Many have tried to justify the existence of God in light of all the evil in the world.
The Book of Job–uniquely refreshing among Bible books in its honesty–makes it clear that the monotheistic God character is not a moral example and is not a good tool to help explain the existential state of mortals. The monotheistic God idea creates many more problems than it solves. I recently had the pleasure of reading the Book of Job. Here are some notes of interest about it.
The “Holy Ones”
The book twice makes mention of “the holy ones” (5:1, 15:15), and contrasts them with mortals (which means that these “holy ones” are immortal). This indicates that the authors of the Book of Job were still polytheists, but they considered the Canaanite chief god El Shaddai (with whom Abraham believed to have made a pact) to be the supreme deity among many.
The text mentions the various lands that the four mortal characters mentioned in the Book of Job were from: Taman is associated with Yemen, for instance. Job himself was from the “land of Uz”–which is part of Aram elsewhere in the Bible. If Job was Aramean, the “holy ones” to him would have been deities like El, Ashtarte, Baal Hadad, Shamash (Sun), Nin (Moon), Anat, and others.
God Makes a Pact with Satan
The first time I heard of the idea that God had made a pact with the Devil was from Iaakov Malkin, author of Epicurus & Apikorsim. The relevant passage is Job 1:8-12. It shows Satan tempting God’s ego and succeeding (Job 2:3), as a result of which Job lost all his animals, sons and daughters, and most of his slaves, and later even his health–yet Job still praises God (1:21). This is not a matter of atheist interpretation of the text. In the text, God plainly and clearly admits that he was not just tempted, but incited by Satan, and God admits causal responsibility for his unjustified tyranny (“without any reason”):
“And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” – Job 2:3
The Book of Job is an example of existentialist philosophical literature. In some ways, it reminds me of Arjuna’s depression in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, when he realizes he must kill his family members and tells Krishna that he does not wish to fight. The Gita treats Arjuna’s turmoil as a “yoga” because it leads to his spiritual questioning.
“I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” – Job 3:26
Job curses the day of his birth (3.1), and wishes he hadn’t been born (3:11). He hates his own life (10.1), doesn’t understand why he was born (10.18) and wants god to kill him (6:8-9). His depression and suicidal ideation are expressed throughout the text (7:15-16).
Furthermore, the Book of Job makes a connection between exploitative labor / wage slavery and depression / existentialist angst, or meaninglessness. Job compares this life to hired labor (7:1-3), which contributes to making life senseless or alienating.
Since Job is blameless, he cannot accept the idea that he is being punished for some sin, or that suffering is punishment (10.2), which makes his pain unbearable because it makes no sense. As a result, Job can’t sleep, and the thought of death makes him anxious and bitter, which contributes to life’s meaninglessness (7:4-11).
You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! – Job, speaking to his “friends” in 13:4
The Book of Job places before our eyes the psychological abuse and humiliation that characterizes primitive (and, often, modern) monotheism. In fact, the book’s role seems to be to persuade worshipers to praise their divine wrong-doer in spite of the admitted moral problems implied in this.
Job has four “friends” who offer him advice in the text. I place the word “friends” in quotes because they all engage in “blame-the-victim” behavior (8:4), although from the get-go we see that Job was blameless and was scared of his god (1:1), and that his god behaves like a cruel bully.
In Job 4:7-8, Eliphaz the Temanite denies that god is unjust, and claims that everyone gets their karma, but his apologetics fail. He attributes many legendary and miraculous deeds to God, which are easily explained today as natural phenomena, or dismissed as mythical.
Later, Bildad the Shuhite appeals to “ancestral knowledge” (8:10-13) when he argues that that the godless are made to perish, but this is not true. All creatures perish, religious or atheist, and death is natural and has nothing to do with how pious we are. Furthermore, we are deeply aware that “ancestral knowledge” is wrong about many things, even if it mixes legitimate observations of nature into faulty interpretations of them.
But these apologetics do not work, by the admission of the God character himself at the end of the book, who tells Job that, out of all that has been said, he was the only one who spoke truthfully about the nature of God. This includes the assertion that “the wicked” (or “the godless”, as they are indistinguishable for some reason even in this text) live their lives in peace and prosperity (21:7-14). This is a commentary on the practice by men of God of celebrating when something evil happens to their enemies (22.19). Here, there is no vindication of good over evil whatsoever (21.23-26).
Here is where the indictment of monotheism as a philosophical failure is most clear. If there is only one God in charge of both all the good and all the evil in the cosmos, then this renders him useless as a moral guide. In order to be all things to everyone, God must be viewed as amoral, but this is not what is claimed of him in inherited tradition.
“For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.” – Job 5:18
Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me catch my breath but would overwhelm me with misery.
It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it? – Job 9:16-18, 22-24
“Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked?” – Job, in 10:3
The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure— those God has in his hand. – Job 12:6
I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. – Job 30:20-21
It’s no surprise that Job is depressed, if we consider what he believes about his god, about whom Job “cannot speak up without fear of him” (9:35). This means that he is restraining his expression, and makes us wonder the extent to which the authors of the Book of Job were openly atheists amongst themselves. This is one other reason why the Book of Job is fascinating: I have a suspicion that at least some of the authors of this one Biblical book were atheists.
But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy a person’s hope. – Job (referring to his god), 14:18-19
If there are multiple gods and they’re all equal in power, some good and some evil, this at least protects the reputation of the good gods and makes it easy to blame the evil gods. But here, God is almighty and his power can’t be resisted, yet he falls for the Devil’s temptations and endangers mortals “without any reason”. And since he is a power-hungry and worship-hungry, and needs constant appeasement, this renders him positively a bully. Throughout the book, God is a violent, dangerous and cruel character. He not only experiences anger, but (like one who never reached adulthood and moral maturity) does not know how to restrain it (Job 9:5-10, :13)
“Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?” – Job 9:4
Perhaps this is the reason for Jesus’ accusations in John 8:44:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – Jesus, in John 8:44, speaking to a group of people identified as “the Jews”
From an Epicurean perspective, the Book of Job is a work of impiety. It accuses God of so many cruelties and crimes, that he’s indistinguishable from a demonic figure (Job 16.9). Job tells God’s advocates: “Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?” (13.7), as this seems to be what is required to defend God.
The Book of Job is the most honest (and possibly the only) treatment in the Bible of how harmful the idea of the God character is. It’s a great existentialist and philosophical work. Its authors are the most anti-theist of all the Bible book authors–and in fact this book is being read today as atheist literature by many ex-Christians. It’s possible that some of the authors or sources of the book were atheists, even if they were scared of going too far in their criticism of their god idea. This makes Job unique in the Biblical canon.
I close this essay with Epicurus’ Trilemma, which is actually of unknown origin, but which beautifully and clearly articulates many of the problems that the Book of Job uncovers.
If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?