Job’s Case of Cognitive Dissonance

1Then Job spoke again:

2“Yes, I know this is all true in principle. But how can a person be declared innocent in the eyes of God? 3If someone wanted to take God to court, would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times? 4For God is so wise and so mighty. Who has ever challenged him successfully?

5“Without warning, he moves the mountains, overturning them in his anger. 6He shakes the earth from its place, and its foundations tremble. 7If he commands it, the sun won’t rise and the stars won’t shine. 8He alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea. 9He made all the stars—the Bear, Orion, the Pleiades, and the constellations of the southern sky. 10His great works are too marvelous to understand. He performs miracles without number.

11Yet when he comes near, I cannot see him. When he moves on, I do not see him go. 12If he sends death to snatch someone away, who can stop him? Who dares to ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ 13And God does not restrain his anger. The mightiest forces against him are crushed beneath his feet.

14“And who am I, that I should try to answer God or even reason with him? 15Even if I were innocent, I would have no defense. I could only plead for mercy. 16And even if I summoned him and he responded, he would never listen to me. 17For he attacks me without reason, and he multiplies my wounds without cause. 18He will not let me catch my breath, but fills me instead with bitter sorrows. 19As for strength, he has it. As for justice, who can challenge him? 20Though I am innocent, my own mouth would pronounce me guilty. Though I am blameless, it would prove me wicked.

21“I am innocent, but it makes no difference to me—I despise my life. 22Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to him. That is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ 23He laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent. 24The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked, and God blinds the eyes of the judges and lets them be unfair. If not he, then who? (Job 9:1-24, NLT)


In Job 9, Job responds to the discourse of Bildad in Job 8, in which Bildad promoted what we know as prosperity theology. You can read more about Bildad’s distorted views of God’s justice in a previous post here, but the summary is that Bildad believes that any tragedy or hardship can be assumed to be a punishment from God for some sin or wickedness. Since Job was experiencing hardship, Bildad was encouraging Job to stop the innocence act and come clean with his sin.

It’s interesting that Job doesn’t dispute Bildad’s theological framework. In fact, he starts his response with, “I know this is all true in principle” as a prelude to then declaring his innocence.

Job understands certain truths about God – that he is mighty and He is the creator of everything. Job understands that God is in control and sovereign over creation.

But Job also gets some things wrong about God – questioning His character, saying that God “attacks for no reason, and he multiplies my wounds without cause.” (verse 17)

He paints a picture of a powerful God who doesn’t care. He says in Job 9.23 that “God laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent.”

His situation has given him a distorted view of God’s love and justice.

He believes that God finds him guilty even when he’s innocent (vs. 20).

Job assumes that everything he is experiencing is a punishment and because he is a righteous person, he concludes that God must punish for sport.

This is what happens when we go through trials or when things happen that either we don’t understand or that contradict our own reason – we end up distorting and skewing our own view of God.

This is what’s known as cognitive dissonance. When our understanding of a situation doesn’t match the reality, we create a narrative or a way of understanding that explains why the outcome doesn’t match my understanding, which I hold to be true.

Job firmly believes that his understanding of God is true (similar to what Bildad has asserted). Yet Job maintains his innocence, which makes his circumstances hard to understand.

Job has two choices. He can adjust his understanding of God in order to give coherent meaning to the tragic events he’s experiencing or he can create a narrative that would explain his circumstances while allowing him to maintain his initial view.

Job chooses the second option, which is the option of cognitive dissonance. In this option, Job holds fast to his wrong understanding of God’s justice, which means he is able to comprehend his innocence only by creating a distorted view of God, a demented being who “laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent.”

Reflection

What is your reaction when things happen that you don’t understand? 

Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold certain views tightly without allowing for the possibility that our views may be wrong. What are some views or opinions that you might need to re-evaluate in order to avoid the danger of cognitive dissonance?

What are some ways a person can avoid the trap of cognitive dissonance?