When I evaluated the short story of Job – found now in the first two and the final chapters of the book – I indicated that I love it as a story. But I do not at *all* find its view of suffering (why it happens) satisfactory. Just the contrary – I find it offensive and even somewhat repulsive. That God would kill innocent children in order to see whether their loving father would curse him seems completely beyond the pale to me.
And now, what about the poetic section in chapters 3-41, Job’s dialogues with his three, and then four, friends, and God’s final response to Job in which he silences his claims and protestations by revealing himself in all his awesome and completely overwhelming glory?
Here too I find the book mesmerizing and powerful, a real masterpiece of dialogue that reaches a breath-taking climax. This is one of the great pieces of literature from antiquity. But again I find the view of suffering it presents to be completely inadequate and offensive. Let me stress for the believers out there that I am NOT saying that I find God’s view of suffering inadequate and offensive. I don’t think we know what God’s views are (since I don’t think we know even if there is a God). But I’m not objecting to God. I’m objecting to this author’s *portrayal* of God, one which I find to be completely inadequate and even, again, offensive.
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Job is innocent. He knows it. He beseeches God to give him an audience so he can declare to his face that he is unworthy of his pain and misery. He wants God to explain to him why this is happening to him.
And rather than explain, God appears and devastates Job by his very presence, grinding him down into the dust where he writhes before the divine presence and repents. Of what exactly? Of being human enough to ask why his suffering is deserved. God declares that he is the Almighty, and that he is not to be asked about his ways. He is the Creator, the Sovereign Lord of All, and he can do whatever he chooses. Humans are mere mortals, worms crawling on the earth, with no power and no right to plead their innocence before God. God is not answerable to mere specks of dust with human souls. He can and will do what he wants, and no one can question his ways.
I find this repulsive. Humans are not to use their (God-given!?) intelligence to wonder why things are the way they are? They are not to recognize that they really do not deserve the pain and misery they are going through? They are not to ask the Big Questions of life? They are simply to accept their lot without complaining — and starve to death, or die of malaria, or be killed by a tsunami, and simply accept that God is powerful, we are weak, and we have no right to try to figure it out or to question why it has to be this way? Should we just accept the suffering of the world? Should we just let the multitudes die of foul water or no food or pointless natural disaster, since God can do anything he wants and this is what he wants?
I don’t buy it for a second. Yes, if God is the all-powerful presence that the book of Job claims he is, then he certainly can overwhelm any one of us by his presence and grind us into the dirt by his overpowering being. But I can’t believe that there is such a cold-hearted, mean-spirited, egocentric, arrogant, ruthless divine being who created the world and called the human race into being, who demands that they yield to their senseless suffering and refuses even to be asked why they have to undergo it. This is not a God of love. It is a God of wrath and power. And I simply don’t believe he exists. Job, and others like him, have made him up and foisted him on subsequent generations of those who read the book, because it became part of Scripture.
We are human’s and we do have intelligence and we can indeed see that there is injustice in the suffering of the innocent. And we need to proclaim this injustice forcefully and with all our being – not swallow our views because God is the ALMIGHTY and we are worthless slugs. We should question why there is suffering and we should challenge the way things are. Because, in fact, things are not the way they should be. And if there is anyone responsible (I personally don’t believe there is), that one should indeed be held to account.
The rhetorical back and forth between Job and his friends is very moving and very much worth reading and re-reading. And the climax with the divine appearance to Job is breathtaking and marvelous. But the view of suffering presented by the book is not one that I can accept.