It is one of the best-known books in the Bible. But it is also one of the most daring, as it boldly addresses its topic. It is the book of Job. It begins and ends with a kind of prosaic “bookends,” and the whole middle of the book is filled with poetic soliloquies and dialogues of great angst and beauty.

Since we have begun reading it at daily mass, perhaps a few reflections are in order.

The book tackles one of the deepest mysteries that believers encounter, the problem of suffering and evil. How can our God, who is so good and powerful, permit such evils, such sufferings to exist in this world?

The book of Job draws us deep into the mystery of suffering, and while it gives an answer, it is a kind of “non-answer, answer.” At one level it seems unsatisfying, at another level even anger-provoking. Yes, the Book of Job is a bold and daring book, that does not seek merely to hold our hands and pat us on the forehead in terms of suffering, but rather, summons us to humility, and trusting faith.

The book opens, with a series of shocks. We read of Job, a man so highly blessed by the Lord. And God, one day, gathered with his angels, and behold, Satan came among them!

And here’s our first shock. How can Satan find admittance, as to the heavenly places? Our second shock comes as we see that God is not only not surprised that Satan’s presence, but even holds a kind of dialogue with him. Shock only grows as we see Satan, in effect, challenges God to a kind of dare.

Satan argues that Job only praises God on account of the blessings God has given a. He dares God, But now, put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face (Job 1:11).

And then comes the most horrible moment of all, the point when our shock reaches its greatest extent. God says to Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person (Job 1:12)

The game is on, and Job is a pawn on the game board.

Endless questions come to mind as we read a text like this. Why does God speak with Satan? Why is Satan in the heavens at all? Was he not cast forth from heaven by Michael the Archangel? Why does God boast of Job to Satan? Why does God care to impress Satan that all? Why does God accept Satan’s dare? Does Job not matter, is he a mere pawn in a game between Satan and God?

The answers to these questions are not really supplied by this text of Job. Some scholars dismiss the whole prosaic section as a mere anthropomorphism. But inquiring minds, especially those who have been to the grips of great suffering, are not easily satisfied by such as scholarly dismissals.

No, this is a daring and messy book, and instead of giving a simple answers, it tends instead, to confront us with the very question we ask.

The whole middle section of the book, is a long and poetic rendering of Job’s anguished soliloquies, and the less than helpful admonishments of friends. Job has suffered the loss of most all his property, and even more grievously, the loss of all his children. Even his wife turns on him and tells him to curse God and die.

We who read this middle section, cannot avoid great sympathy for Job who laments the very day of his birth, and describes his sleeplessness, his sadness, his perplexity, even his anger. We wonder with him, what he has done to deserve such an awful fate.

His friends who gather with him, seek to get God off the hook and tell Job, that he must have done something wrong, for which he was being punished. But Job will have none of it. If antecedent sin is the cause of suffering, then suffering is the greatest injustice of all. For it is patently obvious to any observer, that many who are wicked suffer little, and many are saintly suffer much.

Job’s protest is at least relative innocence. He continues his plaintive cry to God, “Why!”

Then comes the answer. It is a kind of a “non-answer answer.”

Not only does God did not come to console, but in fact, he rebukes Job. Hardly with a gentle whisper, God speaks from the whirlwind, Who is this dude skewers divine plans with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man, and I will question you, and you will tell me the answers! (Job 38:2)

God goes on to describe his magnificent setting forth of all creation, a work that he does as God, with power and authority. God answers Job’s question with a series of pointed questions that remind Job, and us, of how small we are, how little we know or see. In effect, who are we to question God? Do we know whereof we speak? Do we even have enough information to form a proper question?

Not only does God not answer Job, He more than implies that he does not owe an explanation to Job, or to you, or to me. He is God, he is working his purposes out, purposes that we know very little of. Indeed, we might reasonably speculate that, if God were to give us an answer to the problem of suffering, and evil, we would not be able to understand the answer. We would only hear thunder.

To every question we ask in the shocking opening lines of the Book of Job, God gives no answer. He does not feel as though he needs to justify himself, or his actions to Job for to you or to me. It is a summons to great humility. When Job articulates this when he says “behold I am a little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth.

God’s non-answer answer in effect reminds us, that when it comes to the ways of Almighty God, we have little to go by, in terms of judging the ways of God. While it is true, that God is not irrational, as our Catholic teaching consistently asserts, nevertheless, his ways are often beyond our simple apprehension. Most of his ways lie hidden to us.

It is as if, we were to think of God as a great master painter. At one moment the artist paints on the canvas strokes of great light, and at other moments, strokes of great darkness. And yet the light and darkness interplay, to create a masterpiece. We see only a tiny portion of the painting, and we say, argumentatively, “What is this!?” And we think we can judge a small section of the painting without seeing the whole. We know not whereof we speak. Judgments about what is proper for God to do in a given instance, are beyond us. We see too little, we know too little, to formulate any just judgments.

That is the answer of the book of Job. God answers our questions with more questions. It may not feel satisfying, but it is an answer.

To us moderns, who are often so thin-skinned, and egocentric, and who live in a world that trains us to be this way, the book of Job is especially troubling, even insulting. We prefer to emphasize that we are precious in God’s eyes, that we are each unique and special. And while there is truth in this, it is also a truth that must be balanced with the fact that God sees a bigger picture, that my little world. I am part of a bigger plan. I have a place on a canvas which has both light and darkness that exist in a kind of interplay that, for his own purposes, God permits.

“Enjoy” the book of Job. There is a kind of paradoxical serenity that comes to us from realizing that we see and know very little. In letting God be God, and letting go of our passion to control, and understand everything, there comes a kind of serenity.

The mysterious suffering that exists before us, is a very great mystery indeed. But it is not the only mystery. For if we are to ask why there is suffering, why is there evil? then we must also ask: Why is there love, why is there beauty, why is there justice, and why do we yearn for these?

Somehow, we know that we cannot answer these questions. If we cannot answer why there is beauty and goodness or truth, and why God has put them into our heart, then how should we expect to be answer the question, “Why is there evil, why is there suffering?”

Leave it to God. Now, he is not giving simple answers. Instead, he is reminding us that we know not whereof we speak.

33 Responses

  1. JofIndia says:

    Sorry, I know it’s obviously just a simple mistype, but did you mean by “To every question we ask in the shocking opening lines of the Book of Job, her problems going on here and see coming from their God gives no answer. “?

    J
    PS: I always enjoy reading your posts and found this to be one of the most deeply moving..

  2. Matt says:

    The book of Job has been pivotal to my faith journey. As for the question about why Satan was in the heavens in the first place, etc… I do not worry about the actual historicity of the events recounted, but rather I appreciate the truth that the book attempts to convey. Anyone, like myself, who has suffered tragedy in his life, can put himself into the story as the character of Job. The feelings he has are my feelings. ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘This is so unjust.’ ‘I wish I hadn’t been born.’ I, unlike Job, might even get angry with God. Then, his friends who dialogue with him are my friends. They, along with me, search for explanations where there are none. They say stupid things that hurt instead of helping. Then, lastly, God shows himself. I realize suddenly that I am but a speck in the universe that he created, and that there are things that I can’t possibly understand, and that I’m not meant to understand in this life. It’s comforting because it’s our nature to look for explanations to these things, but we don’t have to. They either don’t exist or we can’t comprehend them. But, this, coupled with Romans 8:28 and a little bit of trusting faith, can be very comforting indeed.

  3. Sandy Harrison says:

    I very much enjoy your blogs now that I have discovered them. Thank you Msgr Pope. One of my sons is attending CUA, so some day I hope to assist at of your Masses. Do you ever celebrate Mass there? God Bless!

  4. Peter Wolczuk says:

    So, why would the Almighty God allow satan into heavenly places to dispute Him? Why would He introduce the example of Job in the first place? I cannot know but believe that, being God he is not afraid (like so many of us) to let His ways withstand scrutiny – even from the most cunning of tricksters. It would be a bad idea for me to “play” with the enemy but God is not only mighty, He has enough understanding to use perfect truth to brush aside the manipulation of a web of lies so that it reveals, for itself, the tangled mess it is in spite of satan’s best efforts.
    As for the “wise” who “…dismiss the whole prosaic section as a mere anthropomorphism.” do they provide a suitably scholarly set of information to back it or,… do they make a declaration from some sort of pedestal? If one was to enter the word “wise” in a Bible search engine, and look at the items other than that which pertain to Solomon (who was supenaturally blessed) we might become glad we’re not in the shoes of these “wise”
    The part I like the most is toward the end where; there seems, to me, to be an imparting of the declaration that there it is, not only innapropriate but, also unnecessary, to plead our case to God.
    The Perfect Judge has perfect knowledge and will decide without flaw.
    So, I will face the day and try to let challenges appear as challenges and, not as persecution.

  5. Liam Ronan says:

    “Who is this dude skewers divine plans…” ‘Dude’, Monsignor? You must have one of those modern renderings of Job. (kidding of course) Intelligent and thought-provoking reflection as ever.

  6. David F says:

    This is one of the truly great questions. I think no one suffers more over sin than God Himself. His nature is to love and that opens Him up to the suffering we cause by rejecting Him. Yet He is so strong that He, in His mercy, let’s us go on sinning and creating suffering for ourselves and others. He has even come down to earth to suffer with us and for us and to redeem us. Since no one is greater than the Master we must expect to suffer too. Suffering is a totally logical consequence of His transcendent love and His amazing patience with us.

  7. BaltoCath says:

    The more I think about it, the more I come to see the “problem of suffering” as a problem of attachment. If the greatest good is union with God, then passing things, including earthly suffering, are of smaller consequence. The martyrs certainly understood this. I pray to understand it myself.

  8. Vijaya says:

    I have never liked the Book of Job because it makes me feel like we are pawns in a game. You’ve given me much to think about and ponder. I don’t understand why He allows satan to rule over the earth. Sin and suffering entered creation because of satan, but God knew all this when He created us, and still He allowed it.
    Great love or great folly?

    God continually draws us to Himself, but what of the creatures who reject Him? His Heart must hurt over what He created. Is it better in that case not to have been created at all? I don’t know. I don’t know how He endures us — we are ungrateful, devious, hurtful. I do know that nobody suffered more than our blessed Lord Jesus. And He suffers even now as we pierce His Heart with our sins.

    • Bender says:

      To every question we ask in the shocking opening lines of the Book of Job, God gives no answer. . . . We know not whereof we speak. Judgments about what is proper for God to do in a given instance, are beyond us. We see too little, we know too little, to formulate any just judgments

      Job is one of those challenging works that has multiple layers of meaning, like Daniel or Revelation or some others. Just exactly who is the object of the lesson? What is God trying to reveal to us? Is Job himself the lesson, with his faithfulness in response to suffering even if in his bewilderment he does dare to ask why? Is God the lesson with His apparent willingness to play games with humanity and His “who are you to question me?” response to Job? Are God’s actions a revelation of who He really is, or is the story in the nature of a “what if?” What if God and Satan were to enter this kind of gamesmanship, without really definitively saying that God would do such a thing? Or is the book a combination of things?

      In the Book of Job, there is no direct right answer given at that time, it is true. But there are many wrong answers given. One answer that is given in Job is that, whatever the reason for suffering, it is not one of those given by Job’s “friends.” So, in being the ultimate author of Job, God does rule out some things as the answer, such as that you must be at fault if hardship happens to you, that suffering only happens if you bring it upon yourself. In ruling this answer out, we see God admitting that, in this world, sometimes the innocent suffer too; sometimes bad things happen to good people, indeed, none of us can escape suffering, that is just they way that this world is. (We could also say that, by inference, there is the converse lesson that if you have prosperity and riches in this world, that in itself does not mean that you are righteous.) Moreover, God did not make his friends and family abandon him, they do so of their own accord.

      And, although He did not then give an answer to Job, in saying to him that there is more going on than Job can grasp at the time, if we read scripture as a unifed whole, we see that God does, in fact, later provide a more direct answer, which Vijaya here touches on. Although it is not recorded in the Book of Job, we can envision an afterword, a later addition to the story, or perhaps a prologue to the Gospels, where, in the fullness of time, God pulls Job aside and says to him, “You wanted an answer to the question of undeserved suffering by the innocent? Well here it is. Here’s My answer to suffering — My Son, who I am now sending into the world.” He is the big picture that we cannot always see at the time.

    • Matt says:

      God allows this because in order for us to love God genuinely, we must choose it freely. That must necessarily mean that we have the option to choose not to love God, and all that that choice entails. That is the price God was willing to pay so that genuine love between humans and God could be possible.

  9. Mr. Patton says:

    Hmmm…This book is about why bad things happen to a righteous person (Job) and it is Elihu that provides the theodicy by explaining to the readers that God is never wrong, merciful and we are incapable of understanding Him.

    • Yet God sets aside Elihu et al and their explanations.

      • Liam Ronan says:

        Of course the Innocent One par excellence is Jesus and He taught all mankind the true and salvific meaning of suffering.

      • Mr. Patton says:

        Monsignor,through whose narrative does God set this aside?

        • After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has….Job 42:7 Thus God sets aside Elihu et al and their explanations. Thus if Eliphaz provides theodicy as you claim it would seem God is less than impressed by the explanation. Again, the main point being that suffering is a deep mystery that is not to be easily explained even by well intentioned theologians. By my reckoning, the Book of Job teaches great humility and that we should accept that there is much we do not know when it comes to this topic (and many others too).

          • Mr. Patton says:

            With respect Monsignor, Elihu isn’t one of the three that is admonished.

            Job 42:9 So Eliphaz the Themanite, and Baldad the Suhite, and Sophar the Naamathite went, and did as the Lord had spoken to them, and the Lord accepted the face of Job.

            • Fair enough, I did not read your post carefully enough. But what then is your point, really. I am not sure what you are saying…. Are you for or against the theodicy? Further, while God does not specifically mention Elihu at the end, we are then left with an argument from silence and it is difficult for me to discern God’s view of Elihu based on his silence. I am more concerned in this article what God actually and clearly says, not as much with what he does not say.

          • Peter Wolczuk says:

            Perhaps, when “bad” things happen to “righteous” people they gain experiential and subjective knowledge of their faith. It has been tempered and forged in a fire that would burn away fake faith in a quick flash.
            I’ll admit that I’m being speculative here.

  10. Vijaya says:

    I’m struggling. As a parent, my greatest sorrow is when my children hurt one another. God knows everything about us, the good and bad we’ll do — why does He not take us to our eternal home before we do something that separates us from Him forever? If I knew one of my children were to become a serial killer, I’d want God to take him home early.

    I’m sorry about all this confusion. I know all my questions will disappear when I go to heaven. Everything will make perfect sense. Time to pray … to walk this earth with faith, hope and love.

    Thank you for all your thoughtful posts that make me grow in Christ Jesus.

    • a Reply says:

      And why would God bring a serial-killer to His home, Vijaya?

      What makes you think God would enjoy having a serial-killer running around the house, anymore than you would?

      What`s in it for Him?

    • Matt says:

      God will never interfere with our free will in that way. In order for us to love, we must be free to choose.

  11. Greg says:

    The book of Job must be read in the context of the Great Reversal when the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

  12. David says:

    Another fantastic article Msgr. Our suffering on this earth pales in comparison to the suffering we will experience after death in mortal sin. My personal suffering, being widowed, made me get a concept of humility, started my path to trusting in God, something I thought I knew but in reality knew nothing of what it really meant. My suffering has given me some small insight into the suffering I will have, realizing the depth of God’s love and being unable to be bathed in that love, if I die in mortal sin. I believe that when we die to this earth or from it, we will finally know what God’s love means and the separation of that love is hell.

  13. RichardC says:

    One neat thing about the bible is that not only does it allow us to ponder these things, even more so, it invites us to ponder them. Most of us, myself at least, can only spend so much time pondering them.

  14. Ginny K. Allen says:

    And Job wasn’t even one of the Chosen People!!

  15. a Reply says:

    When I was a kid I used to play with Star Wars figures.

    None of those figures ever commited any acts of evil.
    Simply because they did excactly what I wanted them to and I moved them about as I saw fit.

    They did not have free will however, so their options were ofcourse somewhat limited.
    Now, had I breathed life into those figures, and given them a will of their own, things might have looked different.

    Some of my figurines would have followed my instructions and loved me, feared me and respected me and my rules as the giver of life.

    Others would have not, and thus ofcourse they would eventually end up very, very badly.

    But I would ofcourse test them, and see wich one would stand by me and my commands, and if necessary, fight for me and who would not.

    Then, someday, when I got tired of the game, I would bring rewards to the faithful.
    And gasoline to the others.

    That`s life.

  16. Lenny says:

    Besides great blogs they are always accompanied by great videos, thanks.

  17. Anil Wang says:

    Actually God does give a very clear answer. After showing Job that he already accepts a lot of things without understanding, Job realizes that the answer to suffering is not a “fact” or a “deductive argument”, but a person. Job 42:55-56 sums it up nicely, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. He still doesn’t understand, but like a child that’s forced to suffer at the dentist, ultimately he trusts his Father because he is his Father.

    There’s a lot of Christology in the Book of Job.

  18. TaylorKH says:

    Free will enables and God permits disobedience. That’s why there is suffering. On earth, we get to learn this so that we can become wise and choose to love instead. God wants what is good for us, but He let’s us learn and choose.

  19. Michael says:

    Thank You I start my day with the daily readings your blog and mass. This Blog and insight has been very enlightening to me

    Blessings

  20. Tom says:

    Thanks for this, I will save it and re-read it since I often struggle with these sorts of issues.

    Job seems passive-aggressive to me. At times he sounds like he’s flattering God but with this undercurrent of aggravation towards God. He says something like “who am I to question God?” while really meaning, “hey this is not a fair fight.” I think we’ve all been there which is part of the Bible’s charm: we can find ourselves in it.

    I think one can’t help but feel sorry for the people of Job’s time then since they were laboring under this delusion that everything bad that happened was directly from God and was thus his judgment on them. You really want to say, “why didn’t God tell them that?” It’s so hard to understand how it is that God can look on human ignorance without taking action and thereby lessen human suffering. It’s puzzling that with science and medicine, for example, God knows infinitely more than we do and yet he never, ever divulges anything. Wouldn’t it be hard for a human father to let his kid die even if he (the father) knows what will cure him? But then God didn’t spare even his own self, Jesus.

    God seems content to let us figure things out. He is tremendously big on giving over power to his creatures, given that we have the power to kill each other, including his own Son. If free will means anything, it means God is offering us control. We made us a little less than gods to quote the psalmist.

  21. JuliB says:

    I’m in the 4th year of the Diocese of Joliet’s Scripture School (started in CO several years ago, and has spread). We spent 2 classes on Job (it’s a 4 year weekly “intro” class), and in the fine lit-hist criticism tradition, it was explained to us as a folk tale. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but this book is an eye-opener.

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