of Christ. The redemptive suffering of the accursed righteous culminates in a greater glory.