The Enigma of Job

Job's central theme is the greatest enigma of all: theodicy – how do we relate a good and sovereign God to the reality of evil and suffering in his world?

Perhaps the biggest thing that arises out of the sheer size of this book is that even as God’s people we must learn to live with the unanswered questions thrown up by evil and suffering in our own experience. Indeed we need to realise that they are the kind of questions that may never be answered because God is under no obligation to do so.

 

The book of Job is full of enigmas. The man who gives the book his name is an enigma. The book’s style is enigmatic. Its entire structure and drama raises all kinds of questions. And, of course, its central theme is the greatest enigma of all: theodicy – how do we relate a good and sovereign God to the reality of evil and suffering in his world?

Each of the wide range of commentaries on Job adds its own insights into all the issues just mentioned, but most if not all overlook one of the biggest of them. Why did God see fit to include Job in his revealed word and, tied in with this, why is it so long?

Some commentators suggest Job may have been one of the earliest of the Old Testament books to appear in written form. This can only be a matter for speculation; but what is clear is that it has been ‘filed’ in the Wisdom section of the Old Testament canon. This provides an important clue as to why it is part of divine revelation. Given that ‘wisdom’ [hochma] in Scripture is more than just a body of knowledge but, rather, ‘skill for living’, understanding Job is intended to be a significant factor in nurturing that skill for the people of God.

This has particular bearing on the range of questions raised by Job – not least that of why it confronts us with some 37 chapters of unremitting suffering and unresolved wrangling over why it is happening and also where God fits into how we make sense of it. The combined weight of suffering and the questions it throws up that we see in Job – which every sufferer experiences – is not as alien as we may feel it to be.

Even when it comes to the last five chapters in which God speaks into Job’s situation, he does not answer the one question the reader, as much as Job himself, wants answered: ‘Why?’ So a significant component of the wisdom of Job must be that finding the skill we need for living does not necessarily mean we must have all our questions answered.

God did not answer the questions surrounding Job’s suffering. Instead he chose to raise his horizons above them to remind Job of his greatness, love and faithfulness towards all his creatures.

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