If the book of Job were a theological tract, simply answering the question of how a good God can allow suffering, then it would or could be a much shorter book. However, the book of Job is more than that. It has been recognized as one of the greatest works of ancient literature. This book is more like one of the great works of Mozart’s maturity, and not “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Thus, the book repeats many themes throughout the speeches of Job and his friends; it repeats themes but with various permutations, building slowly to its climax.
Job’s words in at the beginning of chapter 13 reveal once again that what people who are suffering really need is not our words, not our pontifications on theology, but simply our presence. They need the Word to become Flesh (John 1:14). Most of all, Job longs for the presence of God. “But I would speak to the Almighty…” (Job 13:3).
If Job has sinned, he wants to know it. “Make me know my transgression and my sin.” (13:23) He thinks perhaps he is reaping the penalty for his youthful sins (13:26). However, it is doubtful that this is the reason for Job’s suffering, because, once again, we must remember what we are told at the beginning of the book: Job is blameless and upright.
Chapter 14 begins with another oft-quoted verse from this book: “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble…” Perhaps this book has spoken to so many millions of people through the millennia precisely because this is how life sometimes looks to each one of us. Job’s expression of the pain of life itself resonates with the human heart.
We must remember too that most likely Job had no hope of any sort of afterlife as Christians believe in, much less any hope in the resurrection of the body. In 14:13 Job prays to God, “O that you would hide me in Sheol… If mortals die, will they live again?” The answer of most of the Old Testament to that question is simply “No”. C. S. Lewis explains…
It seems quite clear that in most parts of the Old Testament there is little or no belief in a future life; certainly no belief that is of any religious importance. The word translated “soul” in our version of the Psalms means simply “life”; the word translated “hell” means simply “the land of the dead”, the state of all the dead, good and bad alike, Sheol.
It is difficult to know how an ancient Jew thought of Sheol. He did not like thinking about it. His religion did not encourage him to think about it. No good could come of thinking about it. Evil might. It was a condition from which very wicked people like the Witch of Endor were believed to be able to conjure up a ghost. But the ghost told you nothing about Sheol; it was called up solely to tell you things about our own world. Or again, if you allowed yourself an unhealthy interest in Sheol you might be lured into one of the neighbouring forms of Paganism and “eat the offerings of the dead” (Psalm 106, 28).
Behind all this one can discern a conception not specifically Jewish but common to many ancient religions….
Sheol is even dimmer, further in the background, than [the Greek] Hades. It is a thousand miles away from the centre of Jewish religion; especially in the Psalms. They speak of Sheol (or “hell” or “the pit”) very much as a man speaks of “death” or “the grave” who has no belief in any sort of future state whatever—a man to whom the dead are simply dead, nothing, and there’s no more to be said….
As we all know from our New Testaments Judaism had greatly changed in this respect by Our Lord’s time. The Sadducees held to the old view. The Pharisees, and apparently many more, believed in the life of the world to come.
Eliphaz answers Job’s complaint once more in chapter 15 and once again Eliphaz is operating under the wrong assumption. He assumes that Job is guilty of sin and that is why he is suffering. In short, Job’s suffering is a punishment from God. “For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty.” (15:5) Eliphaz even seems to espouse a doctrine of total depravity: “God puts no trust even in his holy ones, and the heavens are not clean in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, one who drinks iniquity like water!” (15:15-16) This is Eliphaz’s view of Job, but the author of the book does not see Job this way, nor does the author seem to hold to Eliphaz’s doctrine of total depravity.
Job’s response to all of this, in chapter 16, is: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.” In other words: “I have heard all this before, so if you have nothing comforting to say why don’t you just shut up?” The simplistic explanations of the theologians make no sense to Job in his suffering. All he can conclude is that God “has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me…though there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure.” (16:9,17)
These words show us one of the greatest features of the book of Job: its honesty. If we are going to be honest then we must admit that sometimes, from a human perspective, life simply does not make sense.