A Reflection on Job, Satan, and Suffering

Our first reading is Job 1:1, 2:1-10.

Who is Satan? In Job, Satan isn’t who we think they are. In the Hebrew text that our English translation comes from, Satan isn’t a proper name. Satan is a title (“the Satan.”) A better translation would be “Accuser” or “Adversary.” In Job, Satan is like a prosecuting attorney. God gives this divine being, this angel, the job to investigate wrongdoing and bring it to God’s attention. In Job 1:7, God asks this accuser what they have been doing. The Accuser has been traveling the earth, seeking out things to bring to God. God points Job out to the Accuser. The Accuser claims that Job, if all that he has is taken away from him, will eventually curse God to God’s face (1:11). The parameters of the game are set and the Accuser is given the power to make Job’s life miserable.

Why does God let this game take place? This is one of the harder questions from the book of Job and is a question the book doesn’t answer. To me, the book of Job isn’t a historical book. Instead, it’s a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. The Lutheran Study Bible shares that Job is tackling questions about the suffering of innocents, where God is in our suffering, and what kind of world we live in.

The vast majority of the book of Job is a dialogue between Job and three friends. His three friends come to console their friend in his suffering but also to tell him why he is suffering. Job’s friends do not know about the game between God and Satan. Instead, they assume that Job did something to deserve what happened to him. But he didn’t. Suffering came to Job. The dialogue they share is the conversation we all share when senseless suffering happens to us or our family members. We sometimes know why we or others suffer. But there are times when something sudden, like an illness, disease, or tragic accident, just happens. Like Job, we wonder, “why?” And, in the end, we’re left with a mystery that even the book of Job doesn’t fully explain.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 6/05/2016.