JOB – An Interpretive Challenge

The book of Job has been a wild ride. It’s no wonder that it’s rarely taught in churches! No doubt you’ve been confused at times and you’re not alone! I find this book to be confusing as well.

Job is part fable and part poetry with some theology, anthropology, and sociology sprinkled throughout. You’ll also find lessons about friendship, suffering, power, creation, and much more. So, what are we supposed to do with Job? Is there a right way to interpret it?

These are some of the questions we’ve been trying to answer throughout the series. Another way to look at this is to ask where the limits lie. That is, what are we not supposed to do with the book.

Here are a few items to start with:

  1. Try not to draw your theology (understanding of who God is) from a single book of the Bible alone; and certainly not from a single chapter or verse in a single book. If the Bible is all (or part, as some people believe) of God’s revelation to humanity, we should consider it as a whole as much as we can. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on the entire Bible before drawing conclusions, but it does help to have a grasp on some of the themes threaded throughout.
  2. Try not to draw your anthropology (understanding of who people are) or sociology (how people interact) from a single book, verse, or chapter alone. The same concepts above apply here. Moreover, we’re experts on the human experience because we ourselves are humans. That isn’t something to lord over someone else or meant to make us myopic; it is a privilege that should be stewarded carefully. What I mean is, it’s OK to bring your own experiences to the text. In fact, I think it’s impossible not to! Just be careful not to manipulate the text mean something that affirms or validates a behavior or belief that you held prior to coming to the text. Let the Bible speak for itself.
  3. Remember that Job is fable and poetry. These are genres of literature that can’t be interpreted the same way we would history, as an example. Try to interpret the fable parts like you would a parable with a moral or a point to be considered. Try to interpret the poetry like you would a song lyric, not exhaustive on any particular issue but giving abstract voice to something you have felt or experienced.

All of that said, would you believe that there’s more than one way to interpret Job? GASP! I know that could sound like a postmodern concept or like a shift from orthodoxy for some of you. A mentor of mine used to say repeatedly that we have “the freedom to think within the bounds of Scripture”. He meant that Scripture doesn’t just spoon feed us the answers to life’s questions. At best, Scripture provides the ropes of a boxing ring: it creates parameters but also space to move around and grapple with different ideas.

Throughout this series you’ve heard different interpretations on the book of Job. You’ve probably agreed with some and disagreed with others. That’s great! It means you are thinking critically about the Bible and about your life. Our hope is to guide through that process of critical thinking in a way that helps you navigate the real life experiences you are having every day. We’re not here to spoon feed you all the answers. Rather, we hope to introduce you to the way of Jesus and allow that way to be what guides you through your day-to-day experiences.

CLICK HERE to catch up on our homilies throughout this series. JOIN US over the next few Sundays to hear more on this wild and perplexing book!

–Nathan Hoag

Parish Pastor, The Sacred Grace Englewood