A God-ward Orientation: Insights for Spiritual Formation from the Book of Job

Humans enjoy neither pain nor waiting—much less their combination. Whether the prolonged strain of ‘the problem of pain’ (with a nod to C.S. Lewis) forges or frays the divine-human relationship has much to do with one’s disposition towards the God responsible for it and, consequently, what response one adopts. This paper explores these issues via the book of Job’s portrayal of how its eponymous suffering protagonist progresses towards restoration of relationship with God. Not aiming to be merely an abstract theodicean treatise, the book of Job’s perspective on living as a God-fearer in the context of suffering is instructive more broadly for what kind of disposition fosters (and is fostered by) spiritual formation.

Engaging with Joban scholarship, particularly in relation to Job’s literary structure and theological themes, I advance the argument that this biblical book depicts Job as having a God-ward orientation and seeks to cultivate the same in its reader. The paper begins with a discussion of Job’s fear of God as depicted in the prologue (Job 1–2), considering how the interiority of Job’s relation to God is emphasised and how Job’s exceptional case is applicable to other God-fearers. Then moving into Job’s protracted exchanges with human interlocutors (Job 3–37), the paper describes how the literary structure and rhetorical strategies of this section build a sense of longing for God’s voice to break the impasse. When God at last evaluates Job and his friends in the divine whirlwind speeches (Job 38–41) and epilogue (42:7–9), respectively, God’s appraisal of the preceding torrent of verbiage reveals that God esteems Job’s dogged persistence in pursuing encounter with God, as one who speaks to God. The paper concludes with reflection on how the God-ward orientation commended by the book of Job proves salient for Christian spiritual formation which occurs in the context of a long, hard wait for the coming of the Lord (cf. Jas 5:11).