We come now to the conclusion of the dialogues of Job.   His friends have stridently insisted that he is suffering because he has sinned.  He vehemently argues he has not.  As it turns out, he’s right.  Then why is God making him suffer?  Here God himself appears to explain.  Or rather, to insist that he is not going to explain and that Job has no right to ask him to.

Is this an answer to suffering?  Or, well, a satisfactory one?  We can’t even ask?

Decide for yourself.  Here’s how I explain the climax of the book of Job in my book God’s Problem (HarperOne, 2008).


Job has no time – or need – to reply to this restatement of his friends’ views.  Before he can respond, God himself appears, in power, to overwhelm Job with his presence and to cow him into submission in the dirt.  God does not appear with a still, small voice from heaven, or in human guise, or in a comforting dream.  He sends a violent and terrifying whirlwind, and speaks to Job out of it, roaring out his reprimand:


Who is this that darkens council by words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,

I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements – surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone

when the morning stars sang together

and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?… (38:2-7)

In his anger, God reproves Job for thinking that he, a mere mortal, can contend with the one who created the world and all that is in it.  God is the Almighty, unanswerable to those who live their petty existence here on earth.  He asks Job a series of impossible questions, meant to grind him into submission before his divine omnipotence:


Have you commanded the morning since your days began,

and caused the dawn to know its place?….

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,

or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been revealed to you,

or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?

Declare if you know this….

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,

or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?…

Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?

Can you establish their rule on the earth?

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,

so that a flood of waters may cover you?

Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go,

and say to you, “Here we are”?

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,

and spreads its wings toward the south?

Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up

and makes its nest on high? (38:12, 16-18; 22, 33-35; 39:26-27)


This demonstration of raw divine power – it is God, not Job, who is the creator and ruler of this world — leads to the natural conclusion.  If God is Almighty and Job is a pathetically weak mortal, who is he to contend with God? (40:1-2).  Job submits in humility (40:3-4).  But God is not finished with him.  He speaks a second time from the whirlwind:


Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

Gird up your loins like a man;

I will question you, and you declare to me.

Will you even put me in the wrong?

Will you condemn me that you may be justified?

Have you an arm like God,

and can you thunder with a voice like his? (40:6-9)


No, obviously not.  Job had predicted that if God ever were to appear to him, he would be completely overpowered by his divine majesty and driven to submit before him, whether innocent or not.  And that’s exactly what happens.  When God’s thundering voice is finally silent, Job repents and confesses:


I know that you can do all things,

and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted….

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes. (42:2, 5-6)


Readers have read this climax to the poetic dialogues in a variety of ways.  Some think that Job got everything that he wished for – a divine audience – and that he was satisfied with that.  Others think that Job came to realize his inherent guilt before the Almighty.  Others think that once Job has recognized the enormity of God’s creation, he can put his individual suffering in a cosmic perspective.  Yet others think that the point is that God has far too much on his hands – the governance of the entire universe, after all – to be all that concerned about Job’s quibbles about innocent suffering.

I don’t think any of these answers is right.  Job did want a divine audience, but that was so he could declare his innocence before God – and he is never given a chance to get a word in.  Nor is there any sense in which Job comes to realize that in fact he was guilty before God after all: when he “repents” he does not repent of any wrongdoing (he was, after all, completely innocent!); he repents of having thought that he could make his case before the Almighty.  Nor does it seem fair to relativize a person’s suffering because the world is, after all, a very big and amazing place. And it can’t be true that the Lord God has too many other things to worry about than Job’s miserable little life: the entire point of Job’s speeches is not that God is absent from his life but that he is far too present, in punishing him in ways that make no sense, since he has done nothing wrong.

It cannot be overlooked that in the divine response from the whirlwind to Job’s passionate and desperate plea for understanding why he, an innocent man, is suffering so horribly, no answer is in fact given.  God does not explain why Job suffers.  He simply asserts that he is the Almighty and, as such, cannot be questioned.  He does not explain that Job committed sins of which he was simply unaware.  He does not say that the suffering did not come from him but from other humans (or demonic beings) who were behaving badly towards Job.  He does not indicate that it has all been a test to see if he would remain faithful.  His only answer is that he is the Almighty who cannot be questioned by mere mortals, and that the very quest for an answer, the very search for truth, the very impulse to understand is an affront to his Powerful Being.  God is not to be questioned and reasons are not to be sought.  Anyone who dares to challenge God will be withered on the spot, squashed into the dirt by his overpowering presence.  The answer to suffering is that there is no answer, and we should not look for one.  The problem with Job is that he expects God to deal rationally with him, to give him a reasonable explanation of the state of affairs; but God refuses to do so.  And he is, after all, God.  Why should he have to answer to anybody?  Who are we, mere mortals, to question GOD?

This response of God from the whirlwind seems to get God off the hook for innocent suffering – he can do whatever he pleases, since he is the Almighty and is not accountable to anyone.  On the other hand, does it really get him off the hook?  Doesn’t this view mean that God can maim, torment, and murder at will and not be held accountable?  As human beings, we’re not allowed to get away with that.  Can God?  Does the fact that he’s Almighty give him the right to torment innocent souls and murder children?  Does might make right?

Moreover, if the point is that we cannot judge the cruel acts of God by human standards (remember: Job was innocent!), where does that leave us?  In the Bible, aren’t humans made in the very image of God?  Aren’t human standards given by God?  Doesn’t he establish what is right and fair and just?  Aren’t humans to be like him in how they treat others?  If we don’t understand God by human standards (which he himself has given), how can we understand him at all, since we’re human?  Isn’t this explanation of God’s justice, at the end of the day, simply a cop out, a refusal to think hard about the disasters and evils in the world as having any meaning whatsoever?


I’m happy to know what you think.

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2023-03-14T13:37:26-04:00March 18th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

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  1. Rodge March 18, 2023 at 8:12 am

    If, as seems likely from other evidence, man has created God in man’s image (and not the other way around), that God is described as the Ultimate Bully?

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 4:52 pm

      Completely depends which text you read. In Job I’d say he’s the majestic one above all questioning, not the Bully trying to force you to do what he wants you to….

      • Charlie37 April 5, 2023 at 9:20 am

        Professor Ehrman,
        If God is above questioning and the Bible reads in Ephesians 6:12 that we fight a spiritual battle of good and evil forces, is it beyond God’s reach to stop anything according to the New Testament? This human world is claimed by satan according to scripture in the NT. What is your take on the spiritual realm?

        • BDEhrman April 5, 2023 at 3:02 pm

          I think that author of Ephesians imagine that the battle gods on for now, but ultimnately God will intervene and win it.

  2. BetaGater March 18, 2023 at 8:32 am

    I give a resounding “yes” to your question “Isn’t this explanation simply a copout?”

    As for the overarching theme of this book, which is of the opinion we cannot question God because we are mere mortals, I’ve long been of the opinion that the opposite is true: the fact that we are “mere mortals” is EXACTLY the reason that we would have every right to want to hold an all powerful God accountable for our suffering.
    It’s actually perfectly in harmony with the morality of Christianity concerning the attitude of the powerful toward the vulnerable. I don’t see how God could play by different rules.
    The Book of Job seems to be a very early attempt at theodicy, but of course ultimately fails like all attempts to explain injustice and senseless suffering.
    For me, either Atheism or Deism are the only satisfactory answers.

  3. DoubtingTom March 18, 2023 at 8:42 am

    By God’s logic in this passage, it seems that not only are God’s actions not to be questioned, it would also be inappropriate to thwart God by relieving the suffering of others or oneself even.
    I suppose it would be acceptable to relieve suffering not caused by God, but discerning which suffering is God’s doing would be difficult if not impossible. Especially true if the thought process tracks back to the ultimate cause, God.
    Not a satisfactory answer.

    • Charlie37 April 5, 2023 at 9:09 am

      Good point on discerning which suffering is from God and what isn’t…”we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.“ Ephesians 6:12 comes to mind

  4. TerryVB March 18, 2023 at 9:12 am

    If Job is actually two stories, then it’s a bit easier. Then in poetry-Job there’s no bet with the Satan, we don’t know how or why Job is suffering, and the question is simply whether or not the universe cares about our suffering. The conclusion seems to be that no, it does not. I think the author of poetry-Job is an early deist, and God’s speech at the end is a bit of poetic license to drive home that point.

  5. fishician March 18, 2023 at 9:35 am

    Do you think the Job poem was actually a criticism of God? He’s aloof and insensitive. Perhaps even a criticism of the priest and sacrifice system: why bother appealing to this God, he isn’t going to answer? Later they had to add an ending where Job offers up sacrifices for his friends, as if to correct such heresy.

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 4:53 pm

      My sense is that that’s the natural post-enlightenment reading, but for most of history readers hafe thought that God was right — you can’t question him.

      • AngeloB March 26, 2023 at 2:11 am

        God’s role as described in the Bible is comparable to that of an earthly, authoritarian king.

  6. jscheller March 18, 2023 at 10:50 am

    There are many Christians (denominations formed over this very issue) that believe the most important aspect of God’s nature is his omnipotence. It is “might versus right” in practice. Think about how many movies have the kernel story of a fascist regime being overthrown by an underdog rebel faction. No one cheers for the regime. Yet many enjoyers of the movie go out thereafter without thought that they worship a god of such a regime. Subconsciously, they would rather be the Grover Dill than the Ralphie Parker to The Christmas Story’s Scott Farkus.

  7. Bennett March 18, 2023 at 11:25 am

    My assumption has always been that the story(ies) of Job is/are a reflection on the experience of the Babylonian captivity of Judah. Thus, it addresses how they ended up in such a disastrous situation. In much of the OT that explanation is that Israel/Judah failed to follow God’s laws or trust in him, so he allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to destroy them as a people and remove them from their homelands. In Job, we seem to see a refutation of that concept, and instead we see a God whose actions are not to be questioned, and more to the point, a God who punished the people even though they had done nothing wrong! Of course, that’s assuming Job=Judah. So I don’t see it as a problem of individual or even collective personal suffering, but rather another explanation of “how did this happen to us, as God’s chosen people?” in the larger nationalistic sense. Not that it provides much of a useful answer to that question either. Are the roots of Job in Babylonia?

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 4:54 pm

      We don’t really know. One oddity is that Job is not himself an Israelite.

  8. ChimpoChimperoo March 18, 2023 at 12:23 pm

    I always wondered about the book of Job. A while back I read somewhere that some scholars believe this is written much later and edited book with its own tradition heavily influenced by the cynic school of Greek philosophy which generally believes you can’t know practically anything at all as fundamental truth. This is nicely super imposed over the evolving Jewish philosophy in the book of Job.

    In addition, I always thought that the whole apologetic mishmash of responses to a critique such as Bart’s were sophomoric at best and down right brutal for the most part.

    Adam and Eve do evil in the sight of the Lord. They are kicked out of Eden. Everyone suffers! The leaders of opponents of Israel do evil in the sight of the Lord in the land of Canaan. God allows in many cases the Israelites to slaughter everyone:L men, women, children even beasts. How Barbaric! Yet in other parts of the Bible, we are told to believe in the mercy and love of God. Is it any wonder that Christian dominated imperial governments are among the worst in their own barbarity when it comes to the course of human events!

    • sLiu March 26, 2023 at 3:45 pm

      “Adam and Eve do evil in the sight of the Lord. They are kicked out of Eden. Everyone suffers! ”

      How was Eve commanded?

  9. curtiswolf69 March 18, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    So why did the author combine these two accounts? They are similar in a way in that God makes a callous decision to turn Job’s life upside down even though Job has done nothing wrong. It is only in one of the accounts that there is an explanation for God’s action. I wonder if the author is just mocking the assertion that God rewards those who do right and punishes those who do wrong. God can be capricious towards humans no matter what they do. The sooner they understand that the sooner they make the best of what life throws at them. What’s your take on this?

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 4:55 pm

      It’s usually thought that he knew both accounts and combined them to tame them both and have them interpret one another, kind a like church fathers did when they put four Gospels into one book.

  10. giselebendor March 18, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    “The answer to suffering is that there is no answer, and we should not look for one”

    That’s exactly how I understand things to be.
    Many fundamental questions ,though,arise:what does “made in the image” mean? An “image”,after all, is not the actual object.We are not God.God is not us (I refer to the HB God,not to any mystical internal presence).God can’t be compared to human beings,therefore attaching to God the same accountability exacted from us is unreasonable.

    Another unanswered question is “does God suffer “with” us”?Genesis tells us that God worked hard on his labor of Creation, but it doesn’t tell us that God,being discriminately only male, suffered the excruciating pains of childbirth.
    Being picky,I also read that Eve sinned and thus “she”,Eve,will give birth in pain. But it says nothing about the rest of us.You would think Nature-awesome and awful-would have made the indispensable act of birthing the generations a bit easier.

    It is true that in the Torah God commands ” you shall be holy because I am holy”. Here God demands symmetry,but God’s unholy dealings with the Adversary in Job cannot be placed in the same category. The folktale is just that,a folktale,a literary device,not a momentous covenantal, lifelong endeavor.

  11. illogician March 18, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    This offers a very simple, straight-forward answer to why there is evil: God is evil.

  12. Douglas March 18, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    I knew a guy who was enormous and enormously strong. He was 6 feet tall and nearly 300 lbs, but not fat. It was nearly all muscle. He was one of the gentlest people I knew. He told me that he had hurt people when younger and had learned that he couldn’t trust himself to control his strength. So he tried never to get angry. Of course, he could defend himself in almost any situation, and few people challenged him. It would obviously be foolish to pick a fight with someone that big. And he defended weaker people who were being picked on.

    This man could hurt anyone he came across, but he chose not use his power for harm. God, as described in the book of Job, could learn something about morality from this mere human being.

  13. MarkWiz March 18, 2023 at 8:37 pm

    I really dislike the Book of Job for precisely the reasons you have pointed out. Even the premise of the story is flawed. Why would God torture Job when, being all-knowing, God would already know what the outcome would be? Why would God allow Himself to be taunted by one of His own flawed creations into such a demonstration of power? The portrayal of God in Job reminds me a lot of similar stories about Zeus chucking lightning bolts around, terrorizing humans for his own peevish enjoyment. Yes, every parent at one time or another says, “Do this because I said so” because they know their child could not understand the adult reasoning behind it. But that excuse does not condone abuse, torture, and the like. Imagine a similar story on completely human terms: Dad’s buddy Stan says if Dad makes his kid’s life miserable, the kid won’t love him. So Dad does indeed make his son’s life a living hell, and then tells the kid to shut up because Dad’s bigger, older, and knows things the kid doesn’t. Who could possibly admire such a parent?

  14. Stephen March 18, 2023 at 9:11 pm

    I think God probably gets off the hook mostly because he speaks such beautiful Hebrew.

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 4:56 pm

      He certainly speaks difficult Hebrew. But as God, he has no trouble understanding it….

      • AngeloB March 26, 2023 at 5:22 pm

        I wonder if God would understand Greek! Ahaha

  15. billw977 March 19, 2023 at 12:58 am

    Somewhere in the New Testament it says that the stories and situations in the Old Testament represent a type, an analogy of the things of Christ. The NT capitalizes on that idea a lot, for example, Isaiah 53. I see some commentaries state that the book of Job is a type of Jesus’ life, the innocent suffering. Maybe the book of Job isn’t supposed to be taken as a literal event but just a foreshadow story. Actually, I don’t see a very complete analogy on that but what would be your take? For example, before you became an agnostic/atheist, could you make a good sermon with that analogy?

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 7:51 pm

      Yup! He’s the righteous sufferer who is faithful to the end and is rewarded. Like Jesus.

    • sLiu March 26, 2023 at 9:06 pm

      job is human. Jesus is divine.

  16. dankoh March 19, 2023 at 3:34 am

    There’s supposed to be another purpose to suffering or punishment, as articulated by the prophets: to teach us to “mend our ways” and correct our actions so that we act righteously. The message I take from the book of Job is that the prophets were wrong. We can’t tell from what happens to us whether we are doing right or wrong.

    You can take that one of two ways. One way is to say that we learn right from wrong for its own sake, and not out of hope of reward or fear of punishment. The other lesson we might learn from Job is that God doesn’t care if we do right or wrong, only that we bow before his majesty and acknowledge our worthlessness.

    Either way, the message of Job is that there is no causal relationship between our actions and the “whims of fate.” (I discount for this purpose consequences that follow causally from our behaving well or badly.)

  17. giselebendor March 19, 2023 at 6:12 am

    The question “why we suffer”might be accompanied by the question “why are we happy”.Because that’s true too.But we don’t ask this questio.God receives credit for goodness seemingly only from believers.Granted,the horrors of the 20th century,the still current abysmal disparity in most of the planet’s human population destinies and the prospect of our environment’s destruction weigh heavily. But these are our,not God’s sins.

    We also forget that change continues. Stephen Pinker (“The Better Angels of our Nature”)claims that human violence overall has declined in the world.Cases like the Ukraine are aberrations,not the norms they used to be.
    Earth’s natural catastrophes are actions the Earth needs.If 100,000 people die just because the Earth shrugged,such has been Earth’s life since Creation’s violent beginning.And still,in Job,God claims subduing the Behemoth and the Leviathan,as if saying, “it could have been worse”. In fact,it was.

    Any disenchantment with God deserves objectivity.After all,even for us atheists, God is a huge concept.It seems that in analyzing Literature,sometimes we cross into analyzing reality,as if we could ascribe literary import to Science.

    Only that in the Book of Job,the literary caustic conclusion hurled at Job and us just happens to be the substance of Reality,one it takes courage to assimilate and a sense of mission to revert.

  18. Chris_Eyre March 19, 2023 at 6:59 am

    I do wonder whether this is the earliest documented case of Stockholm syndrome?

  19. GeoffClifton March 19, 2023 at 8:15 am

    I think one is inevitably reminded of the scene in the film the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends cower before the image of the wizard, who seems to be making up the rules as he goes along.

  20. pkoutoul March 19, 2023 at 8:53 am

    I have to admit it — when I was a Christian, God’s reply to Job was one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I think it was because it got me off the hook from having to explain why there is suffering. There is no need to explain it because who are we to question God?

  21. Martin Brody March 19, 2023 at 9:55 am

    I think I read somewhere that Roger Waters wrote “The Trial” right after reading Job.

    On a more serious note, since you asked, here’s what I think.

    While the “story” of Job involves active supernatural intervention to cause suffering, is this just an allegorical representation of the way we humans WANT the world to be. That if we follow a certain moral code we receive divine rewards. Heaven serves the purpose to validate this perspective despite all our suffering here on earth. But is this a reasonable and productive perspective?

    Maybe God’s chastisement of Job can be paraphrased as “I designed the world the way I chose. Deal with it.” The reality is that God doesn’t micromanage individual lives by rewarding each good deed and punishing each bad deed.

    In other words, rather than sitting around lamenting about our personal suffering or the suffering of the world, what are we going to do about it? That God’s not going to bake us a birthday cake, but he gave us wheat, sugar, eggs, dairy, and the intelligence to invent an oven.

  22. MeridaGOround March 19, 2023 at 9:56 am

    Does God suffer? Did the man Jesus suffer on the cross? — saying to the thief at his side: “you will be with me today in paradise” — impossible words for a sufferer!
    TESTIMONY: I watched my dad struggle with tobacco addiction, a 50-year smoker. He tried to quit many times, with many approaches. (He couldn’t join our church which eschewed smoking & drinking, as his clothes reeked; so he often avoided attending.) Finally he prayed “Lord, you’re strong and I’m weak. Won’t you lift this from me?” >>> Healed, instantly! No withdrawal. No struggle. No more suffering. (I witnessed this; as well as his previous struggles with withdrawal.) Like Hezekiah, he lived another 15 years beyond quitting. Freedom!
    Asking why we suffer is futile. Like “why is 2+2≠5 ?”] The right question: What does God know? (And can I know this, too?) The man Jesus is our example, our model — not our “personal Savior” doing our work for us. “Seek … Ask, and ye shall receive, … Knock!” The apocalyptic end of our world is built into each life. Jesus showed us victory. Job saw it too.

    ~eric. MeridaGOround dot com

  23. veritas March 19, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    Your words echo what most of us,believers and non-believers alike,wonder about God existing. I think pain and suffering is part of life. We deflect,or at least hope to avoid death or injury, everyday through going to work, getting on a plane,being in the path of a hurricane/tornado, earthquakes, kidnappings, a deranged gunman,wars/attacks,abductions. This is our world. When we are stricken with disease,especially with a loved one/child, we have a tendency to seek/want an intervention from a supreme/sovereign being,to heal us of our suffering. It never happens,although some have suggested some miraculous events occur in their life. But what do we attribute that to? A God, luck, a good doctor, will power,good fortune,resilience or just a bit of everything? Whenever we want God on our terms, he is not there. We learn to overcome and endure the pain that afflicts us. Oddly,most times we continue in life and learn to live with the scars of yesterday. This make us stronger,most of the time. We persevere the torment. I believe He guides us. When our child was diagnosed with cancer at age 5, I opened the Bible and landed on Rom.5; 1-7. That sustained our hope and peace in our hearts.

  24. bengrubb March 19, 2023 at 11:53 pm

    Only Job and his buddies think the book of Job is about suffering…

    So Job knows he is getting way too much attention from God right now. Why in the name of God’s green earth would God be interested in expending this much energy on a “a pathetically weak mortal”?

    Job wants an audience with God so he can declare his innocence but all the events that transpire have nothing to do with his guilt or innocence (we know). God is desiring something in his RELATIONSHIP with Job. The book of Job is about redemption.

    God is heartbroken because Job lost Chapter 29. Job knows more about God than most but he cannot experience the love God has for him any longer because he is afraid of him. Fear has replaced his first love Rev2:4.

    Job 3:25 For the thing which I GREATLY FEARED is come upon me….

    The very first question God asks Job is the answer to all Job’s questions. The entire book of Job must be read with the answer “Where were you?”

  25. Disillusioned1 March 20, 2023 at 3:32 am

    Assuming one believes this to be a historical event, I think this is basically a wager between God and Satan using and abusing Job as their pawn. That said, assuming God is omniscient, then it was a pointless and extremely cruel act on His part, since God already knew the outcome. It was a pointless exercise seemingly for nothing more than the entertainment of God and Satan. Moreover, it was completely unwarranted cruelty to Job, and his family members who suffered and died. As a thinking sentient being, Job has every right to question, condemn, and turn away from God for destroying his trust by His malicious acts toward him.

    • bengrubb April 1, 2023 at 3:39 pm

      The very first question God asks Job is the answer to all Job’s questions. The entire book of Job must be read with the answer “Where were you?”

  26. Apocryphile March 20, 2023 at 9:45 am

    I agree with you that the God of Job isn’t worthy of worship, but the God of the Bible generally isn’t either. I think our problem in trying to understand suffering arises because we expect there to be a logical, rational explanation behind every phenomenon we experience. Perhaps there ultimately is, but we can’t see it, at least not at our present state of evolution. For what it’s worth, my guess is that our universe and everything in it is best explained, philosophically at least, by a type of monism – the view that at bottom reality is a unified whole with no truly independent parts. If something like this view is correct, I believe it would include consciousness as well – i.e., that what we think of as our individual selves operating in the world are really only surface manifestations of a much deeper and more expansive psychic reality – a reality that ultimately connects everyone and everything. I think that the only reality is ultimately Consciousness, and that for whatever reason, it has (chosen?) to express itself in individual form, suffering being a somehow necessary or inevitable part of this process.

  27. jonas March 20, 2023 at 10:45 am

    Absent the concept of original sin, Job indeed presents a bleak theodicy — God is all-powerful and so shut up. In his great commentary Moralia in Job, the late sixth-century pope Gregory the Great argues that Job is a personification of the Church, and mirrors the holy man questioning why he suffers even though he’s dedicated his whole life to God and prayer and good deeds. The answer is pretty simple: You think you’re perfect, but trust me, you’re not and God knows it and so you still suffer the consequences of sin. In fact, the harsher God’s scourges and punishments, the more he loves you because he is helping you stay humble and refine your soul, which is what, in the end, will save you. For Gregory, Job is silent before God because he knows at some level he deserves what happened to him.

    So that’s one way of dealing with it.

  28. mwbaugh March 20, 2023 at 1:23 pm

    I see a different perspective in Job 42:7.

    “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

    The friends, in defending God’s justice to Job have spoken ignorantly, and have arrogantly assumed they have all the answers. God is displeased with this. In contrast, Job has spoken humbly and honestly. All he has to offer is his honest anger, questions, and doubt, but God seems to value these more than the friends’ false wisdom. God’s final word seems to praise Job for his humility.

    There’s no answer to suffering here. When God doesn’t give one, perhaps it’s because there is no answer, or at least no humanly comprehensible one. Job has the right to ask, but the answer is impossible. The hope I see is that, despite this, God has been present and listening the whole time. In my experience, a caring, listening presense tends to be a better response to suffering than any explanation.

  29. joeydag March 20, 2023 at 7:16 pm

    Obviously we cannot judge the acts of God although it is so human to wish to do so. Judging God does not make sense. We might wish that disasters and evils could be explained but there is no promise there is an explanation.
    Religion offers the prescription to tend to the suffering and not to presume there is an explanation. One aspect of tending to the suffering is to understand the wherefore and causes of the suffering. The search for causes is admirable and yet one has no reason to believe there has to be a cause that is subject to judgement. There is no judgement in the tragedy of diseases and natural disasters.
    The cause of suffering may not be a matter of judgement but rather a fact of life to be addressed and dealt with morally and ethically as we feel is proper.
    Medical systems should perform and the design of infrastructure may be subject to criminal negligence but there is no judgement that applies to the natural phenomena.

  30. joeydag March 20, 2023 at 7:16 pm

    Regarding Job’s suffering – If Job’s friends truly feel he really has sinned to be deserving of his world class suffering, are they congratulating themselves for refraining from adding further punishment to the obvious sinner? Is this what they are doing by subjecting Job to further interrogation?

  31. fragmentp52 March 21, 2023 at 6:13 am

    Hello Bart. I hope all is well with you.

    The story of Job, of course, is very troubling, and raises a lot more questions than it answers. I wonder if the writer of this story sensed the fundamental arbitrariness and moral neutrality of the universe, and gave it the standard God-explanation that we expect from the ancients ? Of course, even today there are good / innocent people who seem to be dealt one losing hand after another, and one wonders why the universe seems to be conspiring against them. Even for me as a non believer, it is a disturbing picture to be sure, like some sadistic, psychopathic patriarch.

    May I ask an off topic question ?
    1. Going by what is written in both the OT and NT, do you think today’s Christians should follow the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 ?

    Thank you

    • BDEhrman March 21, 2023 at 8:16 pm

      Nope. Unless they are Jewish.

      • fragmentp52 March 22, 2023 at 2:18 am

        Thank you Bart. What about Matthew 5:17, where Jesus claims to come to fulfill the law, and then gives examples which not only fulfill the law, but take it up a notch ?


        • BDEhrman March 24, 2023 at 1:43 pm

          Sorry — I”m afraid people reading your question wonb’t know what you’re referring to. Could you repeat it and explain what you are wondering about when it comes to Matthew 5:17.

        • BDEhrman March 24, 2023 at 1:43 pm

          Sorry — I”m afraid people reading your question wonb’t know what you’re referring to. Could you repeat it and explain what you are wondering about when it comes to Matthew 5:17.

          • fragmentp52 March 25, 2023 at 9:55 pm

            Hello Bart. Thanks for that.

            I came across one of your videos from October 2016 entitled “Jesus, The Law and a New Covenant”. You discuss the Marcionites, Ebionites, the letter of Barnabas, Matthew’s view of the law, Jesus’ own words, and Paul’s ideas. It seems to me as though the scholarly view is that Jesus was a Torah observant Jew, and expected the law to be followed, although he may have had his own interpretation of the law. Paul’s view is that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the fulfillment of the law, and as Paul’s view won the day, today’s Christians have no need to follow the OT law. This seems like some rather convenient cherry picking, especially if one is to prioritize Jesus’ words above all else, as I believe all Christians should.

            Thank you

  32. ReligionProf March 21, 2023 at 1:20 pm

    I’m inclined to understand the final speeches of Yahweh in the Book of Job in keeping with the eschewal of appeals to divine revelation as an authority. In this I follow Norman Habel. The speeches would thus be ironic: God shows up and describes the weather and other aspects of the natural world which the wisdom tradition observes and bases its advice on. The point would then be that human beings have not grasped the workings of the natural world and their multifaceted character, so that animals are fed and become food for other animals, precipitation makes crops grow and falls destructively. We today better understand these phenomena but it remains the case that the cosmos eludes our neat boxes and fails to provide a consistent basis for a theological, philosophical, or ethical system.

  33. RandyRoss March 21, 2023 at 6:43 pm

    I think that the rest of us humans, if we are honest, have to say that this response by Job is a cop-out: sure, God, you are all those things you say, and can do all that, and for that I worship you — BUT where were you when my family was killed and my fortune destroyed?? This happened to me, though I was blameless!!
    It is not fair and just, of course. I prefer to deal with this by understanding that God does NOT control everything that happens. The natural world does work in a certain way that permits life, but also permits suffering. Which is why, unlike Bart, I don’t blame it on God and therefore don’t disbelieve in God.

    • ChimpoChimperoo March 24, 2023 at 8:36 pm

      OK on your perception of God RandyRoss. I must then ask you if you believe God is merciful, loving and no ‘respecter of persons’ (translated we are all equal in god’s sight)toward all his creatures regardless of their station in life and if so, how you explain severe birth defects and childhood disabilities wherein the child is so young he couldn’t possibly have done anything so pernicious as to deserve his fate.

      • bengrubb April 10, 2023 at 12:08 am

        ChimpoChimperoo…..Randy said…….God does NOT control everything that happens. The natural world does work in a certain way that permits life, but also permits suffering….

  34. ChimpoChimperoo March 22, 2023 at 12:47 am

    The book of Job if taken as a separate unit may offer a succinct if depressing answer to suffering. The problem with this ‘answer’ is that in the context of the totality of the Bible, it falls woefully short. In the Bible, God is supposed to be merciful and loving. Yet, he has created a cosmology where the most grotesque kind of unwarranted suffering occurs.

    As an advocate for the disabled, I have seen people born with terrible defects. One excuse for suffering is sin. What could these people have done to deserve such suffering. Juxtapose their suffering with the arrogance and brutality of many world leaders whose entire life is dedicated to the promotion of evil. Yet they don’t suffer anywhere near as much as the hundreds of people I have been associated with who were born in terrible conditions. The bible is full of statements about God rewarding good for good and evil for evil. Yet even a casual observation exposes this as false. As far as the other reason–Satan–who created all things? That hardly absolves God of guilt since he has permitted these creatures to do their evil against the innocent.

    • bengrubb April 10, 2023 at 9:22 pm

      nooooo you missed it.. Sin is not what you do. It’s who you are. The apostles asked ” was he born blind because of his sin or his parents?

      We inherit sin. We are born sinners. Birth defects are a result of the world broken by sin. The universe is broken because of sin.. Then Easter!

  35. JCB March 23, 2023 at 2:52 am

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Who do you think the “redeemer” is in the Book of Job? Some translations say “vindicator.” I heard a Christian apologist appeal to this passage when asked to explain how people got saved who lived before Jesus walked on the earth.

    Job 19:25-27 “Yet as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last, He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I will see God, Whom I, on my part, shall behold for myself, And whom my eyes will see, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

    • BDEhrman March 24, 2023 at 4:29 pm

      It is an extraordinarily complicated passage. The Hebrew word used does not mean “Redeemer” in the sense of a future divine being would would do something to provide salvation; it means something like “vindicator,” and is sometimes used of a family member who will later avenge someone’s mistreatment/death.

  36. markdeckard March 23, 2023 at 10:11 am

    The author uses a combination of two classical fallacies 1.) Appeal to authority 2.) Appeal to mystery.
    God is God and your not, and it’s not for you to question God. The weakest forms of justification perpetually used by despots and Kings.
    But as people become less primitive and more intellegent, the whole thing starts sounding like the blustering of the great and powerful Oz.
    But then there is this. Job is left in the dark but the reader is not. From the start, Job was being used as a wagering sport between God and Satan! Theres the answer! But only the reader is privy to this.
    Obviously God would never admit this to Job. Because if he did, all the mystery and majesty that anchored Jobs unwavering devotion might very well soften.
    “I lost all my kids because you made a bet!!”
    “How dare you question my authority! Ok…here’s some replacement kids.”
    Keep in mind, all of this originated from the mind of the inventor of the quantum universe.

  37. abuladeen March 25, 2023 at 4:06 pm

    I ran across the short meditation by Richard Oxenberg linked below in my feed at Academia.edu recently. It expresses better than I can where I’ve arrived after decades of meditation on Job and the problem of suffering. Writing about the Voice From the Whirlwind and Job’s response to it, Oxenberg states what he believes Job has learned:

    “[P]rior to his vision, Job sees his own primary good as dependent upon worldly goods, and sees worship of God as the rightful means to securing such worldly goods.

    “After his vision, Job sees his primary good as rooted in God, beyond the vicissitudes of worldly life, which allows him to accept these vicissitudes with a new equanimity.

    “This shift—the possibility of this shift—is the Bible’s final answer to the problem of evil.”

    This answer is essentially poetic and mystical. There’s no way to know definitively what Job’s experience of the theophany is, whether he feels shouted down and put in his place, or he feels that somewhere in the poetry and majesty of God’s word his complaint has truly been answered. It’s the latter on Oxenberg’s reading, but I’m not sure how to defend that reading rationally. Intuitively, though, I find it compelling.


    • bengrubb April 2, 2023 at 4:05 pm

      Abuladeen.. good link. I agree “a shift takes place within Job”. Its funny in this discussion we view it as a personal attack on JOB but discuss it in the philosophical realm of good and evil. The “shift” in Job as your article states is a change in theology. Job’s theology was identical to his buddies—then it got tested!! This life is not long enough for all of us to get our theology tested. I think there is a lot to learn in Job if you keep it HYPER personal. 1. How does the story open? Job is Rich, his kids are Spoiled, he’s worried about their salvation. This information sets the entire story plus one more bit—Job was expecting all of this to happen. Job 3:25
      For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.

      Pretty much noone notices this point. Job instinctively knew his theology was bad. So I see Job as a story of redemption. Job and his buddies are debating good vs evil and punishment and reward—but that is not what God is addressing.

      • abuladeen April 4, 2023 at 4:58 pm

        bengrubb, thanks for your insightful comment. True, I had not appreciated the uneasiness and foreshadowing of trouble Job indicates at 3:25, and how that might imply an unstable and immature theology.

        As a reader, I’ve had the sense for a long time that Job’s insisting on God meeting him face-to-face in a courtroom, while understandable, is fundamentally absurd and almost funny. Finally God confronts Job out of the whirlwind: “Gird up your loins” and let Me lay it out for you. That scene is a lot of things, but one of them might be comic.

        In any event, it’s a dramatic case of “Be careful what you ask for” that results in a complete transformation of Job’s relationship with God and his understanding of himself and the rest of God’s creation.

  38. ChimpoChimperoo March 29, 2023 at 8:51 pm

    Abduladeen: I am glad you get comfort from Osenberg’s analysis. Like John Lennon said in a response to the severe criticism to his his ‘God,’ Whatever gets you through the night is alright by me.’ (that song was actually more of a response to the incessant questions about a ‘Beatles’ reunion see the last verse.) For me who has seen so much gross suffering in my line of work, it does little. With God supposedly seeing everyone he created as ‘equal in his sight,’ the worst thing about at birth and childhood suffering is that God seems by inference to allow so many people who do evil with malice of forethought off the hook with comparatively little suffering. He then gives us mystic pablum–seemingly playing a sort of cosmic peak-a-boo in essence saying: ‘Why do you suffer? That’s for me to know and you to find out. but if you question, you’re condemned.

    This whole scenario sounds like just another classic example of ‘man creating god in his own image’ an thus justifying any human system of rules and laws as divinely inspired and thus not subject to question by disadvantaged who suffer under such a system.

    • abuladeen April 4, 2023 at 4:35 pm

      ChimpoChimperoo, I don’t especially find comfort in the Book of Job on Oxenberg’s reading. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be thought of as valuing comfort over truth.

      At best, the “hearing” God finally grants Job is ambiguous and profoundly troubling. But after all the textual analysis and philosophizing about the problem of evil, I think we need to come to terms with the story we have, fragmented, illogical, and inconsistent though it appears.

      To derive personal meaning from the story is to engage with it as poetic drama. That means meditating and reflecting on it, perhaps even praying with it, probably for many years. For me, the result has been a sense of profound meaning and revelation of God’s nature that far transcends reading it as simply the story of God beating him into submission.

  39. ChimpoChimperoo April 2, 2023 at 9:00 pm

    To Bengrudd: If this is to be taken as part of a coherent contiguous worthwhile philosophy, then why is God’s behavior on this issue so inconsistent? God is the same yesterday, today and forever: right? Then why does he test people with birth defects, horrible juvenile diseases/ailments and then allow some demonstrably very evil people to have significantly carefree lives. A praise of such a theology leaves a lot to be desired. As I stated in my earlier posts weeks ago on this issue: This Job explanation simply sounds like an author/s opinion that you can no nothing for sure other than that God is great and all powerful and you’re not. It has all the earmarks of a cynic/skeptic philosopher superimposing his beliefs over basic late era Judaism.

    • bengrubb April 9, 2023 at 11:38 pm

      ChimpoChimperoo…all your objections are listed in psalms and proverbs and elsewhere. Of course my theodicy and theology is super simple. Sin. We are born into a broken world by man’s choice that the death and resurrection of Jesus has begun to repair Happy Easter! In this particular story the behavior of God is all fluff and bluster strictly to throw off those who don’t believe or won’t pursue. Why cast your pearls before swine?. Job will not be thrown off. Jesus said should the children’s food be given to dogs? There are those who Jesus calls dogs who continue to pursue him and receive the demands of their faith. God is so good…and only found by those who desperately want to find him. And there are those who prefer to be mad at him.

      Job is concerned with one thing in these 40 chapters…..”WHY ARE MY KIDS DEAD?”. God answers the demands of Jobs heart in his very first question. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

  40. jcontrer814 April 4, 2023 at 4:40 pm

    Why are people so surprised at God’s response to Job’s questions? God fought and created a world out of a formless void. Power. He leads the Israelites out Egypt and it the process delivers a brutal humiliating whipping on the Egyptian Pharoh, the greatest of the foreign gods. How many times does God describe god’s self as leading the people out of Egypt. This victory is God’s great achievement. He is above all about victory and power. God’s response to Job makes sense. This God is not Woke.

    Job was righteous before the wager. Job was righteous after the killing of his children. Job was righteous after horrible bodily torture. Job does forgive his accusative friends, just like we would expect him to. Job was righteous at the beginning, the middle and the end of the story.

    Is God’s power now in God’s mysteriousness? The mystery is why we attempt to be righteous with God when there are so many unanswered questions.

  41. ChimpoChimperoo April 10, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    To Bengrubb:
    What about all those statements concerning mercy and equality of all persons. To fit your preconceived notions of Godhood, you have adopted a rather cold and calculating view of the way the world works. god who is all powerful doesn’t control everything: why apparently in your opinion because he doesn’t want to??? God sees suffering and saw that it was good???

    Obviously you haven’t suffered enough or seen enough suffering, so you use abstractions from Psalms and Proverbs to explain everything. It may make you feel good, but it explains nothing. Literally speaking, we are suffering because Adam and Eve (or maybe your parents) sinned. Move away from your ideology and think once and for all: does that really make sense in light of a merciful God!?

    The worst part of this is that so many well meaning people buy this nonsense and choose to do nothing to better the existing world. Contrast that with Bart Ehrman’s various charities and attempts at good works (which many fundamentalist overtly condemn.) I’m on Bart’s side on this one!

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