Reflection on Job 42:1-6
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Reflection on Job 42:1-6
(October 11, 2009)

In most Christian translations, this passage describes Job recanting after challenging God’s right to cause Job to suffer. The reader knows that Job, who had been described as a righteous man, was a victim of great suffering, similar to countless humans and animals through history. Job had lost his sons, his fortune, and his health. He maintained that his treatment had been unjust, but his uncharitable friends asserted that Job must have somehow deserved his suffering. They told Job that he must have sinned against God, though Job (and the reader) knew otherwise.
Job’s “friends” treated him as a scapegoat. They could not believe that God would allow a righteous man to suffer, so they cruelly accused him of wrongdoing, despite having no evidence to substantiate their claims. They needed to scapegoat Job to convince themselves that Job, not they, deserved such misery.
Job, convinced that he had been treated wrongfully, demanded an explanation from God. Job was determined to assert his innocence, even if doing so might prompt God to kill him (Job 13:15). God eventually responded to Job but never fully explained why Job had suffered such misfortune. God asserted his power and majesty but did not contradict Job’s claims of innocence and unjust treatment. Nevertheless, after God declares God’s power and greatness (but does not explain why God made Job suffer), traditional Christian translations vindicate God by having Job declare, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6) Jack Miles (A Biography of God) disputes the notion that Job has recanted his claim of innocence.
Miles notes that Job has maintained his innocence throughout his ordeal, and God has failed to meet Job’s challenge to either demonstrate Job’s sin or admit that God had mistreated him. Therefore, it does not appear that Job needed to recant. Miles takes issue with this Christian translation of Job 42:6. My Jewish Bible translates Job 42:6 as, “Wherefore I abhor my words, and repent, Seeing I am dust and ashes.” To my reading, Job, recognizing his limited, mortal perspective, regrets challenging God, but Job does not recant. Therefore, the book of Job illustrates how people readily scapegoat innocent individuals to preserve their own notions about God and God’s will.

How does this apply to vegetarianism and animal issues? A rather popular – and self-serving – belief is that God cares about the welfare of humans much more than that of other creatures. While the Bible describes Adam’s “dominion” over creation, there are many stories and passages that relate God’s concern for nonhuman beings. Nonetheless, many Christians are convinced that animals were created for the purpose of human consumption. While it is likely that a taste preference for animal flesh has influenced such views, I strongly suspect that many Christians have closed their hearts to animal pain, suffering, and death in order to maintain a view of God that endorses humanity’s exploitation of animals and that God desired animal sacrifices (a disputable conviction). Similarly, Job’s friends hardened their hearts and added to Job’s suffering in order to maintain their notions about God.

Go on to: Reflection on God and the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:10-11
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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