Job and the Argument from Evil

Job can be considered in relation to three others:

1.) Job to his friends. This relationship is hard to evaluate but the end is at least clear: his friends are dismissed in contempt by God without comment or response while Job gets a lengthy if pointed response.

2.) Job to God. God does not explain the reason for Job’s suffering, nor does he answer his prayers. True, God responds to Job but not in the way Job asks for – as one who might present himself for interrogation or dialogue.

3.) Job to the reader of the Book of Job. This is a third perspective which is rather like God’s perspective. We, unlike Job, can see exactly why Job suffers, sc. the devil is testing a hypothesis about Job’s fidelity.

Start with (3). Notice there is no sense of a ‘divine contest’ alluded to in the text between God and the devil. God asks if the devil saw Job, and the devil responds that Job’s righteousness would not withstand trial. God neither contradicts him nor suggests the idea of a trial, but only allows Satan to act under certain constraints, and the text gives no reason for either. Satan returns to extend his power, and God allows for the extension under constraints but again gives no reason. The sense the reader gets from this is simply that the Devil is allowed to sin in the same way anyone else is. The only thing God seems concerned about in both exchanges is that the Devil might recognize Job’s holiness.

To (1), what’s interesting is that God’s rebuke of Job is still a better response than his friends get, in spite of the fact that his friends seem more eager than Job to justify the ways of God. The lesson seems unmistakable: neither Job nor his friends know what is going on, but the friends are worse off for assuming they do. This might be a critique of theology, but it’s interesting that this is exactly Socrates’s account of his own philosophical life in Apology. 

To (2) God never mentions the actual reason for Job’s suffering, even though the reader is told of it at the beginning of the book. All the evil afflicting Job traces back to a free choice, nothing is mere nature or bad luck. God couldn’t make imperfect volitional beings without allowing for imperfect volition, and so for sin, and so God could only strike out the source of Job’s suffering by denying existence to Job himself. But God nowhere gives this rather straightforward reason. He sees the better response as a series of rhetorical questions aimed at proving that Job is not partial to a perspective from which suffering could make sense. Suffering, we are left to assume, is something that only makes sense in the context of the generation of the universe as such, in all of its minute interaction and complexity, not only as it exists now, but as it exists throughout all time. And so Gd’s rebuke turns out to be a sort of shadow cast from a much brighter source – Job sees that his suffering corresponds not to anything temporal or finite but to the universe as such in its very source of generation.

1 Comment

  1. Caleb Neff said,

    January 28, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    This is surely a beautiful explanation, at least from my perspective. When patience was called long-suffering we clearly understood that the ability to suffer through something is beautiful in itself. And it is better still that our suffering has everlasting significance, so that our patience is tempered and strengthened with hope.
    I should say God rewarded Job more with His pointed reply than with Job’s newly increased wealth. To see suffering as absurd and meaningless is a horrible error, and for a man’s good must be corrected for his edification.

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