Have you ever seen a performance of Romeo and Juliet? Near the end of the play, Juliet takes a drug that induces a temporary, but deathlike, sleep, to avoid marrying a man she does not love. To add to the drama, her body is placed in a tomb. To all appearance she seems dead. But the audience knows better.
Romeo does not.
When Romeo finds Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body in the tomb, he thinks she’s dead. And, having lost his one true love and reason for living, drinks poison and kills himself. And for generations, audiences have silently cried out, “Don’t do it! She’s not really dead!” If only he knew what the audience knew!
That effect is produced by a literary technique called dramatic irony. That’s when the reader knows something the characters in the story do not, which then changes the way that you react to the story. Romeo and Juliet is even more tragic thanks to the use of dramatic irony.
The book of Job also uses dramatic irony to great effect.
The book begins by giving you, the reader, some inside information, unknown to Job himself. In the prologue, the author tells you what is really going on behind the scenes of Job’s terrible suffering. Namely, Job is a righteous man (Job 1:1), whom God has allowed Satan to test to find out whether Job truly fears God “for nothing” (Job 1:9). Crucially, you are told that Job is definitely not being punished or disciplined for sin. Job is innocent.
However, Job and his friends do not know that. That’s where the dramatic irony comes in.
The bulk of the book of Job is made of up speeches by Job and his friends. There they confidently explain why Job is suffering. The answer is he must be a sinner, being punished for his sins, and the solution is he should repent in order to be restored to prosperity.
Admittedly, if you had been there, sitting next to Job’s ash heap, listening to his friends’ pious speeches, you would probably had thought they were wise men who obviously had a deep knowledge of the ways of God.
Instead, thanks to the “bird’s eye view” given in the prologue, you experience the speeches with dramatic irony. Despite their confidence, you know the friends actually have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re wrongly accusing Job. Instead of helping, they’re hurting. “He’s innocent!” you cry out. The wise men are actually fools!
What’s the lesson?
One important take away is this: the reason why you know more than Job and his friends is that you have the Word of God and they didn’t.
If all you had was reason, tradition, experience, and the presumption of personal revelation from eerie spirits, you’d be just as clueless as Job and his friends. You might be confident. But clueless.
Instead, you have the advantage of Scripture—books like Job itself.
Of course, the Bible will probably not provide you with specific answers for your particular situation. Nor will it stop you from going through suffering itself. But it will give you a better idea of what God is, or isn’t, doing in the world.
Job called his friends “miserable comforters” for giving him terrible advice (Job 16:2).
Avoid miserable comforters by seeking comfort in the Word.