God’s Reply to Job in Chapter 38

 

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Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size; do you know?

 

Job was a pious man for whom everything was going well. Then, a series of tragedies struck him in rapid succession. This led him to ask one of the most fundamental questions of human existence, i.e. why do bad things happen to good people? Many times in life, there are circumstances that are offensive to our sense of justice. We try to assign punishment and reward in a merit-based way in our society. The criminal has to spend time in prison, the exceptionally good person who serves society is rewarded with money or some honor. But, there are circumstances that are out of our control: getting sick, getting in a car accident, or losing one’s home to fire, to name a few. These things can happen to us without any culpability on our part. Many people get sick who have been doing a great job taking care of their health. Many people get in car accidents who are extremely safe and prudent drivers.

These situations are especially poignant for the believer in God. Someone like Job, who structures his life around his belief in God, might find a series of tragedies as out of step with what he feels he has a right to expect. Some believers expect God’s protection from the vicissitudes of life in exchange for their constant devotion. There are many verses, after all, in the psalms attesting to God’s special concern for pious believers.

In chapter 38 of the Book of Job, we encounter God’s majestic response to Job’s metaphysical questions and complaints. God takes a haughty tone, like a father who has been listening to petulant queries of his son for too long. The passage is long and poetic, but it contains one basic idea: that God, being the creator of the universe, is in a much better position to make judgments about how that universe is run than Job, a mere finite creature.

God lists all the vast and grand stretches of the universe of which he is in charge and of which he is the creator: the sea, the sun, the gates of death ( some sort of entranceway into the afterlife). This passage is one of the most beautiful and amazing passages in all of Scripture.

It undercuts attempts to condemn God in the name of evil. Many believers, non-believers, theologians, and philosophers over the centuries have raised the question of whether or not it is possible to believe in God given the overwhelming presence of evil in the world. How can anyone, they ask, believe in God given all the suffering there is? At the base of this question is the belief that, if a good God were in charge, then would not be nearly as much, if any, evil. Something like the Holocaust, for instance, would never have happened.

But, as we know from chapter 38 of the book of Job, this question is arrogant. An analogous situation might help. Imagine a kid walking into a restaurant. The kid has never been in a restaurant before. The owner of the restaurant walks past. This individual not only owns the restaurant, but also was the person who founded it. The owner has to make decisions about the functioning of the restaurant on a daily basis, and has gained a lot of wisdom through his experiences over the years. The kid gets his attention and says,  “Why have you hired so many people?”

Of course, the kid’s question is arrogant. He’s trusting in his own paradigms and judging the restaurant owner, when he really should humbly acknowledge that his paradigms and mental schemas are limited. In other words, just because the kid doesn’t understand something about the restaurant does not make that aspect of the restaurant actually incoherent or wrong.

There is a similar failure to acknowledge the limitation of our mental framework when people doubt the goodness of God’s plan and interventions or lack of interventions in the world. Such people conclude that things are wrong because they seem wrong to them. But, the proper conclusion from the fact that things seem wrong to them is that there is something limited about their mental framework.

In the end, God’s majestic argument in chapter 38 of the book of Job seems like common sense. On what basis can a finite creature condemn an infinite one?

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