Suffering as The Sine Qua Non for Encountering God in The Book of Job

Final Assignment Class: Living Scripture Student: Monika-Maria Grace, Ph.D. January 30, 2009

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Table of Contents I. Introduction II. Overview of the Book: Genre, Historical Context, Theological Questions III. Book Outline IV. Job as The Embodiment of Integrity before God V. The Satan’s Challenge: Job’s Faith is Conditional VI. Job’s Spiritual Struggle: His Suffering and Rebellion VII. Job encounters God VII. Job Sees God IX. Conclusion Endnotes and Other Resources 2 3 6 7 9 10 15 19 22 24

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I. Introduction “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” With these words, the bible introduces to us one of its most controversial characters, popularly known as the pious sufferer who endures God’s absurd injustice without complaint. But seeing in Job the “patient and humble endurer of God’s vicious inflictions” obscures the complexity and richness of his character as central in a story that introduces suffering as the necessary passage to freedom from our limited understanding of God’s love. In this essay, Job is seen as the “angry yet God-loving sufferer” who takes us to a journey through the abyss of unspeakable, absurd pain that provokes his rebellion and indignant outcry to a hurtful, non-responsive God. The Job of this essay represents all human beings whose undeserved suffering becomes their spiritual struggle with God. The angry, wounded Job keeps provoking God, until God comes to meet him on an even ground. Through his encounter with God, Job receives—and shares with us—the true gift of suffering, which is freedom: freedom from the prison of conditional religion, freedom from worshiping an idol of a God, freedom from our human obsession to pass God through the “eye of the needle” of our—ever so limited—understanding. It is in this obsession where our sin remains ultimately hidden, even when we claim ourselves sinless in every other possible way. Inexplicable, undeserved suffering is the means to our freedom from this sin.

II. Overview of the Book: Genre, Historical Context, Theological Questions The story of Job has often been called a folktale, in view of its elements in the first two chapters. But, even though the term folktale describes the story of Job in chapters 1-2, it is not specific to describe the style with which the story is told. The design of the story is symmetrically structured, organized around pairs of complementary scenes, in which

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extensive repetition of key words, phrases, sentences, and even whole passages abounds. Characters and events are described in exaggerated terms, and the characters exemplify traits rather than undergo development. Although all these features exist in traditional folk narratives, taken together they point to the genre of a didactic story. We see the same schematic style used in the story that Nathan tells to David about a rich man and a poor man in Samuel 12:1-4.1 The story opens (1:1-2:12) and closes 42:7-17) with passages in prose that frame the more extensive central section, which is in verse (3:1-42:6). The common view is that the sections in prose are essentially an old folktale, which the author found and divided into two parts to enclose the poetic section, written by one person.2 The existence of the prose sections enables us to understand the meaning of the polemical and tense dialogues given in verse, as the interpretive key to the book exists in the narrative parts that open and close it. Even though scholars still do not agree whether the book was written by one person or grew in stages, for the purposes of this essay, the book is presented as written by one author. The date of the composition of the Book is also a point of argument among scholars, with a recent tendency to agree that it was written between 500 and 350 B.C., probably in the province of Judea. This places it in the period after the Babylonian exile, a painful experience that played an important part in the development of Jewish religious thought.3 Scholars point out, however, that even if the period of composition seems in fact to be the postexilic phase, the universality of the world is “far more important than the precise date of this ancient literary work.”
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Although the book of Job differs from the books for Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the way it integrates motifs, genres and themes, we should still identify it with the wisdom

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tradition, for its subject matters suggests as much. Wisdom literature is primarily concerned with the nature and applications of proper moral and religious conduct for the life of individuals and communities. Wisdom literature asks questions that do not employ the style, conventions and language of distinctively national traditions. This cosmopolitan approach characterizes the book of Job, presenting themes of wisdom such as “fearing God” (see Prov. 1:7; 9:10), in Job’s dialogue with his friends, which scholars describe as “sapiential counseling”
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Characteristic of wisdom are also the creation motifs, found in chapter 28 and in the divine speeches, which sets the question of moral order in the world in terms of the structures of creation (e.g., Proverbs 3:8; Ecclesiastes 1; Sirach 24). Finally, in the book of Job, both voices of the wisdom literature (i.e., the conventional one as heard in Proverbs and the subversive one as heard in Ecclesiastes) are joined in Job’s dialogue with his friends and in the very form of the book as presented above.
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From a literary standpoint, the book can be read as a didactic story that begins with a wager made in heaven between God and his messenger, the satan, about the premises upon which we, earthly humans, base our faith in God. Like Nathan’s story in the book of Samuel, the tale of Job uses its schematic style to orient the reader to certain judgments about the existence and nature of true piety. The satan is given the role of casting doubt. But as the story evolves, it becomes evident that the author wants us to know about the premise of freedom in divine governance independently of our conceptual, theological and moral categories, through which we try to tame the mystery of God. In this light, the story depicts the human journey of spiritual transformation in which undeserved suffering is the key to a free, unconditional faith in a free, unconditional God.

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The story asks the question about our human ability to trust God with a faith so unconditional that does not seek rewards or fears punishments as God’s responses to our daily actions. Are we, humans, capable of a barter-free religion? Are we capable of a relationship with God freed from conditions of cause and effect? In other words, are we capable to love and trust God not amidst ecstatic joy but in the depths of absurd, unjust suffering, still proclaiming God’s wisdom without expecting an answer? The story takes us to a point where we discover that this is possible, even though the suffering we must endure threatens—and taints—our constructed faith in God. But what initially functions as threat, raising suspicion, anger and rebellion against God—the story tells us—becomes the reason for a deep transformation to occur, and for a renewed, deeper, ever purer faith in God to emerge. In this light, suffering becomes the sine qua non for encountering God—that is a freely loving God.

III. Book Outline Divided in four main parts, the book of Job outlined as follows:7 I. Job 1:2-2:13, The Prose Narrative: Introduction a. 1:1-22, The First Test b. 2:1-10, The Second Test c. 1-11:13, Scene 6: The Three Friends II. Job 3:1-31:40, The Poetic Dialogue between Job and his Friends a. b. c. d. 3:1-14:22, The first Cycle 15:1-21:34, The Second Cycle 22:1-27:23, The Thirst Cycle 28:1-28, Interlude: Where Can Wisdom Be Found?

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e. 29:1-31:40, Job’s Concluding Speech

III. Job 32:1-37:24, The Speeches of Elihu a. b. c. d. 32:1-33:33 Elihu Attempos to Answer Job 34:1-37, God the Absolute Sovereign, Always Acts Justly 35:1-16, God does not answer the prideful 36-1-37:24 Elihu describes the character of God

VI. Job 38:1-42:6, God’s speeches from the whirlwind and Job’s replies a. b. 38:1-40:5, Understanding the divine plan in the world 40:6-42:6, Understanding the nature of divine governance

V. Job 42:7-7, The Prose Narrative: Conclusion

IV. Job as The Embodiment of Integrity before God The poet introduces Job as the spokesperson of the archetypal human experience, in which suffering becomes the means for knowing God. Job is presented as “a man who was perfect and upright, and one who feared God and eschewed evil” (1:1). Job, also, possessed great material wealth. He was not a member of the Jewish people, but a native of “the land of Uz” (1:1). Uz may have been part of Edom, a geographical location further suggested by the names of Job’s friends, who appear later in the story. Apparently, the author wants to tell a story that transcends ethnic and geographic boundaries and has universal appeal. Interestingly, there is no mention of the chosen people or the covenant. The atmosphere is that of the patriarchal age, before the rise of Israel as a nation. Job is presented in the first scene as a pious, God-loving man, whose frequent burnt offerings to God are not for his own sins but for the possible sins of his sons who live away. Job asks God’s forgiveness on their behalf because, he says, "’Perhaps my sons have sinned

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and cursed God in their hearts’" (1:5). The question of “blessing” or “cursing” (i.e., how one speaks of) God is central in the book. Immediately after the first scene we are presented with the heavenly court, in which the angels--who are God’s messengers--appear before Yahweh. Among them is the satan, who has just been “roaming through the earth” (1:7). The satan here is an accusing angel, subordinate of God, a member of the divine court who defends God’s honor by exposing those who pose a threat to it. In that sense he is not God’s adversary, but the adversary of sinful or corrupt human beings. Here, Yahweh proudly tells the satan how satisfied he is with the faithfulness of Job. “There is no one like him on the earth”, the author asserts through Yahweh’s words. Yahweh then repeats what we have already been told about Job: that “he is a perfect and upright man, a man who fears God and eschews evil” (1:8). The word tam (‫ )תָּם‬is a term with a complex meaning. It means “innocent” but with the connotation of personal integrity, or something complete, perfect, exemplary. It also conveys the meaning just. Job’s integrity is acknowledged in several occasions (2:3; 2:9) and he uses the same word to proclaim his innocence or integrity (9:20-21; 12:4; 27:5; 31:6). “Integrity” describes the internal coherence of his personality. Job is also described as yashar (‫ )יָשָׁר‬which means “upright, righteous, honest”. This adjective indicates Job’s acceptance of ethical norms. Job is one who practices justice in his social life. Job, a man “who fears God and avoids evil”, is presented as innocent in relation to God and to his fellow human beings. The narrator states Job’s innocence in verse 1 and God asserts it in verse 8. Our attention to the Job’s integrity is called from the beginning of the book.

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V. The Satan’s Challenge: Job’s Faith is Conditional The challenge begins when the satan responds to God’s proud assertion that there is no other man like Job on earth: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face" (1:9-11.) The challenge contains a point that is key to the book of Job. The satan does not question Job’s integrity. This, we have accepted as an unquestionable fact, stated both by the author (1:1) and reasserted by God himself (1:8). The satan questions the unconditionality of Job’s service to God, in other words, he questions whether Job is faithful to God without expecting a reward. The challenge the satan poses to God in terms of his faithful servant Job does not address Job’s works, but their motivation. “Does he love you because you love him back? Does he fear and praise you because of all these blessings you have given him?” 8he asks. And then, he presents God with a challenge for Job, God’s faithful servant: “Take away all those blessings and you’ll see how all his praises will turn into blasphemies and curses!”
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The challenge presented by the satan raises the central question of the book at its outset, also striking at the core meaning of religion: What is the role of reward in religious faith and how does it motivate its consistent practice? In the satan’s view, Job’s (i.e., human) religion is utilitarian and, as such, it lacks depth, purity and authenticity. Through the satan’s words, the author very skillfully lets us know that a view of a utilitarian religion has a “satanic” element about it. The theological implication here is clear: the expectation of rewards that characterizes the theory of retribution plays a demonic role in our relationship to God. Not only does it obstruct our encounter with God, ever prohibiting our knowledge of

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God—and by God—but also it creates an idol for God, who is expected to behave in response to our motives. Later in the story, (e.g., 8:5; 11:13; 13-19) Job’s friends engage him in tense dialogues, in which they defend the doctrine of retribution expressing the satan’s view. The author has already prepared us to know what to think when we read those verses. God, on the other hand, trusts that Job’s (i.e., human) faith is pure and unconditional and he, therefore, accepts the satan’s challenge. In verse 1:12 God says to the satan “See, I give all he has into your hands, only do not put a finger on the man himself.” At this point, the scene changes again and we are back on earth. In the verses that follow (1:13-19), Job receives news about the deaths of his sons, his daughters, and the loss of all his possessions. With each piece of news he receives, he praises God. The author assures us that Job “did not curse God” (1:22). God wins the challenge. Job has lost all his possessions and his family, but his integrity has remained intact. God proclaims him innocent. “He still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause,” God tells the satan (2:3). Job’s religion is true; his faith is pure. God has “no cause” against him.

VI. Job’s Spiritual Struggle: His Suffering and Rebellion If the purpose of the book had been to refute the doctrine of retribution as “demonic” by showing that disinterested faith is the correct way to love God, then the book would have ended in verse 1:22. God would have won the challenge set by the satan in the heavenly realm and, in the earthly domain, Job would have continued to be faithful to God regardless of his material (i.e., external) losses. Job’s faith in God would not have suffered a deep, fundamental threat, causing him to question essential assumptions about God’s

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gratuitous love and justice. The message of Job’s example, for us then, would have been, “Love and trust God unconditionally, and don’t question God’s love for the tragedies that befall you. They happen, period. Resign to this truth and repeat after Job, ‘What the Lord has given, the Lord takes away’ (1:21), and thus you will keep your faith in God intact, unharmed from the demonic (i.e., sinful) expectation that God “owes” you because you are honest and God-loving.” But the story seeks to impart a message much more profound and liberating that goes far beyond disinterested religion and addresses two fundamental, diametrically opposed theological issues: unjust human suffering and divine freedom in just governance. It is within this frame of reference that the story unfolds from this point on, and becomes a journey of extreme suffering, angry confrontation with God and total surrender to God’s freedom of gratuitous love when, finally, the two realms (i.e., divine and human) meet face to face at the culmination of Job’s spiritual struggle. This difficult journey will not change Job’s initial recognition that everything comes from God. On the contrary, with each new affliction Job receives, his conviction is strengthened and deepened. But the new road Job travels in the following chapters show clearly that his acceptance of God’s will is not simply resignation. His full encounter with God comes by way of angry complaint, bewilderment, and confrontation. The journey begins in verse 2:5, when the satan challenges God again, raising the stakes against Job. “Skin after skin!” he demands. “Take away his health, break his body, his ultimate possession, and you’ll see how quickly he will curse you to your face!”
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accepts and, immediately, Job is afflicted with a disease that deforms his appearance (2:7). inviting repulsion and rejection by everyone who knew. A poor, homeless and sick Job now becomes a social outcast, driven away from his community and finding refuge on a “heap of

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ashes” (2:8), at the edge of his town. But all this adversity has not caused him to lose his innocence. Even when his wife urges him to “curse God and die” (2:9), Job maintains his integrity, and his unconditional faith in God. The author assures us, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). This part of the book introduces suffering not as God’s punishment for sinful behavior, for Job remained sinless. But we see that, in response to his unshakable integrity, God gave him deeper afflictions that worsened his suffering. Job’s defense of God answers a challenging theological question: How can we speak of God when we experience profound, unjust suffering not as God’s punishment, but as God’s free act of love? If Job defends and praises God amid his own suffering, then the innumerable scores of human beings who—for millennia—have been born into lifetimes of unmerited suffering can still accept the God of the Bible and find the language to speak of their faith in God—a pure faith that does not expect rewards or sees suffering as punishment. In the faith of the afflicted, ash-dwelling, God-defending Job, all the afflicted of the world can find the voice with which to speak about God. In this light, in Job’s subsequent rebellion and confrontation with God (Chaps. 29-31) is seen as his rebellion against the suffering of the innocent, against a theology that justifies it as God’s punishment, and against the God such theology portrays. Job is condemned in order to defend God; he, then, condemns God in order for God to defend him (Chaps. 38:142:6). This paradox, revealed through a more careful reading of the text, allows for humans to defend God’s gratuitous freedom without diminishing the importance of extreme human conditions. This paradox—and the tension it introduces—must openly exist in order for the ones born into lifetimes of unmerited suffering to hold a deep faith in a God whose freedom to exercise gratuitous love is unquestionable.

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Job’s rebellion to God does not start from his suffering, but from his friends’ theological arguments. Initially coming to his side to comfort him, his three friends engage him in a series of arguments in which they expound their theological views about suffering as an occasion for moral and religious self-examination and reflection. They present suffering as a communication from God, addressing different human behavioral dispositions and requiring different proper conduct as a human response. For the wicked, it is judgment (15:9-35); for the ethically unsteady, it is a warning (33:14-30) for the morally immature, it is a form of educational discipline (5:17-19); and for the righteous, it is simply something to be endured with the confidence that God will eventually restore well-being (4:4-7; 8:2021). In every case, the proper response is to turn to God in humility, trust, and prayer (5:8; 8:5; 11:13-19; 22:21-30). Implicit in their view is the assumption that God is always right and that. It is the human being who must make use of the experience to learn what God is trying to communicate. But Job does not share his friend’s views. He has a different understanding of his relationship with God. Convinced of his righteousness and unshakable integrity (Chaps. 2931), he cannot see humility and prayer as the proper response to undeserved suffering, but confrontation of God. His love for God, his trust in God gives him the grounds for this conviction and on these grounds he enters a spiritual struggle with God, in which he demands an explanation (7:20; 10:2; 13-3; 23:5; 31:35). He hopes that God will defend him against the theology of his friends and in three different occasions, he demands an arbiter (‫ ;)33:9( )מֹוכִיח‬a witness (‫ )עֵד‬to the discussion (16:19), and; a defender or liberator (‫.)52:91( )גֹּאֲלִי‬ Job’s spiritual struggle heightens as his friends insist on God’s axiomatic goodness and justice (8:3; 34:12). He responds to them with depictions of God as a violator of justice

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(27:2) who acts out of obsessive and malicious curiosity (7:17-20); 10:8-14) or in a spirit of sadistic rage (16:9-14). He questions God’s world of “moral” governance as a world characterized by anarchic destruction (12:14-25), the prosperity of the wicked (21:30-33), and the pervasive abuse of the poor (24:1-12). But, amidst his accusations of God as a cruel, immoral, monstrous creator of disorderly chaos, Job never gives up the idea that, despite the evidence of his experience and observations, God will ultimately be revealed as a God of justice (13:15-22; 23:3-7). As his spiritual struggle reaches its crescendo, Job raises the perennial dilemma: how come a just God allows injustice to occur? This dilemma, though raised in other parts of the Bible (e.g., Psalm 73), is resolved in a unique and unusual way in the book of Job, through his face-to-face encounter with God. In the verses cited above, the author presents not a patient, humble Job but a Job who is free to cry out to God a cry of indignation so loud that causes God to appear and reveal God’s world to him—and to us. In his encounter with God, Job finds the peace that ends his hunger and thirst for justice, allowing him to surrender to the divine freedom of gratuitous love (42:2-7). This peace does not lessen the importance of his outcry to God that springs from the depths of his suffering. On the contrary, his outcry, rebellious as it is, records in the Bible innocent suffering as the most inhuman of all possible situations. Job confronts God on it, asking whether, in view of such suffering, humans can still acknowledge a God whose gratuitous exercise of freedom can bring fulfillment to our humanity. Job’s spiritual struggle answers another central question about suffering as the stake for disinterested faith: is unmerited suffering a condition to wager human beings’ authentic relationship with God? If the answer is yes, then disinterested faith is naturally possible in any other human situation. But if the answer is no, then examining the motives of human religion becomes irrelevant, since in all other (i.e., less harsh) circumstances faith can

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appear as disinterested. The story of Job presents unmerited suffering as the harshest ground on which the wager about human faith in God is made, and the sine qua non for examining the motives of faith across the entire spectrum of human conditions.

VII. Job encounters God Job’s hope is not in vain: his desire to see God and speak to God is fulfilled. Its fulfillment comes in unexpected ways, but it enables him to make significant progress on the way that leads to a correct understanding of God’s ways of being God. The starting point of this transformation is Job’s recognition of God’s plan, which also gives the entire Creation the trademark of gratuitousness. This is how God is revealed to Job. Instead of crushing Job with divine power, God speaks to him of God’s creative freedom and of the respect God has for human freedom. Job’s outcry for justice is legitimate, and God is committed to justice. But justice must be understood within the context of God’s overall plan for human history, because it is there where God is fully revealed. God speaks, but in an unpredictable way. He makes no reference to specific problems and gives no answers to Job’s questions that sprang out of his distress. What God says seems disconcerting to the reader, but Job seems to understand (40:3-4; 42:1-6). God answers Job “from the heart of the storm” (38:1). This is a classic image in the Bible, to highlight the importance of God’s self-manifestation. God attacks the Job’s pretended knowledge even more harshly than that of his friends, criticizing every theology that presumes to domesticate the divine action in history, claiming to know it in advance. God brings Job to see that nothing, not even the world of justice, can fasten God into a specific human category. This is the heart of God’s answer in the divine speeches.

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The theme of justice and gratuitousness is subtly present in the divine speeches (38:12-15; 38:25-27). But it must be noted that chapters 38-41 deal seemingly with the world of nature, not the world of history. The first divine speech begins with a reference to the plan (esah) of God in history. In order to understand the references to justice, one then must see them as part of the great cosmic image the speeches create. God tells Job that God has a plan, but not one the human mind can grasp in order to predict its future outcomes. God is free and so is God’s love. Divine love is a cause, not an effect. God speaks to Job of the inanimate world, then God makes symbolic references to divine freedom in the verses of the various animals that elude human control (39:4; 39:2630). God’s speeches are a forceful rejection of a purely anthropocentric view of creation. Not everything that exists was made to be directly useful to human beings; therefore, they may not judge everything from their point of view. The world of nature expresses the freedom and delight of God in creating. It refuses to be limited to the narrow confines of a causeeffect relationship (39:13-18). God’s speeches about creation (chaps. 38-39) express the delight that the created world gives God (see Gen: 1:31). Utility is not the primary reason for God’s creation: if rain falls on the bleak moors, this is not because of necessity, but because it pleases God. God’s creativity is not inspired by utility but by beauty and joy. God invites Job to marvel the wonders of creation and recognize as its source the free and gratuitous love of God. The reasoning God presents in his speech seems to be: what is true for the world of nature, is also true for the world of history. In other words, not all that happens in history, including God’s action, may fit in the theological categories that human reason has developed. God ends his first speech with a direct and explicit challenge: “"Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it" (40:2). Contrary to the

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view that God has ignored Job’s questions and said nothing about his problems, the author seems to believe that God has indeed said something that Job can understand, giving Job the right to reply after having met the conditions for doing so. Job answers by acknowledging his littleness (40:4-5). His tone is different from his earlier assertion of self-importance (19:9; 29:20). The divine speeches have made him realize that not everything in the universe is made for human beings to understand; there is another Center in the universe, which surpasses and encompasses the human mind, and that is God. Acknowledging his littleness may be an important step in Job’s abandonment of his anthropocentric view of the world and God’s relationship to it. Job has admitted his littleness, but he still believes he is innocent. In other words, he still believes that God can see him according to Job’s moral categories, through which Job sees himself and understands cosmic justice by a governing God. So, he withdraws. In Job’s withdrawal, the author suggests resistance Job’s change his opinion. His struggle has been too severe to let go of his categories. God’s task in responding to him has been more complicated than that of a parent’s caring for a devastated child, since God not only has to persuade Job of the fundamental reliability of the structures of creation but also simultaneously has to persuade him to recognize the chaotic (i.e., “why evil things happen to good people”) as part of the design of creation. God must address Job’s resistance. And he does so, with his second speech. Once more, God answers Job “from the heart of the storm”, commanding him for a second time to “gird up his loins”, an expression meaning “face what is coming like a man”, which implies the severity of what is about to happen. What follows is God’s direct attack at Job’s categories through which he has assessed God’s governance: “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (40:8) God asks Job,

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confronting—in the face of Job—the human tendency to lock God’s governance in a world of easy explanations. In the verses that ensue (40:9-14), God uses irony to mask a vulnerable tenderness as he explains why injustice exists in a world that is created by a just God. God reveals to Job a paradox that is in the heart of God’s creation: God’s power is limited by human freedom; for without freedom God’s justice would not be present within history. Furthermore, precisely because human beings are free, they have the power to change their course and be converted. The destruction of the wicked would put an end to that possibility. In revealing this paradox, God implies that in the heart of God’s omnipotence lies also God’s “weakness”. He shows to Job that the mystery of divine freedom leads to the mystery of human freedom and to God’s respect for it. This disclosure by God leads to a two-fold truth: just as we cannot speak of the wicked as if they had always been such and must always be such, neither can we say that the just will never cease to be just. In other words, God’s respect for human freedom is given equally to those who have and have not been devout and moral individuals. It is given therefore to Job no less—or more—than to others; God respects him too, and will not destroy him immediately if he acts wrongly or wickedly. God proceeds with describing his monstrous beasts: “Look at Behemoth, which I made, just as I made you!” (40:15) God tells Job, asserting that Job has a trait in common with all those beastly animals: they have all come from the hand of God. They have both emerged from the original chaos, from which the entire cosmos emerged. Because of his undeserved suffering, Job sees the world in which he lives as a continuation of this original, pre-creation chaos. But God, using the metaphors of the monstrous beasts, shows him that divine power controls these chaotic forces, while God says that those forces shall not be destroyed. The beasts can be interpreted as a metaphor for the wicked of whom God has

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just been speaking (40:11-13); they are forces existing in the world, remnants of the original chaos into which Job has felt that he was thrust, but God does control them. There is evil in the world, but the world is not evil. There are chaotic forces in the world, but the world is not chaos.
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Job’s encounter with God happens as the encounter of two freedoms, divine and human.
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The first grants and validates the second. Job’s freedom finds expression in his

angry rebellion. God’s freedom finds expression in God’s gratuitous love that refuses to be confined in the human religious categories of reward and punishment. Job’s freedom is fulfilled when he meets face-to-face the God in whom he hopes. This is a free God, whose gratuitous love is the foundation of the world and only in light of this love can we grasp the meaning of divine justice. Job would have never discovered how deeply these two freedoms (i.e., divine and human) meet, how interpenetrated they are, and how liberating the revelation of God’s love in this meeting is, if God had not caused him to suffer.

VII. Job Sees God Job speaks once more. His response now is very different from his first one, for it is the result of a long and painful process he has stop resisting. He no longer expresses an honest but vague acceptance of his littleness. This time his response is deeper; he has abandoned his grumbling and returned to his original reverence to God, but on a new basis. His answer, contained in verses 42:1-6, declares his renewed understanding of the relationship between divine freedom and divine justice. Job says:
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“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is the one who obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

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You said ‘Hear now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
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Job’s brief response to God begins with a confession of God’s effective power (42:2). Two quotations of God’s speech (42:3, 4) (“you asked…you said”) introduce Job’s two conclusions. In 42:3a, Job echoes God’s words from 38:2 in a slightly altered form. By incorporating God’s words into his own speech, Job suggests that he now views himself from God’s perspective. With his following words (42:3b) Job accepts God’s judgment that he has spoken without knowledge and understanding (38:2). The beginning of the verse “hear, and I will speak” is not a direct quotation of God’s words, but a poetic expansion of 42:4b, which allows Job to introduce the word “hear” (‫ ,)שֵׁמַע‬which is significant for his own reply, in verse 42:5a. Indeed, this verse is Job’s confirmation that he has listened, as God has commanded him; the consequence of that hearing is that Job now “sees” God.14 The language of “seeing” God has a special place in Israelite religious tradition. Seeing God is rarely permitted and often associated with a momentous occasion in the life of an individual or a people (Gen. 16:13; Exod. 24:9-11; 33:20-23; Isa. 6:1). Job had earlier expressed the strong desire to see God with his own eyes (19:26-27). The context in which that desire has been fulfilled, nevertheless, is quite different from what Job had anticipated. His words in 42:5 are cryptic about the way in which this new “seeing” has changed his understanding of God.15 The final verse (42:6) of Job’s reply is not only terse and enigmatic as the previous ones, but also grammatically ambiguous. It may be translated “I repent upon/on account of…” or “I am consoled concerting…” or “I have changed my mind concerning…” or “I forswear…” The translation of the phrase “dust and ashes”, though straightforward, lends

21
itself to a metaphorical meaning in the context of the entire sentence. It can refer to human mortality, especially the human condition as contrasted with divine being (Gen. 18:27), or to describe particular humiliation or degradation (Job 30:19).16 But they can also mean the ash upon which Job sits (2:8)17 or to dust as a symbol of mourning (2:12).18 The last interpretation considers “dust and ashes” to be the object of the verb “repent”, which in this case means “reject”. Taking account of these various possibilities, one could legitimately translate v. 6 in any of the following ways: a. “Therefore, I despise myself and repent upon dust and ashes (i.e., in humiliation);19 b. “Therefore, I retract my words and repent on dust and ashes (i.e., the symbol of mourning);20 c. “Therefore, I reject and forswear dust and ashes” (i.e., the symbols of mourning and lamentation);21 d. “Therefore, I retract my words and have changed my mind concerning dust and ashes (i.e., the human condition);22 e. Therefore, I retract my words, and I am comforted concerning dust and ashes (i.e., the human condition);23 Asking which possibility is correct misses the interpretive significance of the ambiguity of Job’s reply, which corresponds to the ambiguity of God’s speeches. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this exegesis, the third alternative is chosen, corresponding to our interpretation of God’s speeches as expounding God’s freedom of gratuitous love and justice by allowing chaotic forces to exist in a world that is under God’s providence. In this light, Job’s final response to God represents a high point in contemplative speech about God. He is changing his mind about “dust and ashes”, that is

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about his complaining and lamentation about his suffering. Job changes his attitude toward his suffering, because the divine speeches have shown him that this attitude is not justified. He does not retract or repent of what he has said so far, but he now can see that he cannot go on complaining.24 Job has arrived only gradually at this way of talking about God. At one point, he had felt God to be distant and unconnected from his life, and for that he confronted God with a bitter lawsuit. Job’s fear to acknowledge that chaotic forces exist amidst God’s gratuitous love for God’s world kept him from contemplating God in a light of freedom and unconditionality. His fear was keeping him, Job, prisoner of his own theological categories, from which his extreme suffering liberated him, having caused him to raise a rebel against the God of the Bible. But that dramatic confrontation is necessary in order for Job—and for all of us, suffering humans—to overcome our resistance in acknowledging the reality of something we have tried hard not to see. Now, along with Job, we can surrender to God with a renewed trust.

IX. Conclusion Job’s quarrel with God has been a long attempt to protect himself from his own fears, by engaging God in a argument about justice. God’s wisdom, nevertheless, is to know that Job can neither make his decision about God (1:2; 2:5) nor move on with his life, unless he acknowledges what he fears. In the divine speeches, Job encounters his fear in the image of the beastly monsters. When this happens, a transformation happens: Job is freed from his obsession with divine justice and begins living beyond tragedy. As a person born into a lifetime of unjust suffering, Job has learned to live beyond his need for “divine justice”; for he has understood that justice is not ultimate category that

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determines our language about God. He has understood that God’s love is freely bestowed and so he has entered freely and definitely into the presence of the God of faith. His encounter with God has freed him the temptation—that leads to the sin—of imprisoning God in a narrow conception of justice. Grace is not opposed to justice nor does it play it down; on the contrary, it gives it its full meaning. The justice of God is a fundamental datum of the Bible, and this is why God at no time rebukes Job for having demanded justice.25 If God had reproached Job, he would have contradicted the promise God had given to Abraham (Gen. 18:19). Nor could God contradict the act of liberation on which God based God’s covenant with Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2). But in the just governance of the world God does not follow paths set by human expectations, paths that would limit divine action. Moving through history, God walks a path in freedom. Living beyond tragedy is a process that unfolds slowly. Putting one’s life together again is not easy. For most people, the “happy ending” does not come in the happy and apparently simple resolution the story offers in 42:7-17. But the story of Job teaches us the wise recognition that clinging onto false or distorting frameworks as an attempt to defend ourselves against what we fear may prevent us from seeing what we need to acknowledge, if we are to get on with our lives.

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Endnotes

1

The New Interpreter’s Bible: Nashville: Abington Press, 1996, pp. 337 Foherer, G. Introduction to the Old Testament, Nashville: Abingdon, 1970, p. 325 MacKenzie, “The Cultural and Religious Background of the Book of Job,” Concilium, 169

2

3

(1983), 3-7
4

Habel, N. The Book of Job, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985) pp. 40-42 Habel, N. The Book of Job, p.118 The New Interpreter’s Bible: Nashville: Abington Press, 1996, pp. 338 The New Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 340-341 Paraphrase is this author’s Also Also Some scholars believe that Behmoth and Leviathan are symbols of Job himself. Yahweh

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

would e using them to warn Job about the consequences of his behavior; see Gammie. J. “Behemoth and Leviathan, On the Didactic and Theological Significance of Job 40, 15-41,” in Gammie J. and Brueggemann W., Israelite Wisdom (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1978). Habbel also suggests this (Job, pp. 559-61)
12

Gutierrez, G. On Job: God-talk and The Suffering of The Innocent. New York: Orbis Books,

1987, p. 76
13 14

New Revised Standard Version See Dhorme, E. A Commentary on the Book of Job, trans. Knight, H. London: Nelson,

1967
15

The New Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 619

25

16

Morrow, W. “Consolation, Rejection, and Repentance in Job 42:6”, JBL 105, 1986, pp.

211-225
17

Dhorm, A Commentary of the Book of Job, p. 646-47 Habel, The Book of Job, p. 583 New Revised Standard Version; New International Version Habel, N. C. C. The Book of Job, OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985, p. 583 Patrcik, D. “The Translation of Job 42.6,” VT26 (1976) pp. 36971 Jansen, G. J. Job. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985 Pedue, L. Wisdom in Revolt: Metaphorical Theology in the Book of Job, JSOTSup 112

18

19

20

21

22

23

(Sheffield: JSOT, 1991), p. 232
24

Gutierrez, G. On Job, p. 87 Gutierrez, G. On Job, p. 90

25

Other Resources Duquoc, C. and Floristan, C. (Eds) Job and The Silence of God, NY: Seabury, 1983 Gerber, I. J. The Psychology of the Suffering Mind, New York: The J.D. Company, 1951 Gibbs, P. Job and The Mysteries of Wisdom, Nashville: Southern Publishing Ass., 1967 Glatzer, N. The Dimensions of Job, New York: Schocken Books, 1969 Robinson, W. The Cross of Job, London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1937 Simundson, D. The Message of Job: A Theological Commentary, MN: Augsburg, 1986 Westermann, C. The Structure of the Book of Job, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977

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