The Book of Job has always fascinated me – such an odd juxtaposition of a simple fairytale framework with complex poetic and philosophical dialogues in the middle. Growing up, I always heard anyone who was struggling with the problem of evil, or “why bad things happen to good people” reference the Book of Job. After all, with 42 long chapters the answer must be there somewhere, right?
I remember my frustration and confusion after reading the Book for the first time – where is there an answer in all of this? Was it just me or were God’s speeches lacking the answer that Job, and the reader were looking for?
I spoke with a few people about it, and one of them told me that the answer lies in the fact that God showed up to respond to Job, and the mere appearance of God satisfied all of Job’s questions. Well…good for Job, he was humbled in the presence of God – but what about his kids who never had that chance? Their story ended in the first couple of chapters after their house collapsed on them – they didn’t get much chance to question divine justice and have an audience with God.
I wrote a paper for an undergraduate class on the meaning of the Book of Job, arguing that the Book of Job is less about suffering and pain then it is about the extreme limits on human knowledge and ability. Rather than any of the speeches (including God’s) containing any kind of insightful treatise on how to view suffering, they all simply exemplified our inability to even communicate logically on such a lofty topic. When God “shows up”, he cannot offer an answer to Job’s questions because neither Job nor the reader would be able to understand the answer.
Reading the Book of Job and searching for an answer to the problem of human suffering always leaves me confused. I just don’t seem to find that answer anywhere in the Book. The only question that seems to be addressed revolves around the limits of human wisdom. Chapter 28, the odd and seemingly misplaced wisdom poem, seems to sum up this argument best – ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’ (Job 28:28).
Job teaches us that we cannot fathom the problem of evil. We cannot “figure out” human suffering. Despite all of the triumphs and achievements of the human race, we are all addressed by God’s retort in Job 38:2 – “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
The Book of Job teaches that we don’t get it, and never will.