The Book of Job takes up the age-old questions about human suffering: whether suffering is the result of sin and whether God causes people to suffer. Like ancient tragedies that use clearly defined characters making passionate speeches to address deep questions about the meaning of life, Job challenges the traditional theological wisdom that God will always reward good and punish evil, and that the righteous will prosper and those who do evil will suffer retribution. The title character's experience in life tells him that it is not that simplistic, and he rejects the too-easy explanation proffered by his friends that suffering is always the result of something one has done to deserve it.
As the story opens, Job is an upright and prosperous man who suddenly suffers a series of horrendous personal and family disasters that leave him childless, destitute, and diseased. He knows, however, that he has done nothing to deserve all this suffering, and he is convinced that the traditional theological explanation does not apply to his situation. The main part of the book is a series of speeches, all in good Hebrew poetry, that form a dialogue between Job and his “friends,” three pious elders and one fiery youth, who are convinced that Job must have done great evils to have suffered so much. But Job insists on his innocence, and asks God to look at things from his human viewpoint (10.3-7). Job contends that he has not deserved any of this and challenges God either to judge him or put an end to his miseries. Throughout the long dialogue Job holds fast to his innocence, while his friends constantly press him to confess to evils.
In the last several chapters God does finally respond to Job's challenges, and addresses Job from out of a whirlwind. God does not directly answer Job's perplexing questions, but with a long and brilliantly poetic description of the divine wisdom and work evident in creation, God declares to Job that mere human beings will never be able to grasp the ways of God. The fact that in the epilogue God does vindicate Job's position and reject the arguments of the friends does, however, indicate that the traditional wisdom about suffering as deserved retribution does not adequately explain all kinds of suffering. The lengthy poetic dialogue (3.1—42.6) is “framed” by a prologue and epilogue, both in prose. In the prologue, the reader learns that Job's suffering is being set up by Satan as a test (with God's assent) of this man's renowned faith. In the closing epilogue Job is restored by God to his earlier condition (and more), and God reprimands Job's friends for their inadequate theology. Job is finally vindicated for his steadfast faith, his insistence on his innocence, and his belief that God is so much greater than a mere distributor of rewards and retribution.
Prologue: Intrigue in the Heavenly Realm (1.1—2.13)
Job Dialogues with His Friends about His Suffering (3.1—31.40)
Elihu Speaks to Job and Job's Friends (32.1—37.24)
God Responds to Job and Job Replies (38.1—42.6)
Epilogue: Job Is Vindicated and Restored (42.7-17)