Unquestionably, one of philosophy’s oldest questions is the issue of theodicy: why does a good God let bad things happen to good people? This question is at least as old as what may be the oldest book in the Bible–namely, the book of Job, which explores the question in narrative form. Interestingly, though, by the conclusion of his journey, Job knows not more about God and His ways but less about Him; instead, Job comes to know God Himself. By demonstrating the inherent incompleteness of human knowledge, the poverty of man’s logic, and the immense magnitude of God Himself, the author of Job shows that faith, not reason, provides the clearest vision of the heart and will of God in suffering.

The book of Job tells the story of its title character, a Gentile but nevertheless exemplarily righteous man who lives in the obscure Middle Eastern land of Uz. In the opening chapters of the book, Job suddenly and unexpectedly loses his great wealth, his family, and eventually even his health after a heavenly confrontation of which Job never learns. In His heavenly court, God grants authority over Job’s life to Satan after Satan questions whether Job’s righteousness is anything more than a response to God’s kindness. In the proceeding chapters, Job vacillates between despair, anger, and faith in the midst of his circumstances, in time beginning to doubt God’s power and justice. Meanwhile, his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar attempt to comfort him with assurances that his sufferings are the result of some hidden sin and promise that all will return to its former state once he repents, but Job, conscious of his own innocence, refuses to follow their suggestions. After three cycles of accusation, defense, and soliloquy that span twenty-eight chapters of traditional Hebrew poetry, Job’s friends fall silent and a young man named Elihu confronts the group claiming to speak for God, initially accusing Job as his friends have but eventually challenging him to turn his eyes from his sufferings to the immeasurably greater wisdom, majesty, and mercy of God. Finally, God Himself answers Job. First, He entreats Job to tell Him of the intricate workings of the universe; presented with his own insufficiency, Job promises silence. God then describes Behemoth and Leviathan, two frightfully powerful yet awesomely magnificent beasts, and asks Job how he would tame them. Humbled by the majesty of God, Job confesses God’s might and his own weakness, repenting for “utter[ing] what [he] did not understand” (42:3, ESV). Before the close of the book, God rebukes Job’s friends for their simplistic view of divine justice and ultimately restores Job’s possessions, making his estate far greater than it had been before his trials. In the course of this narrative, the narrator makes three significant philosophical assertions regarding the insufficiency of human reason.

First, the opening chapters of Job testify to the fact that human beings are congenitally unable to know all of reality. Job, a righteous but nonetheless mortal being, cannot possibly know of the unearthly events that have prompted his sufferings; only through an act of divine revelation that evidently is not extended to Job himself do readers of the narrative know about God’s encounter with Satan. God has perfectly good reasons for everything He does, the author of Job thus suggests, but human beings will necessarily often be ignorant of them, just as by virtue of their finitude they are frequently unknowledgeable of many human events that impact their lives. Consequently, Job’s story demonstrates that the human tendency to question God’s motives for suffering is a result of unbelief acting on limited human nature.

Additionally, the facile arguments of Job’s three friends reveal the limited nature of human intuitions. While readers of the book of Job are often quick to become frustrated with the shallowness of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar’s claims, the friends’ suggestions are actually quite understandable considering their restricted knowledge of Job’s situation. Knowing God to be just, they logically infer that Job’s suffering must be a consequence for some sin, and their faith in their own wisdom blinds them to facts that do not fit their narrative. Their failure to grasp reality attests to the fact that humanity requires a certain amount of divine revelation to reason properly about the things of God.

Lastly, God’s speech at the end of the book reminds human readers that the God who created us and our universe is so much greater than we are that we will always ultimately fail to comprehend His will in its entirety. Ironically, the divine revelation Job receives in the last chapters of his story causes him not to begin to reason properly about his circumstances but to resign himself to the far greater wisdom of God:

“. . . I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3)

The book of Job never denounces reason as a means of understanding God’s nature and will; in fact, God eventually denounces Job’s friends for their failure to think rightly about Him and commends Job’s faithfulness to wrestle logically with reality (42:7). Nevertheless, God’s words make clear that His greatness is so much more magnificent than we can imagine that our minds will only ever comprehend a tiny sliver of it.

Indeed, considering the initially philosophical bent of the book of Job, the narrative’s concluding chapters commend faith as a far better window into the mind of God than philosophy. In his last words of the story, Job states:

“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.” (42:5-6)

Interestingly, the word translated repent above may also be translated be comforted–in other words, Job finally finds the comfort he has craved throughout the book not in knowledge about God but in seeing Him in His glory and confronting the reality of his own sinfulness and humanity. By the end of the book, Job has received the arbiter between himself and God that he begged for earlier in the narrative (9:33), but instead of speaking for or to him, God Himself has shown Job His face, giving him not the explanation that he thought he needed but the personal relationship with his Creator for which he was made.

This, for Christians, is the glory of the book of Job: like Job, we have been given an arbiter who lays His hands on both us and God, showing us the face of the Father (John 14:9). By revealing Himself to us in the flesh, God has not only given us the fullest expression of Himself that can and should inform all of our thoughts about him; He has also opened our eyes and our hearts to see Him and love Him, setting us free to think and love as He designed us to.

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