Reflections on Job and the Problem of Suffering

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

We’ve covered a lot in this short series, so here’s a recap before we conclude:

· In Part I, we were introduced to Job. We learned that Job was a righteous man, that God allowed the accuser (who is not Satan ;)) to bring a great amount of loss and pain on Job, and Job still did not sin.

· In Part II, Job and his friends argue about the nature of Job’s suffering. Job said he was innocent, but the friends said this couldn’t be because God is just and because God is just, this wouldn’t happen to Job unless he was in the wrong. (However, we know from Job 1, that Job was innocent.) Elihu appears on the scene like a first-year seminary student and puts them all in their place.

· In Part III, God, who has been awfully silent during all of this, decides to show up in a whirlwind and speak. God shows how God is the ruler of the universe, intimately knowing every detail of how things work. Job is reminded of how little he knows and how great God is, so he repents. God says that Job’s friends have spoken wrongly of God, but Job has spoken right.

It seems ironic that God would say Job has spoken rightly of God, doesn’t it? At one point Job says that God has been cruel to him and is persecuting him (Job 30:21). Are we to think Job is speaking rightly of God here? If God is good, then no, we can’t affirm that God is ever cruel.

Maybe there is a specific point when Job does speak rightly of God (Job 42:2–6 certainly isn’t a bad example,) but maybe it’s not so much what Job says of God, but that Job continues to speak to God. Of course, he goes mute after God speaks, but I imagine we’d be left speechless too if God spoke to us in a whirlwind. However, this would be a speechlessness of awe, not of going cold to the divine.

Job figuratively wrestles with God by continuing to speak to God despite the fact that Job suffers as an innocent man. In this way, Job continues the motif of the nation of Israel (For Israel means those who wrestle with God, sourced in the man named Israel by God after literally wrestling with God (Gen. 32:28)).

Some people will continue to read Job as a theodicy (how a good God and evil can both exist,) but I think to do so misses the point. Walter Brueggemann writes of Job’s last words, “Theodicy is overridden by doxology,” meaning the problem of suffering is left unsolved, but despite this, God is shown in God’s greatness and as worthy of our praise.[1] I don’t think this could be said much better but let’s consider what we mean by doxology, how do we praise God?

In Job’s example, Job praises God:

1. In speaking to God. Before Job even hears from God, he takes up his issues with God directly.

2. In silence before God. Job allows God’s words to pierce his heart, leaving him in awe and silence.

3. Finally, Job praises God in his repentance. Job declares that he knows God can do all things and reaffirms his trust in God.

There is much to be learned from the book of Job (The cause of our suffering is not one of those things, however ;)).

We can learn from Job’s friends the importance of sitting with the suffering, while also learning from their bad example to not invalidate someone when they are suffering.

We learn how big God is and how small we are. We learn that God cares for us and about our suffering. We learn that God is worthy of praise.

Finally, we learn from Job to keep struggling with God amidst our own suffering. We learn to wrestle with God until the wrestling turns into praise.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989,) 62.

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Robert Hinkle

Robert Hinkle

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Shaping a religious imagination. On Twitter and Instagram @hinkle3_trey. Writing more frequently on Substack: treyhinkle.substack.com