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Suffering in the Poetic Section of Job

To make sense of the following post, you should probably read yesterday’s!
Over the years scholars have proposed a wide range of options for interpreting this closing back and forth between God from the whirlwind and Job cowing down in awe before him. This interpretive decision is important, for in some sense the entire meaning of the poetic dialogue hinges on how we understand its climactic ending. One thing that is clear to all interpreters: the view of traditional wisdom is wrong: it is not the case that only the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job really was innocent, and yet he suffered. But why? The answer depends on how we understand God’s awesome appearance at the end and Job’s response. Among some of the leading options of interpretation are the following.

• Job finally gets what he wants (in a good way): an encounter with God. This interpretation is true to a point, but the problem with it is that Job does not actually get what he wants, which is a chance to plead his case before God. God never gives him the chance, since he doesn’t even let him talk, and he certainly does not care to hear what Job might have to say.

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Evaluation of Job’s View of Suffering
Key Passages in Job’s Back and Forth



  1. Avatar
    dennis  July 22, 2013

    This calls to mind C.S Lewis’ old book title God In The Dock ( i.e. the modern mind is so constructed as to put God on trial rather than the reverse ) . Possibly so , but if any of the above interpretations are correct , God is portrayed with a character that is would make the worst human criminal blush . How did such an anti Theist piece of literature ever make it into the Hebrew canon ? My previously posted ” off the wall ” interpretation maybe New Age psycho-babble , but at least it does not portray the Creator as a monster .

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 23, 2013

      I think the view wasn’t as shocking to most ancient readers as it is to (many of) us today….

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 23, 2013

    It’s the view of an ancient author written a long time ago. Just like we would not take such an ancient author’s view seriously about medical practice, we should also not take the book of Job that seriously.

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    TomTerrific  July 23, 2013

    Why can’t the question of suffering be turned around to say why shouldn’t there be suffering?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 23, 2013

      It can be. But do you really want to ask why an innocent two-year old girl shouldn’t have to die of starvation?

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  July 24, 2013

        There’s supposed to be no suffering in Heaven (or the Kingdom), right? So if it’s ok for Heaven then why wouldn’t it be ok for Earth? Why would people HAVE to suffer? And I’m not speaking of small adversities which can indeed be helpful and positive in the end. But the senseless suffering where there’s only pain and death.

  4. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  July 23, 2013

    The Book of Job doesn’t actually explain at all why the good have to suffer (if not because God made a bet with the Satan). But I guess it’s a step up from ‘you’re suffering because you must have sinned in some way’.

  5. Robertus
    Robertus  July 23, 2013

    God, in all his shock and awe and thunder, speaking from the whirlwind, is basically saying, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

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    TubaMike  July 25, 2013

    I find it almost comical that Job has a “global perspective”. What would Job’s “globe” consist of? For that matter, what knowledge of the “universe” could he possibly have had? If he was lucky, a caravan from the Far East (or West) would come by and give him news from beyond the mountain / desert / valley. Outside of that, where would he obtain ANY global information? Maybe God kept him up-to-date. I doubt it. Good stories though.

  7. Avatar
    Steefen  July 25, 2013

    Is it true that God can torture, maim, and murder with impunity because he is God? Yes, in mystical studies there is God the Crown (Keter) and God the Father (Chochmah). Earth is not only under the God manifestation of loving Father (who art in Heaven). There is the God of Geology (tornados, hurricanes, volcanoes). There is the God of Man: for Jesus asked, Didn’t the scripture call men gods [referring to judges].

    For no discernible reasons? Yes, for no discernible reasons. God as Man does this. Do we all know what branches of government have done? Do stakeholders in cold cases get reasons all the time? Are there phenomena Science has not explained and has not explained fully?

    And that if God does it, it is right? God (not as Man) does not have the same moral standards as Man: God of Geology does not have the same moral standards as Man. God as the Power Behind the Sun (Aten) does not have the same moral standards as Man. Man socializes Man. Man does not socialize the Sun or the planet Saturn, a planetary deity of the Sun, represented by Satan in the Job literature.

    And are we, as mortals with intelligence and a sense of right and wrong, not allowed even to try to understand, even to ask why? People who study Astrology understand better than Job and are allowed to ask why.

    Second, Job is not an authority on whether or not there is life after death.

  8. Avatar
    webattorney  January 31, 2014


    Looking at the recent CCN story, it seems there were similar myths of the Great Flood in multiple cultures. Interesting.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 2, 2014

      Yes indeed — that’s a standard feature of university-level “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” courses!

    • Avatar
      kdgecko  January 30, 2015

      The Epic of Gilgamesh is such a story that includes a “Great Flood.” Off hand, I do not recall the exact wording, but the story is very close to the Biblical Flood, and includes an ark and saving of animals.

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