4. Tozer’s Jesus ‒ 4. The Revelation of God


What is the essence of God’s message to us?

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered that question guided by the fourth chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “The Revelation of God.”

Tozer opens his consideration of the question by quoting and commenting on “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). He observes that, although when the writer of Hebrews wrote this God had been speaking in many ways for some 4000 years, most people were alienated from Him and that that situation might have continued. However in His love and wisdom God spoke again‒this time through Jesus, His Son‒and completed His revelation in the Old Testament.

The chapter contains two sections besides the introduction: “God’s Message in the Past” and “God’s Message to Us.” We considered each of them and then discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. I’ll summarize each of the sections, present the Reflect questions, and note some of what we said about them.

God’s Message in the Past

Hebrews was written to confirm Jewish Christians in their faith in Jesus, the Messiah-Saviour, showing that he is superior to angels, Moses, and the Levitical priests. It lets us know that while our Christian faith grew out of Judaism it isn’t dependent on it. Thus if Judaism should cease to exist, Christianity would continue to stand, resting on the same living, speaking God that Judaism rested on.

Tozer emphasizes the uniformity and yet ever-widening elements in God’s spoken messages in the past from His speaking in early Genesis of a warfare between the serpent and the Seed of the woman to His giving the Law to Moses and telling of the coming Prophet who would be like him but superior to him. Between them Tozer notes God’s messages to Abel and Cain, to Noah, and Abraham.

God’s Message to Us

To us God says, “Jesus Christ is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Tozer, Jesus, page 42). But many don’t want to hear what God is saying to us through Jesus. Why not? Because, according to Tozer, God’s message in Jesus is, as it is throughout the Bible, a moral pronouncement. He quotes in this regard what Jesus said in John 12:47-48: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

Fundamental to human morality is acceptance of the sovereignty of God and of His last word to us, Jesus Christ. We may not like what Jesus says about us and our sin but, as Peter told Jesus in John 6:68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Tozer concludes:

This is the Savior whom God is offering. He is the eternal Son, equal to the Father in the Godhead, co-eternal and of one substance with the Father.
He is speaking. We should listen! (Tozer, Jesus, page 45)

Reflect Questions

1. How is it that divine revelation, whether from the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, is always the same?

We found the question ambiguous because it could mean “Why is the divine revelation always the same?” or could mean “In what way is the divine revelation always the same?” If it means the former, the answer would be that the three Persons of the Trinity are always in full agreement with each other. If it means the latter, the answer would be, according to Tozer, that it points to Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin that he would bring.

2. What is the essence of God’s message in Jesus?

Again we had two answers. One was that it is that we came from God and must return to Him by admitting Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour. The other was this quote from Tozer, “Jesus Christ is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Jesus, page 42).

3. Are there any ways in which you have tried to get a “second opinion” about |Jesus or His message?

All of us said that we hadn’t tried to get a “second opinion” about Jesus or his message. However we appreciated this answer to the question in a discussion by the Hunter Family Bible Study group at Facebook: “Tozer said we shouldn’t try to get a ‘second opinion’ about Jesus and His message. To me, each time I read what other Christians say about the Bible, I am getting a second opinion.”

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Tozer’s Jesus ‒ 3. Creator, Sustainer, Benefactor

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

What is the glory of the Son?

Thursday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered that question guided by the third chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “Creator, Sustainer, Benefactor.” We began by proposing answers to the question and reading the introduction to the chapter.

Our proposed answers included Jesus’s miracles and his glorious appearance on occasion. In introducing the chapter Tozer asserts that the glory of the Son is “the truth that God has never done anything apart from Jesus Christ” (Jesus, page 31) and that this includes not only his being Lord and Saviour but also his being Creator, Sustainer, and Benefactor.

I observed that most commentators on John 1:14 note that in other places John identifies the glory of the Son with Jesus’ signs or miracles (2:11) and with his death and resurrection (13:31). I also observed that although John doesn’t describe the transfiguration, some commentators speculate that he is thinking here of it.

The chapter contains three sections besides the introduction: The Same God, Beholding His Glory, and Of His Fullness. We considered each of them and then discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. I’ll summarize each of the sections, present the Reflect questions, and note some of what we said in discussing the questions.

The Same God

Tozer opens the section by quoting part of John 1:17, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” He goes on to observe that in referring to the passage he isn’t employing a contrast between the Old and New Testaments, explaining:

The idea that the Old Testament is a book of the law and the New Testament is a book of grace is based on a completely false theory. There is certainly as much about grace and mercy and love in the Old Testament as there is in the New. There is more about hell, more about judgment and the fury of God burning with fire upon sinful men in the New Testament than in the Old. (Jesus, page 32).

Tozer devotes most of the rest of the section to illustrating grace in the Old Testament and law in the New Testament. His point is:

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. The Father in the Old Testament is the Father in the New Testament. Furthermore, the Christ who was made flesh to dwell among us is the Christ who walked through all the pages of the Old Testament. (Jesus, page 32)

However in the middle of the section Tozer admits that there is a contrast between what Moses could do and what Jesus could do, explaining:

All that Moses could do was to command righteousness. In contrast, only Jesus Christ produces righteousness. All that Moses could do was to forbid us to sin. In contrast, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. Moses could not save, but Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior” (Jesus, page 32).

Beholding His Glory

Tozer opens the section by observing:

The apostle John speaks for all of us also when he writes of the eternal Son and reminds us that we beheld his glory. It is right that we should enquire, “What was this glory? Was it the glory of His works?” (Jesus, page 34)

Then he refers to several of Jesus’ miracles, beginning with his turning water into wine and concluding with his raising the daughter of Jairus.

He closes the section by asserting:

The works of our Lord were always dramatic works. Always they were amazing works. We wonder if John had these things in mind when he said, “We beheld his glory,” bu I think not. I think John had a much greater glory in mind. We can never know all of the wonderful works of healing and mercy that Jesus performed while on the earth, but we should fix our eyes on His glory, which was far greater than the miracles and works of wonder. (Jesus, pages 34-35)

Of His Fullness

Tozer opens the section by referring to John 1:16, “And from his fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace.” He goes on to explains that this doesn’t mean that any of us has received all of God’s fullness. Instead “[i]t means that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, is the only medium through which God dispenses His benefits to His creation” (Jesus, page 35).

Tozer devotes the second half of the section to a thought that he had one day, “it could have been easy for God to have loved us and never told us” (Jesus, page 36). After quoting John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known,” he continues:

The eternal Son came to tell us what the silence never told us. He came to tell us what not even Moses could tell us. He came to tell and to show us that God loves us and that He constantly cares for us. He came to tell us that God has a gracious plan and that He is carrying out that pl\an. Before it is all finished and consummated, there will be a multitude that no man can number, redeemed, out of every tongue and tribe and nation. (Jesus, page 36)

Reflect Questions

1. What implications does Christ’s lordship, as Creator of the universe, have for your life? We said that it implied that we should put Jesus and his will first in our lives.

2. Does knowing that Jesus is the same God as the God of the Old Testament change your perception of God the Father? Our answers varied, my saying that it made me see God the Father as more compassionate.

3. If there is no opposition between the Old and New Testaments, what does that say about the relationship between the Father and the Son? We said that if there is no opposition between the Old and New Testaments, then the Father and the Son are in agreement with each other.

4. How have you received grace from Jesus? In what ways does Jesus want you to receive His grace in your life right now?

A. W. Tozer’s Jesus – 2. God’s Express Image

What is God like?

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered that question guided by the second chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “God’s Express Image.”

Tozer opens the chapter by pointing to Hebrews 1:3 as providing the ultimate clue as to what God is like. The verse begins, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (ESV).  “He” is God’s Son (1:2), Jesus, and thus tells us that Jesus is the glorious light of God and the exact representation of His character. In other words, Jesus is what God is like and, as Tozer concludes, we no longer need to ask, “What is God like?” Note that while Tozer claims that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” affirms that Jesus is God, I think that it just says that Jesus is the spitting image of God (the Father). However, I certainly agree with Tozer that Jesus is God.

The chapter contains five sections besides the introduction. We considered at least a part of each section and then discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. These are the parts which we considered:

(Convinced about Christ) Bible-believing Christians … may have different opinions about the mode of baptism, church polity, or the return of the Lord. But they agree on the deity of the eternal Son. Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father‒begotten, not created (Nicene Creed). In our defense of this truth we must be very careful and very bold‒belligerent, if need be. (page 23)

(God Became Flesh) When we say that Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, we are saying that Christ is the shining forth of all that God is. Yes, He is the shining forth, the effulgence. When God expressed Himself, it was in Christ Jesus. Christ was all and in all. He is the exact representation of God’s person. (page 25)

(God’s Express Image) The words express image, of course, have their origin in the pressed-upon-wax seal that authenticated a dignitary’s document or letter. The incarnate Jesus Christ gives shape and authenticity to deity. When the invisible God became visible, He was Jesus Christ. When the God who could not be seen or touched came to dwell among us, He was Jesus Christ. (page 26)

(Religions Have No Answers) Often enough we have been warned that the morality of any nation or civilization will follow its concept of God. A parallel truth is less often heard: When a church begins to think impurely and inadequately about God, decline sets in. (page 29)

(Jesus Is What God Is Like) God’s revelation of Himself is complete in Jesus Christ, the Son. No longer need we ask, “What is God like?” Jesus is God. He has translated God into terms we can understand. (page 30)

These are the Reflect questions along with a summary of what we said in our Life group discussion of them:

1. What does it mean that Jesus reflects God’s glory? After we proposed various answers to the question, I noted two possible answers given by Tozer in the chapter: “Jesus is of one substance with the Father–begotten, not created” (page 23) and “Christ is the shining forth of all that God is…the exact representation of God’s person” (page 25).

2. Does knowing that Jesus is the express image of God change the way you view God? Although all of us felt that our studying the chapter hadn’t changed the way that we viewed God, we agreed that knowing that Jesus is the express image of God gives us a clearer picture of what God is like.

3. How in your own search for God might you have forgotten what He is like? We didn’t think that our search for God made us forget what He is like. However I suggested that possibly in trying to analyse God we might lose track of what is important about Him.

A. W. Tozer’s Jesus – 1. The Self-Existent God

Yesterday evening our church’s small group which meets in our home held its second meeting for 2017-18. In its first meeting, held a week earlier, we talked about our plans for the year, which I summarized as follows in a handout to those attending:

Welcome to the first meeting of our Life group for 2017-18. The group meets in the home of Bob and Leonora Hunter, 1 Brown’s Heights, at 7:00 every Thursday evening. The main part of each meeting is the study, which Ray Noble and Bob alternate in leading. Ray leads it in a Voice of Martyrs’ study and Bob leads it in a Bible study (see the next paragraph). Singing led by Leonora precedes the study, and prayer for needs and a lunch follow it.

In Bob’s turns in leading the study we’ll work through Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017). The book contains seventeen selections from Tozer’s writings on the person and work of God the Son. Its aim is to encourage us to recognize Christ for who He is and to daily submit to Him as Lord and Saviour. It can be obtained at Religious Book and Bible House.

Bob plans to share the study at his blog, Bob’s Corner. The morning after we study each chapter, he’ll summarize the chapter and our discussion  of the reflection questions asked at the end of it. Previous studies by our group which Bob shared at Bob’s Corner are Ephesians 6:10-20, The Problem of Pain, Prayer, Pentecostal Doctrine, and the Parables of Jesus. See https://opentheism.wordpress.com/category/our-life-group.

The first chapter of the book is called “The Self-Existent God.” Its text is John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word … “ and it is divided into four parts: an introduction, “God Does Not Need Anything,” “Before Creation,” and “God’s Eternal Love,”

The introduction observes that although everything around us has a cause, if we could somehow go back in time before creation we would come to a point where there was nothing but God: “God‒self-sufficient, uncreated, unborn, unmade‒God alone, the living and eternal and self-existent God” (p. 11). It emphasizes that compared to God everything else is insignificant and that He doesn’t need anything from us.

“God Does Not Need Anything” develops the idea that God doesn’t need anything we have, His having created us and thus not depending on us. If He did, He wouldn’t be omnipotent, sovereign, omniscient, or self-existent, all qualities that we recognize Him as having. The section also brings out that pre-creation wasn’t a void, the triune God’s being there and already making redemptive plans for us.

“Before Creation” refers to Ephesians 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:2 to show that the acts of creation in the beginning weren’t God’s first activity, His choosing and foreordaining us before creation of the world. In connection with this Tozer refers to an item that he wrote called “We Travel an Appointed Way,” noting that in it he was just saying that our heavenly Father goes before us and not that God foreordains everything. He then considers the beginning involved in creation‒matter, space, time, and spirit, the last so that there might be creatures who were conscious of God Himself.

“God’s Eternal Love” reiterates that God doesn’t need us and points out that as a result only we lose if we choose not to follow Him. However even fallen and hell-bound people are dear to Him and so He offers them salvation. Tozer concludes, “God made us for Himself: that is the first and last thing that can be said about human existence and whatever more we add is but commentary” (p. 20).

The compilers of the book ask three Reflect Questions on the chapter. Here they are along with a summary of what we said in our Life group discussion of them:

1. How would intentionally recognizing God’s eternal and self-existent nature impact the way you live your day-to-day life? Intentionally recognizing God’s eternal and self-existent nature would make us realize how insignificant we and what we do are compared to Him.

2. If God doesn’t need anything, then why did he create us? Tozer says that God created us “in order that there might be creatures conscious of God Himself.” We suggested that God created us to love and worship Him.

3. If God is eternal and unchanging, then what does that mean about His love for us? God’s being eternal and unchanging means that he always has and always will love us.

8. St. Augustine’s The Confessions

St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Roman Africa from 396 to 430, and the dominant personality of the Western Church of his time, is generally recognized as having been the greatest thinker of ancient antiquity. His mind was the crucible in which the religion of the New Testament was most completely fused with the Platonic tradition of Greek philosophy; and it was also the means by which the product of this fusion was transmitted to the Christendoms of medieval Roman Catholicism and Renaissance Protestantism. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, volume 2, page 364)

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached St. Augustine’s The Confessions. The eighth reading in the first volume of The Great Ideas Program,  A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, considers Books I-VIII of the twelve Books in The Confessions.

Adler and Wolff consider the nature and the theme of The Confessions and Augustine’s intellectual doubts, and discuss four specific questions about Augustine and The Confessions. Here I’ll sketch Augustine’s life and summarize what Adler and Wolff say about the nature and the theme of The Confessions and about Augustine’s doubts.

Augustine’s Life

Augustine was born November 13, 354, in Tagaste, a small town near what is now the eastern border of Algeria. While still a child he was enrolled by his mother as a catechumen in the Catholic Church. At eleven or twelve he was sent to a nearby town to study grammar and literature. He did so well that his father aspired to make a lawyer of him. In 370 he was able to go to Carthage to study rhetoric. While he was there, he fell in love with philosophy as a result of reading Cicero’s Hortensius and he became associated with the Manicheans (see “Augustine’s Intellectual Doubts” below). On completing his studies in 373, he chose to follow letters rather than law as a career. After teaching grammar in Tagaste for a year, he became a free-lance teacher of rhetoric at Carthage. In 383 he went to Rome in search of more satisfactory students. There he made connections which led to his being offered the municipal chair of rhetoric at Milan.

At Milan Augustine came under the influence of St. Ambrose and began reading the Neo-Platonists. As a result he decided in 386 to become a Christian (while in Rome he’d abandoned Manicheanism) and in the spring of 387 was baptized by St. Ambrose. In 388 he returned to Tagaste, where he sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and with a few followers set up a kind of monastery devoted to a life of prayer and study. However in 391 while he was attending church on a visit to Hippo, the congregation chose him to become a priest and, despite his protestations, the bishop ordained him. Even as just a priest he began his sermons on the Bible and his public disputes with African heretics.

In 395 or 396 Augustine was called to become Bishop of Hippo, a position which he filled for the next thirty-five years, defending and promoting the Catholic Church in northern Africa. As well he made his monastery into something like a theological seminary and continued to write. He began The Confessions shortly after becoming bishop and the completed work was published about 400. Other works that he wrote while Bishop of Hippo were On Christian Doctrine, On the Trinity, and The City of God (On Christian Doctrine and The City of God are included along with The Confessions in Great Books of the Western World). In 426 he arranged for his successor as Bishop of Hippo, and August 28, 430, he died.

My primary source for the above is the biographical note on pages v-vi of the volume on Augustine in Great Books of the Western World (volume 18; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952).

The Nature and Theme of The Confessions

Augustine’s calling this book his “confessions” suggests that it emphasizes misconduct by him, but it doesn’t. “Augustine does discuss his misconduct; but he is much less worried about his apparently quite considerable record as a libertine than he is about events which may seem much more innocent to us, such as his childhood theft of some worthless pears” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959, page 89).

Augustine omits many things from his account of his life and includes many things that need not be in an autobiography. “Not only are the facts chosen in such a way as to serve Augustine’s purpose‒clearly the praise of God‒but the facts are also interpreted in such a way that they seem to declare the glory of God, where another writer might interpret them altogether differently” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 89).

What is The Confessions about? In light of the above, Adler and Wolff answer that it is man’s relation to God as exemplified in Augustine’s relation to God. They cite as typical an event in Book I. Augustine fell seriously ill, his mother (a Christian) wanted him baptized, but Augustine suddenly recovered and the baptism was deferred. “We know, of course, that the rest of The Confessions is nothing but a continuation of this story: baptism tentatively resolved on and yet postponed again and again” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 90). Why did Augustine continually postpone baptism? Adler and Wolff present provide quotations from The Confessions that indicate that it was because he wasn’t ready to give up his sins. They conclude that a main theme of The Confessions is sin and man’s inability to overcome it.

Augustine’s Intellectual Doubts

[Augustine] has genuine intellectual doubts that need to be overcome before he can become a Christian. His first doubt is more a matter of pride than anything else. In his initial look at the Scriptures they seem to him to say lowly and simple things and not, for instance, to be comparable in their tone and manner with the writings of Cicero…. Much more serious and disturbing to him are his later doubts, which led him toward a materialistic conception of God and toward Manicheanism. (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 91)

Adler and Wolff go on to explain that Manicheanism was a religion which held that there are two equal principles in the world, one of good or light and one of evil or darkness. The two struggle against each other, sometimes one being in ascendance and sometimes the other. When the evil principle prevails, evil comes into the world. Adapted to Christianity, evil occurs in the world when Satan (the evil principle) prevails over God (the good principle).

However, the book of Job shows that Satan is inferior to God and can cause problems only when God allows him to. This seems to leave the problem of evil‒there being evil in the world when God is good‒unexplained.

Augustine’s answer to the problem is found in Book VII of The Confessions. First he considered the idea “that free-will was the cause of our doing ill” (St. Augustine, The Confessions, in volume 18 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 44). However Augustine found this idea unsatisfactory, thinking that if God made man of such an evil nature that he would will to do evil, God was ultimately responsible for that evil.

Augustine solved the problem by recognizing that evil is not a substance: “I inquired what iniquity was, and found it to be no substance, but the perversion of the will, turned aside from Thee, O God, the Supreme, towards … lower things” (St. Augustine, The Confessions, page 49). Thus evil consists not in choosing something intrinsically evil but in choosing a lesser good than a greater good, Adler and Wolff provide an example of this from Augustine’s own life:

He refuses to be baptized, because he prefers the pleasures of the flesh. Now these pleasures, having been instituted by God, are also good; but to prefer them to the good of loving God is, of course, in the Christian view, evil.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, pages 93-94)

However Adler and Wolff point out that claiming that there is no absolute evil amounts to saying that everything which exists is good. And they ask, “But does it seem correct that everything is good? Can dirt, disease, poverty, pain, crime, brutality, be interpreted as merely lesser goods? In what sense is pain a good? In what sense is disease a good?” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 96) What do you think?

6. Plutarch’s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached the sixth reading in the first volume of the latter, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff. It considers five selections (four biographies and one comparison) from Plutarch’s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.

In their guide to Lives Adler and Wolff illustrate how it is familiar to us and sketch Plutarch’s life, show why Lives is viewed as a book of moral instruction, and discuss four specific questions about Plutarch and Lives. Here I’ll just sketch Plutarch’s life and consider his purpose in writing Lives.

Plutarch was a Greek biographer and miscellaneous writer. Born in Chaeronea in Boeotia (an ancient district in east central Greece) about AD 46, he studied mathematics and philosophy in Athens and spent some time in Rome but lived for the most part and died in his native city (in AD 120). There he held both political and priestly offices. He had at least five children. Although his fame rests primarily on  The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, he wrote many other works besides it.

“Admired for their wisdom as well as for their information, his writings were long used as source books for anecdotes and moral exempla; they influenced the origins and development of the essay, the biography, and the writing of history; and it was from his Parallel Lives that the generally accepted images of the great historical figures of Greece and Rome were derived” (“Plutarch,” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, Macropaedia volume 14, page 578).

The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans contains 46 biographies of Greek and Roman heroes in pairs chosen for their similarity of character or career and generally followed by a formal comparison. Composed in Plutarch’s later years, it displays impressive learning and research. His aim wasn’t to write history, which he distinguished from biography, but to provide his contemporaries with model examples of behaviour. However “in the course of writing he discovered that more and more it was himself who was deriving profit and stimulation from ‘lodging these men one after the other in his house.’” (biographical note in Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, volume 14 in Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page v)

“Plutarch is not just an ordinary of biography. He is uniquely the writer of comparisons which give us the liveliest understanding of ancient Greece and Rome. The men he compares are the great ones of their day‒the great bad ones as well as the great good ones. In his parallel lives and comparison of Numa and Lycurgus, we have two great benefactors of mankind‒two lawgivers. In his treatment of Alexander and Caesar, we have two great conquerors and ruthless seekers after power. And, there presenting us with their parallel lives, he leaves the comparison for us to draw.” Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, volume 1 in The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959, page 64)

7. The Bible’s Book of Job

The book of Job portrays the struggle of its main character, Job, to understand why he, a “blameless and upright” man who “feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), had lost his possessions, children, and health. Both what happens in the book and what Job and others say about what happens are relevant to what is commonly called “the problem of evil,” why there is evil and suffering in a world created and ruled over by an all-powerful and good God.

I’m considering the book of Job here guided by the study of it provided by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff in An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, the first volume in Encyclopedia Britannica’s The Great Ideas Program (1959). Adler and Wolff divide their study into six sections: the book’s place in the Old Testament, its parts of the book, the problem that it deals with, solutions to the problem suggested in the book, a comparison of the book with Oedipus the King (considered in an earlier study in this series), and five specific questions about the book.

Here I’ll just share what Adler and Wolff say about the problem that the book deals with and the solutions to the problem suggested in the book and consider one of the five specific questions which they pose.

The Problem

Adler and Wolff open their presentation of the problem thus:

“The problem with which Job wrestles may be indicated by a very simple question: How are divine rewards and punishments allocated? Or, more agonizingly: why, in God’s universe, do the good sometimes suffer and the wicked prosper?” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, page 78).

They go on to demonstrate that there is no problem if there is no God, if God exists but is not always and in all respects good, or if God exists but is not all-powerful and conclude their presentation of the problem thus:

“We can see, therefore, that on the positive side the problem of divine rewards and punishments arises from the conception of one God, a God who is good, omniscient [all-knowing], omnipotent [all-powerful], and governs the universe. For such a God‒‒nd this is the God of the Old and New Testaments‒would be expected to reward the good and to punish the evil. Yet the daily experience of men shows that here on earth the opposite often appears to be the case.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, page 79)

Solutions to the Problem

Job’s three friends‒Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar‒solve the problem by claiming since that God punishes only the wicked but is punishing Job, Job must be wicked. Job denies that only the wicked are punished, showing that many of them prosper temporarily, and maintains his innocence (see especially chapter 31).

Finally God intervenes, speaking directly to Job. He makes two speeches, in the first enumerating the wonders of creation and in the second inviting Job to show his power. He then says to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Adler and Wolff comment:

“But what has God said? He said that he, Job, was just. This we know to be true, for we know that his punishment is not due to any transgression, but to God’s wager. [This is referring to God’s wager with Satan in chapters 1-2 of the book that Job would not speak evil of God even if God let Satan cause Job to lose his possessions, children, and health.] He has also said that God does not always punish the wicked; he often lets them prosper, but in the end he will cast them down.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, page 82)

But, as Adler and Wolff point out, this leaves Job and us wondering why God sometimes delays punishing the wicked and allows misery to happen to the just and leaves us wondering why God would engage in a wager with Satan. They add:

“If Job has spoken rightly, there is only one part of his last speech that can give us a hint: ‘Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know’ (Job 42:3). This confession of Job’s and man’s ignorance, of his inability to understand God’s ways comes, of course, after God’s speeches pointing to the many things that God can do and man cannot. They set the stage for this final admission of one more thing that God can do and man cannot: Govern the world.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, page 82)

A Question

One of the five specific questions which Adler and Wolff ask about the book of Job is, “How are God’s actions compatible with his goodness?” They answer:

“It may be that no man can be sufficiently good to deserve anything except punishment. But would it not be a surer sign of God’s goodness‒if not justice‒if God were to reward men like Job, who are as just as it is possible for men to be, rather than those who are clearly wicked?

“This is one of those shoals on which thought about God and his goodness always threatened to founder. Job did not understand the problem intellectually. Instead, when God speaks to him directly and shows him his own weakness and ignorance, he submits‒without understanding‒to God’s will (see 42:3).

“God’s providence, of course, extends beyond Job and his concerns. It takes in also his three friends; also Elihu [a young man who speaks between the conversation between Job and the three friends and God’s speeches to Job]; also Satan. Could it be argued that, at the price of the evil suffered by Job, good is brought into the world? That good might be the increased knowledge and humility of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and Job himself; and also the humiliation of Satan.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education, pages 84-85)

My personal response to “Could it be argued that, at the price of the evil suffered by Job, good is brought into the world?” is that although such could be argued, that doesn’t mean that all evil suffered by Christians occurs to bring about good any more than it occurs, as the three friends argued, as punishment for sins those Christians have committed. I think that it also occurs because of God’s allowing people to exercise free will and because of God’s allowing nature to take its course (feel free to ask me to expand on this). But how would you respond to Adler and Wolff’s original question and to their answer to it.

A few years ago the church small group which my wife and I attend studied what the book of Job says about the problem of evil. A report on our study appears at: https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/jobs-afflictions https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/god-addresses-and-restores-job/