In the second COVID-19 volume from the Stimulus journal, there’s another interesting article on Job and reception history. Nicholas List (postgrad student at Otago and intern at Grace Bible Church in Dunedin) dives into early church writers’ extracanonical interpretations of the book of Job for some insights on how to grapple with suffering in our present moment. I appreciated Nick’s point that reception history is an intimately pastoral endeavour. The “Job the wrestler” that early Christians pondered on is fascinating too. The more I think about all the back-and-forth between Job and his friends, the more it sounds like a couple of wrestlers duking it out in the ring! Some snippets below.
On Job the wrestler:
“Viewed in a different light, there is a sense in which Job’s athletic endurance can be seen as the struggle against the temptation to curse God in the face of tragedy.”
Should we approach our suffering in martial terms? According to early church writers,
“To see Job’s rent garments as both an expression of grief and preparation for combat is one way to faithfully negotiate the tensions of blessing the good Creator while living within a fallen creation.”
Reflecting on early writers’ embellishments on Job hoping for a resurrection:
COVID-19 has no regard for the gods of our society. Like Elihu in the Testament of Job, we may be tempted to mourn for the faded glory of these earthly thrones. Yet the early church reminds us that Job’s hope did not rest in the re-establishment of earthly thrones, but the inauguration of a heavenly one. Job’s hope in the resurrection reminds us that the true God has called us in Christ out of destruction to re-creation.
And an encouragement to look back to look forward:
“By reflecting on the pastoral applications and innovations of Job in the early church, we are better placed to reread scripture ourselves, continuing the deeply biblical practice of meeting the pressing issues of the present with insight from the past.”
I do wonder why these early church writers felt the need to play down the raw honesty of Job’s protests and to reimagine him as God’s defender against Satan (he’s plainly lamenting and protesting to God in the Hebrew text). Nick suggests it’s because these writers wanted to “mitigate the role of divine agency in probation” (i.e. let God off the hook for causing caused Job’s suffering). Job is not easy reading, and our tendency is to want to water it down or skip over it.
Anyways, it’s an interesting read. Go check it out! You can also read my own attempt at Job’s reception history here. I think there’s definitely more gold to be gleaned from this kind of study.