The Human Condition in the Book of Job

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.



3 thoughts on “The Human Condition in the Book of Job

  1. Cindy says:

    I totally agree. What I have always gotten out of it is that God is in control and He does what he wants. Not that he is uncaring and unconcerned with our suffering. There is something about suffering that we don’t understand. Something happens in our suffering that is beyond our comprehension but I think that it is something good, not pleasant but necessary. What do you think about the verse in Philipians: …that I may know him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death… v.10?


  2. Great points dave. For me, sometimes just saying, “I don’t know” seems a lot more “right” than giving a trite, easy answer. Someitmes we don’t know. Sometimes we don’t understand. And that doesn’t change a thing about who God is.


  3. Cindy, great verse to discuss in light of Job! Reading that verse in this context made me think of Brian McLaren’s comment in (I think) More Ready Than You Realize – a man in his church was asking why Christ had to die, and was looking for something more than a heady theological answer. McLaren said he struggled with the question for a wihle, until he finally came to the conclusion that, in a sense, Jesus did not completely understand why he had to die (I think this can be a bit misleading theologically…I don’t see this necessarily meaning that God is not omniscient – but simply that suffering is a complex thing, and through the incarnation God fully experienced suffering from a human perspective). Anyways…that was a bit long winded – thanks for the response!

    Jon – I completely agree. I love that there are things that are “too wonderful for us to understand” as Job says. That is part of how we were created, and part of the reason that we are humbled in the presence of God. Good stuff!


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