I do not know how you feel, but on this reading, I think the end of the book of Job bothered me more than the rest of the book. I find the answer of God to Job’s suffering to be unsatisfying. For one thing, God’s opening words seem harsh when addressed to someone who has been enduring severe pain….
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me. (38:2-3)
These words would seem more appropriate if addressed to Elihu and Job’s “comforters”.
What follows is a very poetic series of questions suggesting that God’s knowledge as Creator is beyond that of the creature. However, we knew that already before beginning our reading of Job, did we not? Furthermore, this series of questions does not really answer Job’s question about why he has to suffer. This, perhaps, is the point at which we must remember that the book of Job is a human work of literature. Beautiful at points? Yes. However, the words of God in this book are words put into God’s mouth by a human being. This is a story, not history. It is a human attempt to answer one of the most difficult questions of all: how can a good God allow suffering? The book attempts to justify the ways of God to human beings. If the answer seems unsatisfying then we must remember how difficult the question is in the first place.
Job’s response to God’s questioning of him is one of humility, both in chapter 40 and 42. The last chapter tries to tie up loose ends. God’s wrath is against Job’s supposed friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. God commands them to offer sacrifices and ask Job to pray for them. This seems a just response on God’s part. However, why is there no mention of arrogant Elihu? Why does God not find fault with him? Furthermore, if Job has spoken rightly of God, then why did God speak with such seeming severity to Job in the preceding chapters? I find no answers to these questions. Perhaps there is no answer because the end of the book of Job may be written by a different author than the preceding parts. I do not know.
In the end, the Lord restores Job’s fortunes and even gives him more children to replace those who have died. However, how can a new child replace the one that is lost? That is simply not possible. Therefore, I do not find God’s blessing at the end something that truly makes up for the suffering that has gone before.
Perhaps our problem is, as I said in an earlier blog post, we tend to treat suffering as a puzzle to be solved rather than a mystery to simply live with—a mystery that in this life has no resolve. We may not receive the answers to all our questions until we look into the face of God and find that our answer is a Person.
Even C. S. Lewis tried to treat suffering as a puzzle to be solved in his book, The Problem of Pain, and many people have found his answers there unsatisfying as well. Yet, one of the best things he has to say in that book comes at the very beginning. Lewis writes,
When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
To this, my heart and mind both say a resounding “Yes!”
I also find Lewis’ imagined dialogue with God at the end of A Grief Observed more helpful than the imagined dialogue with God in the book of Job. Toward the end of Lewis’ chronicle of grief after the death of his wife, he says:
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’. It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.
I can hear Lewis saying between these lines: “Suffering is a mystery after all.”
One more thing… As I was reading these final chapters in the book of Job I could not help but hear, ringing in my ear, the tune of a praise song by Nicole Mullen entitled Redeemer. The words of the song echo the words of God at the end of the book of Job, but I find them more meaningful when expressed in wonderment by a human being. Listen, and see what you think…and feel….