Job on Religion
The primary lesson in Job is that God is sufficient for life; that He is in fact life itself. Out of this major theme naturally come several more lessons, the most significant of which may be the book's treatment of religion. Job's account aims a singularly bright light on the nature and value of religion, and like the rest of Scripture, denounces it. Despite the fact that the word "religion" is used in the New Testament book of James in a positive sense, to describe how one acts out their faith, it is not talking about religion as a belief system whose goal is approval by God. Rather, James challenges his readers to walk their talk, which is the context of the book. Nowhere in the Bible is religion approved of.
Job's account reveals an aspect of religion that is important for us to consider, showing that religion is evil because it characterizes God (and thus all that He does) incorrectly. Job's friends declare that God always brings bad things to bad people, "Job, if you're suffering it's because you did bad stuff." Job returns with "No, that isn't the way things work, good people get bad stuff too.". Job's friends go on to speak of visions, traditions, and many of the other familiar trappings of religion. God Himself scolds Job's friends and declares that Job's theology is the correct one.
Good things often do happen to people who couldn't give a rip about God, while pious, generous and gentle people, even committed Christians, often have bad things happen to them. Anything can happen to anyone, there is no formula. Inexplicable things happen for which there is no explanation. Solomon was depressed about this and took a negative view -- everything happens by "...time and chance...," he says. Asaph, one of King David's choir directors, began Pslam 73 in a similarly negative vein, bemoaning that life isn't equitable, i.e. that it doesn't work the way we think it should. He later in the Psalm admits he can't see what God sees and decides to trust Him for Who he knows He is. His heart, in other words. A good plan, and the basis of true faith.
This idea that bad circumstances are *necessarily, always* judgement is dispicably false and at the heart lf religion. It is a religious view because it takes the matter out of God's hands and puts it into man's. It denies His sovereignty, that is, His right to run things as He sees fit, instead of to some formula that makes sense to us. It makes God someone like us, which He decidedly is not. God does not work this way, meting out circumstances based on some grading system of our making. He has His own reasons for giving everyone what they get, and they are His alone to fully understand. How can we, who bear the defect of sin, analyze God's motives? Scripture calls replacing God's will with your own witchcraft, and "the way of Cain.".
Cain, you will remember, and his brother Abel, each offered sacrifices to God. Scripture informs us that God liked Abel's offering but did not like Cain's. What was so wrong with Cain's offering? It was from his own hand, the fruit of his labor. Abel's by contrast was a dead animal, killed in accordance with God's prescription for offerings. Cain's offering was all about what he could bring to God, what he could do. "See, God? I'm pretty good!" Abel's offering on the other hand acknowledged that there was nothing good in himself, and thus only death satisfied God's wrath toward sin. Animal sacrifice was God's prescribed offering because it was His way of keepig front and center in our consciousness that we have the sentance of death on us because of sin. This death requirement ultimately was fulfilled in Jesus for those who believe in it. Cain completely ignored this reality, even mocked it, and this is why God was displeased. Religion is "the way of Cain" because it is an alternate system whose emphasis was on the good of man, instead of God's system that focuses on man's sin. Appeasement of Him in the place of subjection to Him.
In the end, religion is an attempt to barter with God, to compel Him to operate on a formula of one's own making: good-for-good and bad-for-bad. No matter its name or origin, all religion is the same in this sense, and very different from what the Bible is all about. The Bible has God coming down to man; a system that is God-initiated and God-defined. Religion says man can work his way to God; a system that Is in the control and purview of man. Job shows us that religion is false, hopeless, and an affront to God.