For a number of years, I went to work several days a week in the Iowa State Capitol building. As I ascended the stairs to the floor where the legislative chambers met, I passed right under a magnificent mural. Some of the most important moments I spent at the capital, actually took place in rooms behind that great painting.
I often think of the Bible as a grand mural. Like the mural in the Iowa Statehouse, the Bible portrays a series of events, some literally, some symbolically. In the Iowa Statehouse, everything on that grand mural represents someone or some idea in the history and development of the state of Iowa.
In the Bible, each book contributes to the grand story of the plan of salvation. Beginning with Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, it moves through the flood, and then the patriarchs to the children of Israel, from exile to Exodus. In the Promised Land, it first tells of the conquest, then the time of the judges, and eventually the beginning of the monarchy.
After only three Kings reigned over all of Israel, the kingdom splits into the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom is conquered, and the 10 tribes dispersed, never to be heard from again. The southern kingdom struggles on for a time, and then it also is conquered and taken captive.
After decades of captivity, a remnant returns to Jerusalem. Four hundred years of silence follow. With the birth of Jesus, of the line of David, a new champion arises. But this one not only confirms the covenant with the remaining Israelites, he inaugurates a new Israel, as represented by the 12 disciples, one for each of the tribes.
And finally, we come to the church, the new Israel, the children of faith. We follow the early history of these people, and then we’re showed the future, prophecied in the final triumph of Jesus, the reunion of all those who had trusted in him with him, in an Earth made new, where sin and sorrow no longer exist.
In my mind’s eye, this is a magnificent panoramic mural. It contains not only the history of peoples and individuals, but also a record of prophecy, of deliverance, of repeated saving acts by God for his people. And then there are the psalms that celebrate these great actions, and wisdom literature like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, and some of the epistles of the New Testament, explaining how God’s people should live kingdom life on this earth. A continuous theme of God interacting with his chosen people — first a family, then a nation, and finally a church — all linked together.
It may well have occurred to you by now that I have left out one book in particular — the book of Job. Job does not seem to be part of that great mural. If Job was related in any way by blood to the Israelites, we are not told of it. He does not live in Israel. There is no mention of Temple or tabernacle or Sabbath. The book of Job seems totally unconnected to the rest of the books that make up our Bible. And yet — and yet it is and always has been included as a part of the Bible.
So we have this riddle. Somehow, Job is related to the great mural that is the Bible, but we don’t know how. The book of Job is part of the picture, but unlike all the other books, it cannot be found in the picture.
At the same time, tradition tells us the book of Job is very old. For a long time, scholars considered Job to be the oldest of all the books of the Bible. Not, obviously, in the events it portrays, but in its date of authorship. I am aware that some modern scholarship considers it to be a much later book, but I find it personally unconvincing. And although tradition is not definitive evidence, it is evidence. It tells us what people have thought for a very long time. Tradition is not always right, but it often contains a good deal of truth.
So what are we to do with this riddle? This very old book which is somehow part of the grand picture of the history of salvation, and yet we cannot place it anywhere within that history, within that grand picture.
My conclusion — and it is only mine; I am certainly not inspired — but my conclusion is that the book of Job serves as a frame around the picture. A picture frame is part of the picture, but it is not in the picture. A good frame defines, focuses, and brings out important features in a painting. And it seems to me that is how the book of Job functions with relation to the rest of the Bible.
As a frame for the plan of salvation portrait, it tells us that there is more at stake than just what is happening on Earth. It tells us that even though God will never forsake us, and he wishes to bless us, and he certainly wishes to bless those who serve him, nevertheless, sometimes terrible privations and suffering come upon the righteous.
In every story, from Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the garden, to the Seven Last Plagues, the story of Job defines, focuses, and informs us of what is going on. In some ways, Adam and Eve are, like Job, casualties in this Great Controversy going on between God and the Satan, The Accuser. Yes, they chose. But they did not originate the sin. That had grown unbidden in Lucifer’s heart. He had wanted to be “like God.” And that is the forbidden fruit he offered Eve.
The Flood, and the suffering of the patriarchs, and the slavery in Egypt — the frame of the book of Job surrounds every story, reminding us that there is a greater conflict of which we are only a part.
I said that this doctrine we call the Great Controversy is one of the reasons I choose to be a Seventh-day Adventist. And it is, because it gives an explanation for the otherwise unexplainable problems of human suffering. Why innocent children contract terrible diseases; why the lives of godly people are sometimes cut short; why, as a famous book title has said, bad things happen to good people. This doctrine of the Great Controversy helps an otherwise senseless world makes sense. And that, it seems to me, is a great gift.