When we read the book of Job, we read the story of a man in great distress who cannot figure out why his world is falling apart, given his righteousness. As a setup to the story, we are told that Job is, in fact, righteous. It is not imagined in his head. He is not one of the more than half of us who falsely believe he is more righteous than the average human being; he really is that righteous.
And yet, his children die, his crops fail, his livestock are gone, his body is covered in boils and disease, and he sits in dust and ashes and scratches himself with broken shards of pottery to try to ease the itch. His friends keep telling him he must be a sinner or God would not despise him like this, and Job defends himself; he is no sinner. (At least, he is no wicked man.)
But is there a wicked man in the story of Job? Is there something we have been overlooking every time we read this story?
As I was reading in Job this past weekend, these few verses in chapter 21 jumped off the page at me, as though I had never read them before. As though I had never caught what these words might suggest about Job's understanding of his situation.
As though these words would not at all change the way we read Job. (Spoiler alert: they actually might.) Here's what Job had to say:
You may say, 'God stores up a man's punishment for his children! Instead let him repay the man himself so that he may be humbled. Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the anger of the Almighty. For what is his interest in his home after his death, when the number of his months has been broken off? - Job 21:19-21
So is it possible there is a wicked man in the story of Job? Is it possible that that wicked man is...Job's father?
Remember, we're talking about a time when there was a general belief that the children would pay for the sins of the parents. For awhile, at least, the Old Testament tells us that children were punished to the third and fourth generation for the sins of the parents. The ancient world believed that wickedness simply ran in the family. And maybe we look at Job's kids (his first set of kids), for whom he so faithfully prayed, and maybe we see the family pattern in them - they liked to get together and party. The fullness of their deeds is not told to us, but Job worries about their conduct so much that he offers sacrifices and prayers on their behalf every time he hears about them getting together and engaging in stuff.
Could they have learned this from their grandfather? Could this be just the way that the Job family operates from generation to generation, all except for this righteous man, Job himself? Is Job...the black sheep of his family? Because he doesn't live like the rest of them?
Maybe Job watched his father his whole life and yearned for something better for the broken man. Maybe Job wanted his dad to be different. Maybe as Job sits in the dust and ashes of his life, he thought about how this might have changed his father. Or at the very least, been just in his father's case. Was it his dad who deserved this dust and ashes in which Job now sat? Is he again bearing the burden of his family, a burden that his own righteousness cannot get him out of? Is he the only one in all his family who bears this burden, as a father, we are told, and now, perhaps, as a son?
Remember - we know the whole story. We know the conversation recorded between God and the adversary. We know there is a spiritual war ongoing here, but Job doesn't. Does Job think that he is where he is not because of his own unrighteousness, but because of his father's?
It changes things.
We'll unpack a few more ideas related to this in the coming days. It's incredibly interesting to me.