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Kushner's Interpretation of the Book of Job

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If someone were to have approached me, even a year ago, with questions about the meaning of the Book of Job, I would have likely answered something to the tune of “a comprehensive treatise on the purpose of suffering in the life of the good.” Indeed, considering the atmosphere of extreme suffering prevailing nearly every moment of the book, coupled with God’s apparent approval of the entire occasion, one can easily sympathize with the ubiquity of interpretations seeking to make sense of this counterintuitive depiction of Yahweh, a God who seems to claim unequivocal goodness, allowing, and possibly condoning, extreme chaos to befall His most loyal follower.

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From one of our most trusted spiritual advisers, a thoughtful, illuminating guide to that most fascinating of biblical texts, the book of Job, and what it can teach us about living in a troubled world. The story of Job is one of unjust things happening to a good man. Yet after losing everything, Job—though confused, angry, and questioning God—refuses to reject his faith, although he challenges some central aspects of it. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner examines the questions raised by Job’s experience, questions that have challenged wisdom seekers and worshippers for centuries. What kind of God permits such bad things to happen to good people? Why does God test loyal followers? Can a truly good God be all-powerful? Rooted in the text, the critical tradition that surrounds it, and the author’s own profoundly moral thinking, Kushner’s study gives us the book of Job as a touchstone for our time. Taking lessons from historical and personal tragedy, Kushner teaches us about what can and cannot be controlled, about the power of faith when all seems dark, and about our ability to find God

Rigorous and insightful yet deeply affecting, The Book of Job is balm for a distressed age—and Rabbi Kushner’s most important book since When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

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First must be considered what is lost if Job is not communicated clearly and well. In his book entitled Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey reflects on a conversation with a friend: “As I brooded over our conversation, . . . I kept returning to three large questions about God that seemed to lurk just behind the thicket of his feelings

The longer I pondered them, the more I realized that these questions are lodged somewhere inside all of us (Cf. Daniel J. Estes, 2013). Yet few people ask them aloud, for they seem at best impolite, at worst heretical.” Yancey goes on to say that the three questions no one asks aloud are “Is God unfair?” “Is God silent?” and “Is God hidden?” Educational theorist Elliot Eisner speaks of the null curriculum, those subjects that either intentionally or unintentionally are not taught. Eisner contends that “what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach . . . because ignorance is not simply a neutral void; it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problem.” Relegating the book of Job to the null curriculum by neglecting to teach and preach it systematically, the church in effect is conceding that this biblical text is not relevant to life today. This regrettably leaves men and women in the twenty-first century without God’s answers to their unspoken but nagging questions, and as a result they have inadequate theological resources to face the inexorable contemporary challenges to their faith. Furthermore, it misses the opportunity to help people to know God more fully. As Job 28, the literary integrative center for the book,24 demonstrates, humans by their ingenuity and intelligence are not able to discover wisdom, but only the omniscient God knows the way to the wisdom that evades human discovery. When Yahweh spoke to Job in chapters 38–41, challenging him to answer seventy unanswerable questions, Job came to the realization of his own limitations before the omniscient Lord. Because humans are limited in their knowledge and understanding, they like Job must learn to trust the Lord for what they do not and cannot comprehend. Brown notes well, “By provoking issues and questions as forcefully as it does, Job leads the reader to self-discovery and, thereby, to knowledge of God of a different sort (Elliot W. Eisner, 1985).

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In the final analysis, this book returns me to the issue that I believe I was put on earth to deal with, the question of what kind of world we live in. Is it a world designed to sustain and reward goodness, a world in which God is clearly on the side of the virtuous? Or is it a morally blind world, a morally neutral world in which events happen because they happen, with no deeper meaning? The rain falls equally on the fields of honest and dishonest farmers; malignant tumors afflict charitable and selfish people without distinction

Or is there perhaps a third dimension to our search for meaning—where the fable and the poem fit together—beyond the question of “Why did this happen to me?”

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Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job,” 394.

Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 230.

Elliot W. Eisner, The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 97.

Cf. Daniel J. Estes, “Job 28 in its Literary Context,” JESOT 2.2 (2013): 151–64.

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