The Book of Job: From An Immoral To An Amoral God

The God that Job had heard about from tradition is different from the God he experiences. He is not a God of justice but of absolute power, arbitrary and unaccountable to humans. In fact, God is silent on the question of divine justice. But the question of God’s justice is central to the Book of Job. If God wished Job to understand that his justice is beyond human comprehension, he never expresses it. If God wished humans to understand innocent suffering as a test of faith, why did he not say so? Would a benevolent God torment humans merely to test their faith?

See Also: Wrestling With God: Job Defends His Integrity (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015).

By James A. Colaiaco
Retired, New York University
Liberal Studies Program
November 2015

Click here for article.

Comments (7)

Is the teaching of the Book of Job on this showing that God should be congratulated for creating a being with the integrity that Job possesses?

#1 - Martin Hughes - 11/22/2015 - 21:05

Thank you Martin for your interesting question. God is not to be congratulated. God should be denounced, if not renounced. He is like an abusive father who does not deserve the righteous son he created and then horribly abused. I argue this in my discussion of the Epilogue to the Book of Job in my book, Wrestling With God: Job Defends His Integrity.

#2 - James A. Colaiaco - 11/23/2015 - 20:48

Is that the view you attribute to to the text itself? Are there signs of different views among different contributors to the text we have?

#3 - Martin Hughes - 11/27/2015 - 10:48

This is my rational inference from the text. Orthodox religious interpreters could never find fault with God. Nevertheless, the text makes clear that God is the cause of Job’s innocent suffering. Satan, the “adversary,” is merely God’s instrument. When God speaks from the whirlwind, he completely ignores Job’s innocent suffering. God was responsible for the deaths of Job’s ten children, for reducing Job to penury, and for afflicting him with a horrible disease. Indeed, God is more concerned with celebrating his own power than dealing with the question of justice. The suffering Job attacked God as arbitrary, malicious and tyrannical. Interestingly, according to Elie Wiesel, one possible meaning of the name "Job," is "where is my father?" In the end, God concedes that, unlike Job’s friends, Job “spoke the truth about me.” Contrary to the claims of many religious interpreters, there is no evidence in the text to support the notion of a loving God. I urge those interested to read the text critically and draw their own conclusions.

#4 - James A. Colaiaco - 11/27/2015 - 17:38

But I' still think it important to ask, from the point of view of the history of ideas, what the text is trying to say. Do you take the view that the rational conclusion, as that might appear to us, is the conclusion that the the original author or readers would have drawn? If so, we have an interesting phenomenon, a misotheistic text from the ancient Near East.
Might we pair it up with the misotheistic elements of Greek tragedy? Might there be some connection between them?

#5 - Martin Hughes - 11/28/2015 - 16:57

Your reading of Job mirrors that of a number of recent scholars. What astonishes me is that you largely ignore the relationship between the book and wisdom. This, I think, leads to a reading that is anachronistic (as Martin Hughes seems to imply above), producing an imposition upon the text of expectations that are foreign to it. Perhaps you address this more fully in your book?

Read against the backdrop of wisdom, ignorance is an important theme in the book, highlighted in Job 28, reiterated throughout the theophany, and emphasised in Job’s response to the theophany (Job 42:3). Even the prologue appears to contain a riddle in which the attentive reader becomes aware that there is more going on than meets the eye so that even the reader shares Job’s ignorance despite initially sharing the friends’ belief that they have true insight into the events that lay behind Job’s predicament. The book is not about innocent suffering — what good would that do? Who is like Job? The book is about human finitude and ignorance in the face of an incomprehensibly complex universe. God’s speech consists entirely of questions the sages could not answer. It is not so much a demonstration of power as a demonstration of wisdom and knowledge. In the face of inexplicable circumstances, the Book of Job makes the point that we simply cannot know enough to understand or question what God is doing. To conclude that God is immoral or amoral assumes that we can know enough to reach such a conclusion. And that goes against the repeated assertion of Job's author.

#6 - Martin Shields - 02/27/2016 - 03:18

It is generally believed that the bible presents a loving, caring, personal God who watches over us and has a plan for our lives. After all, Jeremiah 1:5 says "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Doesn’t this mean that God knew your life before you were born, and has a purpose for it? It's unclear. God set the character in the book of Jeremiah aside for a special purpose, but perhaps not for everyone. We see, for instance, a counter-example in the book of Job, where God had no prior knowledge of Job’s eventual suffering, to the extent that Satan moved God to give Job a suffering life that God had never even considered before Satan had caused him to do it. Job 2:3 says “And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou MOVEDST me against him, to destroy him without cause.” As Bart Ehrman says, it is hard to reconcile the idea that God has a plan for everyone's life when there are 2 year old children dying in cancer wards.

#7 - John MacDonald - 03/04/2016 - 19:53

Article Comments

Submitted by Ed Acker on Wed, 02/09/2022 - 09:54


Isn't the meaning of "love" in the Bible the same as "accepting". God accepts man as he trully is (i.e., loves) and acts accordingly?

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