Lets face it, we all have those friends who try to cheer us up when things aren't going right but clearly just don't know what to say. They resort to cliché quotes that we could have spared them the energy by googling ourselves and they reference biblical texts that just aren't exactly… reference-able, if you will.
These overused quotes and biblical references tend to originate from the biblical book of Job, which starts off with Satan challenging God that Job will not remain faithful if God takes away everything that Job has (Job 1-2). Instead of completely turning against God, Job decides to trust that God's plan for him is greater than his own plan (Job 42:1-6). In the end, God gives Job everything he took away from him and more (Job 42:10-17).
This story of Job sounds like a pretty sweet deal—as long as you stay faithful to God, he will reward you in the end. However, a closer examination of the text leaves many unanswered questions that contest the legitimacy of using Job as a source to comfort those in pain. If God was able to take away all of Job's grief and sorrow for the children that he lost, why can't he do the same for us? Why would God let all of Job's children suffer and die when the story was only supposed to be on Job's suffering? The only answer to these questions is that the parable of Job is simply just a parable.
In his poem "Homily", Dan Pagis writes about this clash between God and Satan that has Job at the spotlight. He illustrates how "the forces were unequal" and "the contest was unfair" ("Homily"). He searches for the answer of what the most terrible thing was in the story of Job. He ponders different options, but comes to the conclusion: "But in fact, the most terrible thing of all is that Job never existed and was just a parable" ("Homily"). While the entire Christian population is telling us that our struggles are going to be okay and using Job as a primary example, Job is merely a story told to teach a lesson. Which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad realization for those who look to this text for support.
In "On Parables", Kafta explains what people mean when they use parables: "When the sage says: 'Go over', he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place…he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least." Parables are not meant to be taken literally, but to give insight and wisdom. Kafka continues, "All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already" ("On parables"). Parables are only meant to teach us lessons and influence how we act; they are not a true story. So, why is Job interpreted so literally? What is the point in making up a parable to prove a point when the story is not even true in the first place? And, most importantly, why do people keep using the following statements to make us feel better when they are derived from just a mere parable?
1. “Everything happens for a reason. God knows what he is doing, trust Him.”
2. “God only makes our struggles as tough as we can handle.”
3. “God always rewards us in the end. Just have patience.”
4. “Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That’s just the way it is.”
5. “God is just testing you.”
6. “God uses our struggles to shape our character. It makes you grow closer to Him and trust Him.”
7. “God knows what is best for us and keeps our best interests in mind.”
But, in the end, none of it matters because Job is still simply just a parable.