The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person

The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person

Part of the Jewish Encounter seriesFrom one of our most trusted spiritual advisers, a thoughtful, illuminating guide to that most fascinating of biblical texts, the book of Job, and what it can teach us about living in a troubled world. The story of Job is one of unjust things happening to a good man. Yet after losing everything, Job—though confused, ang...

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Title:The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person
Author:Harold S. Kushner
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Edition Language:English

The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person Reviews

  • Ben

    Beautifully written and thoroughly persuasive.

    I struggle with a world with such arbitrary cruelty, where innocent people are so unjustly punished.

    Kushner tries (and, to my mind right now, succeeds) to explain the impossible triad of: God is good; God is all powerful; and evil exists. He uses various and wonderful translations and different traditions.

    I loved this book and am relieved to finally have the words to say it.

    Em'as v'nihamti al afar v'efer.

  • Frank Roberts

    Five stars are not enough.

    Inspiring, moving, and erudite. I don't want to summarize how the author interprets the Book of Job, as that would deny the reader the essential experience of encountering the text of Job for themselves. Suffice it to say that Kushner's interpretation and commentary are the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying responses that I have encountered in regards to this most challenging and vital of Biblical texts. The Book of Job is all about the problem

    Five stars are not enough.

    Inspiring, moving, and erudite. I don't want to summarize how the author interprets the Book of Job, as that would deny the reader the essential experience of encountering the text of Job for themselves. Suffice it to say that Kushner's interpretation and commentary are the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying responses that I have encountered in regards to this most challenging and vital of Biblical texts. The Book of Job is all about the problem of suffering and evil, and relates directly to the very nature of our relationship with God. This book transcends theology--talking about God, and moves into the realm of religion--encountering God.

    Highly recommended.

  • Patricia

    This is not a book I wanted to read. It was sent to me by my good book friend, Carolyn Formsma, as she watched me struggle with the teachings of Job. "Uurrrrgh!" I thought, "Heavy going, not at all my thing."

    Except, as it turned out, it was. Rabbi Kushner pulled me in slowly. He has the creds to talk about personal tragedy, losing a son to bone cancer at an early age. He pulled me through Job, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, discussing the problems with translation, how the book

    This is not a book I wanted to read. It was sent to me by my good book friend, Carolyn Formsma, as she watched me struggle with the teachings of Job. "Uurrrrgh!" I thought, "Heavy going, not at all my thing."

    Except, as it turned out, it was. Rabbi Kushner pulled me in slowly. He has the creds to talk about personal tragedy, losing a son to bone cancer at an early age. He pulled me through Job, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, discussing the problems with translation, how the book actually turns to mush and gibberish in the late chapters, where you can't figure out who is really saying what - or why - and brings it all together in the end.

    It isn't all neat. There remain things to ponder. We don't always get it right when we contemplate the Great Creator and the Almighty God, and Rabbi Kushner has clearly done a lot of the pondering for us. He has some great illuminations of the text, and a lovely way of looking at the nature of God.

    Thank you, Carolyn. :-)

  • Bob Pearson

    This is a winter book or a book to read when time is a gift to savor. Go slowly, be patient, and think over every new thing that drops off the pages. Nothing creates a Wow moment, but all together the impact builds and builds. I never bend the tips of pages over in a book, and here I've done it fifty times. And each one is worth revisiting and rereading. Rabbi Kushner goes after the very question that every believer has to confront: why do bad things happen to a good person? Kushner goes further

    This is a winter book or a book to read when time is a gift to savor. Go slowly, be patient, and think over every new thing that drops off the pages. Nothing creates a Wow moment, but all together the impact builds and builds. I never bend the tips of pages over in a book, and here I've done it fifty times. And each one is worth revisiting and rereading. Rabbi Kushner goes after the very question that every believer has to confront: why do bad things happen to a good person? Kushner goes further, highlighting that in the Book of Job, three statements are deemed to be equally true: God is all-powerful, God is completely good, and Job is a good person. How can these statements be reconciled in light of what happens to poor Job? As the rabbi leads us to the answer he sees, he deals head-on with conventional wisdom of that time and this and surprises us with a response that is both comprehensible and clever. Whether you believe the answer is up to you, of course, but it's one I never thought of, and it's caused me to keep thinking about it. The other aspect I liked about the book very much was that Kushner approached his subject entirely from the perspective of a Jewish scholar of Old Testament text. This is scholarship to applaud. Now back to a few more of those bent pages!

  • Jon

    I read Rabbi Kushner's big bestseller thirty years ago, and I remember being a little disappointed. It is usually described as theodicy, a description which Kushner rejects: he says that would be

    Bad Things Happen to Good People. He was much more interested in trying to encourage and justify the most humane reactions to bad events, rather than trying to explain away how a good God could allow them to happen in the first place. I thought at the time his was an optimistic and encouraging view, bu

    I read Rabbi Kushner's big bestseller thirty years ago, and I remember being a little disappointed. It is usually described as theodicy, a description which Kushner rejects: he says that would be

    Bad Things Happen to Good People. He was much more interested in trying to encourage and justify the most humane reactions to bad events, rather than trying to explain away how a good God could allow them to happen in the first place. I thought at the time his was an optimistic and encouraging view, but mostly because he's a big-hearted, optimistic, charitable man, not because he had particularly convincing arguments. This is a much meatier book--focusing in detail on the Book of Job, analyzing it chapter by chapter with many references to the history of its interpretation. He explains in detail aspects of interpretation with which he agrees and those with which he doesn't, and he comes down very much in the same place that he did in his earlier book. But this time he gives somebody like me many more reasons to agree with him. This is a valuable book in a lot of ways, but it would be valuable to me even if its only contribution to my understanding was that large chunks of Job are very nearly unintelligible in the Hebrew. Translation and interpretation, even more than in most works, are everything.

  • Tom LA

    In this book, Rabbi H. Kushner offers an analysis of the Book of Job, one of the thorniest and most complex books of the Bible.

    While listening to Kushner's own voice narrating the audiobook, I discovered many interesting facts. For example, that the Book of Job is in fact in all likelihood a patchwork of at least 2 or 3 different works, written by different people in different times.

    Kushner doesn’t take the time to go verse by verse and explain what is being said – and I think that

    In this book, Rabbi H. Kushner offers an analysis of the Book of Job, one of the thorniest and most complex books of the Bible.

    While listening to Kushner's own voice narrating the audiobook, I discovered many interesting facts. For example, that the Book of Job is in fact in all likelihood a patchwork of at least 2 or 3 different works, written by different people in different times.

    Kushner doesn’t take the time to go verse by verse and explain what is being said – and I think that is a good thing, because a lot of the content of the Book of Job is just obscure, no one having any proof of what interpretation is the correct one or the best one. It's detective work without conclusive proof, like most biblical eisegesis. He aims at grasping the larger ideas – the main thoughts exchanged between Job and his friends, the purpose of God’s interruption, what conclusion are readers supposed to arrive at after finishing the book (in Kushner's opinion).

    Reflecting the most popular modern scholarly theory about the origin of the Book of Job, Kushner explains that the first two and the last chapter of Job are an ancient fable, while the "poem of Job" was added in the middle section by later scribes, and it is in this poem where the real depth of the book can be found. So, the earlier fable portion is comprising chapters 1, 2, and 42, and the longer middle, poetry chapters 3-41 came later as a more articulated commentary on the same topic of the presence of evil in the world.

    To add to the messiness of the Book of Job, I also learned that there's evidence of scribal editing to remove criticism of God. There are lacunae, and places where the Hebrew just doesn't make sense. There are a number of other places where the Hebrew words are clear but are very ambiguous. Even Job's very last (and critical) line is open to a wide variety of interpretation. So you really do have to know something about the assumptions of the translator before you can make any judgment at all of the version you're reading.

    I found this very interesting. This actually applies to most of the Bible's books: they are all so ancient and patched up, that they look like a very old house made of different parts built in different times, although still beautiful in its chaos.

    The value of Kushner's book is that he identifies various interpretations and explains why he favors or modifies the ones he does.

    One important consequence of the "two or more writers" view (very widely held), is that while Job sometimes seems to be viewed as the "baddie" of the story, because he doubted God and questioned God's work, in reality Job should be interpreted as a positive character, almost as a "hero", because he speaks out his heart honestly and respectfully, and in the end he is transformed by his encounter with God.

    The first time I read the Book of Job I was underwhelmed. Most of all, I found the final and most important part (the dialogue between God and Job in chapters 40 and 41) so confusing that it was impossible to relate to. In my first-read interpretation, it sounded like God spoke from the whirlwind to "bully" Job into submission, reminding him of His immense power, and telling him:

    "Erm... bitch, are you God? 'Cause last time I checked, I was God. Now shut up!".

    Kushner, on the other hand, believes that chapter 40 and 41 contain a very meaningful response to Job. I found his perspective on these chapters enlightening and fairly persuasive (no one really knows at the end of the day).

    He points out how God talks about Behemoth and Leviathan, saying how hard they are to handle, subdue and control, implying that even God struggles somewhat with what He has made. Kushner thinks these two mythological monsters could represent things like human passions and the randomness of nature/life.

    How can God be omnipotent and still struggle with these things?

    The theological angle that Kushner takes is this: he no longer thinks God is by nature limited in power (like he did at the time of his first writings 30 years ago), but rather that He decided to be self-limited in order to allow our world as it is to exist. So when natural disasters happen, it's not the doings of God, God isn't in the wind, the floods and the fire, instead He is in the gentle voice that helps us be resilient, respond, minister and help the needy.

    Here is a quote from the book's conclusion (God is speaking) : "I chose instead to make a world of challenge and response, a world in which humans would eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and have to make a hundred decisions every day as to what was the right thing to do, learning from their mistakes when they got something wrong. It would be a world with no shortage of problems, but a world blessed with great minds and great souls to solve those problems, to invent things, to discover cures, to create great works of art that can only be born out of great pain. And most important, I did not abandon this world when I finished making it. I was always here, comforting, inspiring, strengthening. Where do you think people would get the strength to overcome sorrow, to fight injustice, to heal the wounds of the body and soul if I were not there to infuse some of My spirit into them?"

    Another quote: "The difference between theology and religion is that theology is like reading a menu, religion is eating the dinner". This is not his, but a great one.

    And this one: "That is what you do with tragedy: you don't understand it or explain it, your survive it".

    Maybe a little slow with technicalities towards the middle, but the final part is truly excellent, and worth future re-reads.

  • R

    This book was very interesting for my situation. I found myself looking more into my Bible and highlighting points. However, as the book wend on, I began to feel lost. I personally felt more lost at the end of the text and needed clarification from some other spiritual works. Again, VERY interesting, just did not quite hit the mark for me.

  • Brian Whited

    I come to this book as a conservative orthodox Christian. Rabbi Kushner is obviously not. I do appreciate several insights he provides from the Jewish perspective. Being that the book was written by a Jewish author, there are several gems Kushner offers that many other authors might miss. In particular, his discussion of Job's appeal to Jewish law, which in essence ushers God in during the final chapters of Job was interesting. Kushner also has several practical and wise applications for those w

    I come to this book as a conservative orthodox Christian. Rabbi Kushner is obviously not. I do appreciate several insights he provides from the Jewish perspective. Being that the book was written by a Jewish author, there are several gems Kushner offers that many other authors might miss. In particular, his discussion of Job's appeal to Jewish law, which in essence ushers God in during the final chapters of Job was interesting. Kushner also has several practical and wise applications for those who are enduring suffering. His encouragement for people to freely express their anger at seeming injustice is often better than some of the cliche responses I've heard in church.

    Kushner's theology, however, is way off. Kushner desires a God that is not all powerful and sovereign. This enables God to be off the hook when discussing evil. I do not fully understand and I don't think we are fully meant to understand how God permits sin. I can confidently say God is not the author of evil, but he does permit it. I confess that there is mystery and difficulty with this doctrine. But what I can say and what Kushner cannot say is that one day because God is sovereign and all powerful will have the power and ability to destroy evil once and for all. Kushner's God limits himself from this ability and that is something I cannot grasp. Kushner also runs from evil found in man. He asserts that man is good. While I agree that all men bear the image of God, so to all men struggle against evil. Job was no different. Kushner runs away from the redeemer that Job himself cried out for. While he may charge that Christians read our theology into the text, the reality is that Christ, the Messiah is found throughout the Israelite canon. The book of Job is no different.

  • David Potter

    I guess a Rabbi would have a particular interest in the book of Job with its assumed focus on suffering. I thought he would also have a respect for it as divinely inspired. While the first is evident in Kushner's book the second is not. In fact, although the book reaches an inspiring end it rests on a foundation of sand. The author is so focused on suffering that he seems to me to miss the point of the book of Job altogether.

  • Aunt Edie

    Fascinating look at the book of Job from a Jewish perspective. Kushner is best known for writing

    . He is covering familiar ground here, writing about the problem of theodicy (if God is all-powerful and all-good, why do bad things happen). He combines those insights with a scholarly look at the text to provide an interesting reading of the book of Job. I don't agree with all of his conclusions but it was well worth my time to read this book. Lots of

    Fascinating look at the book of Job from a Jewish perspective. Kushner is best known for writing

    . He is covering familiar ground here, writing about the problem of theodicy (if God is all-powerful and all-good, why do bad things happen). He combines those insights with a scholarly look at the text to provide an interesting reading of the book of Job. I don't agree with all of his conclusions but it was well worth my time to read this book. Lots of food for thought.

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