The Correlation of God’s Response and the Theodicy Problem of Job

The book of Job is, for most, the quintessential source for dealing with the problem of righteous suffering.[1] Why do the righteous suffer? This is a question that countless individuals have posited throughout the ages. The psalmist asked God “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression” (Psalm 44:24)?[2] The majority of Job’s text is an exchange between Job and four friends: “Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite…Zophar the Naamathite” (Job 2:11)[3] along with the later friend “Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram” (32:2). However, the climax of the book comes when God “answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1, NASB).[4] This paper will argue that God’s response provides distinctive theological aspects which in turn offer insights to the overall message of Job. To defend this thesis, the paper will evaluate two distinct theological perspectives stemming from God’s response to Job. Then, the paper will evaluate how two implicit aspects of God’s response relates to the overall message found in Job.

The Theological Aspects of God’s Response

 The best way to learn about God is through the direct revelation of God. Chapters 38 through 42 provide God’s direct revelation to Job. Up until this point, Job had been conversing with four so-called friends. These friends did not offer much support as it relates to Job’s suffering. Now, Job finds himself confronted with God in the midst of a whirlwind and begins to converse with God, although Job does more listening than speaking at this stage. James E. Smith denotes that “Instead of answering questions from Job, God fired the questions—over seventy—at him! God was not on the witness stand. Job was, and he was subjected to intensive cross examination.”[5] In God’s cross-examination of Job, God provides four distinct theological attributes. Robert Alden denotes that “of the attributes of God, the ones that stand out in the Book of Job are sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, and justice.”[6] God’s omniscience and omnipotence stand as two major theological themes, whereas divine sovereignty and divine justice are two more implicit attributes found within God’s response. Omniscience and omnipotence will be examined in this section, whereas God’s implicit attributes are tied with the overall themes of the book and, thus, will be evaluated in the forthcoming section.

The Aspect of God’s Omniscience

Concerning omniscience, Norman Geisler writes, “Historically, the omniscience of God was a straightforward doctrine: God knows everything—past, present, and future; He knows the actual and the possible; only the impossible (contradictory) is outside the knowledge of God.”[7] Yahweh provides two addresses to Job. Yahweh’s first address, found in 38:1-42:6, demonstrates the great omniscience that he possesses and, as Barker and Kohlenberger denote, that “neither the counselors nor Job possessed complete knowledge…[showing] how very limited human knowledge is.”[8] Yahweh begins his prosecution of Job with the words “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge” (38:2)? Yahweh did not provide a response to Job’s queries, but instead pointed Job back to the acknowledgement that he had been accusing the One who had limitless knowledge. Yahweh provides two limitations upon Job’s knowledge in demonstrating the omniscience of his own.

First, Yahweh acknowledges his omniscience as it relates to time. Yahweh directly asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation” (38:4)? Alden denotes that “Unlike personified Wisdom, who was present at the creation (Prov 8:22–31), Job was a creature of time. When God “laid the earth’s foundation,” Job simply was not yet born…Job could not answer because he was not there and could not know.”[9] One finds a connection between the Logos of John 1:1, the Wisdom denoted in Proverbs 8:22-31, and Yahweh’s message to Job in 38:4. While Job did not understand the circumstances, Yahweh reminded Job that he did. Yahweh also addresses not only the limitation of time pertaining to Job’s knowledge and the superiority of his own knowledge, but Yahweh also addresses another limitation of human knowledge.

In addition, Yahweh introduces Job’s limitation of knowledge as it relates to creation. Yahweh demonstrates Job’s finite understanding of the working of geology in 38:4-18, cosmology in 38:19-38, and biology in 38:39-39:30. While Yahweh distinguishes the nature of particular animals (e.g. the ostrich in 39:13-18) and the structure of particular constellations (e.g. Pleiades and Orion in 38:31-32); the core essential doctrine provided is discovered in Yahweh’s question to Job in saying “Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it” (38:5)? Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas indicate that verses 4-6 of chapter 38 view the cosmos in the “terms of a temple, and the temple was understood to represent a microcosmos. Here the most important elements in building the temple are referred to in God’s setting up the cosmos.”[10] Yahweh intended to demonstrate the limited knowledge of humanity compared to his limitless knowledge. While modern individuals have access to greater understandings as to the workings of nature around them, humans are still vastly limited in their knowledge. Scientific discoveries and theories are constructed only to be constantly uprooted. As Harry Hunt denotes, “The human mind cannot control all knowledge or understand all situations.”[11] God in his infinite knowledge poses no theories or hypotheses as it relates to creation; rather, God has limitless knowledge of how things exist and will exist. While Job did not understand the workings of the tragedies around him, God did. Yahweh demonstrates another personal attribute: that of power.

The Aspect of God’s Omnipotence

Norman Geisler defines omnipotence as meaning that “God has unlimited power (omni=all; potent=powerful)…Theologically, omnipotent means that God can do whatever is possible to do. Or, God can do what is not impossible to do.”[12] Millard Erickson adds that omnipotence means “that God is able to do all things that are proper objects of his power.”[13]In Yahweh’s[14] response to Job, one finds clear evidence of the divine attribute of omnipotence. This section of the paper will evaluate two examples of divine omnipotence through Yahweh’s address to Job.

First, the theophanic presentation through the whirlwind demonstrates the omnipotence of God. Job possesses multiple references to the whirlwind. The NIV translates 38:1 as “the storm.” However, the NASB more accurately translates the verse as “the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1, NASB). The whirlwind, or storm, finds itself in several passages within the text of Job. Job’s children were killed when “a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house” (1:19). The term “wind” is used in 6:26; 8:2; 9:17; 15:2; 21:18; 27:21; 28:25; 30:15, 22; 37:9, 17, 21; and 38:24. The term “storm” is used in 9:17; 30:22; 36:33; 40:6; and with “whirlwind” (NASB) in 38:1. It is intriguing that Yahweh appeared to Job in a storm. Job’s family and wealth were destroyed by elements from a storm. Job even indicates that God would “crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason” (9:17). Alex Luc, describing Job’s use of the storm in describing his pain, notes that “The fearful and destructive power of the storm makes it the most powerful vehicle to describe Job’s pain.”[15] Yet, here Yahweh arrives shrouded in a storm. Through this imagery, one finds God’s great omnipotent strength. The storm motif will be noted again in the paper. Omnipotence is demonstrated in another means.

In the second discourse given to Job, Yahweh notes his great power over creation. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that the “purpose goes beyond showing Job that God is creator and sustainer of the natural world. It is to convince Job that God is Lord also of the moral order.”[16] Throughout the second discourse, Yahweh demonstrates his omnipotence through the examples of the Leviathan and the Behemoth. The identities of the Leviathan (41:1) and the Behemoth (40:15) have been the center of a great deal of speculation and debate. Considering the identity of the Behemoth, Alden postulates that the “hippopotamus has been the most popular identification for the ‘behemoth,’ with the elephant a distant second.”[17] Some interpreters have even posited a dinosaur of sorts. However, Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas denote that “Early intertestamental interpretation favors a mythical/supernatural identification.”[18] Comparably, the Leviathan is, according to Carson, “thought to be a dolphin, a tunny fish or a whale, but the general view is that it is a crocodile.”[19] If Barker and Kohlenberger present a tantalizing view that due to the placement of the beastly duo after the “assertions of the Lord’s justice and maintenance of moral order, lends weight to the contention that they are symbolic, though their features are drawn from animals.”[20] Barker and Kohlenberger are correct, then the Leviathan and Behemoth represent “evil political powers”[21]

Whether Yahweh indicates evil political forces, ferocious animals found in the here and now, dinosaurs that coexisted with humanity, or mythological beings known to Job and the people of his time with the Leviathan and Behemoth; the underlying belief is that God had the power to subdue Leviathan and Behemoth, whereas humanity remained incapable of doing the same. Therefore, Yahweh is merited trust due to his overwhelming power. Whereas the current section has evaluated the two underlying theological attributes presented in Yahweh’s address to Job, the forthcoming section will consider the two fundamental correlations as it pertains to the overall theme of Job.

 The Correlation of God’s Response, Attributes, and the Overall Message of Suffering

 What is the central message of Job? Many hold that the problem of theodicy is the primary theme. However, Andrew E. Steinmann argues that the central message is not about theodicy at all. Steinmann postulates that the following:

 We can only conclude that Job’s main message revolves around the subject of faith and integrity, not the theodicy of suffering. In the view of the author of Job, trust in God precludes questions of theodicy. Indeed, they are irrelevant. All that is relevant is trust that God can sustain a righteous person’s integrity and faith throughout the most severe crises.[22]

Whereas it is conceded that Steinmann is correct in assuming that the book of Job demonstrates the sustenance of one’s faith within periods of suffering and misery, one finds it difficult to bypass the countless scholars who have confirmed the presence of theodicy as a theme in the book of Job. Brooks and Neal denote,

 The book of Job deals directly with the subject of theodicy. The Israelites believed a doctrine known as retributional theology, in which sin resulted in punishment…The subsequent narrative of Job and his interactions with friends presents the classic problem of theodicy: How can a good, all-knowing God allow evil to happen to someone as upright as Job?[23]

By the response of Yahweh, one can rightly demonstrate two theses promoted throughout the entirety of Job. However, it could be argued that Yahweh provides a working answer to the problem of theodicy. The previous section noted two major theological points made in Yahweh’s discourse. While the attributes of omniscience and omnipotence are the general themes of the discourse, one will find moral and non-moral attributes of God illuminated in chapters 38 through 42. Through the moral and non-moral attributes of God, one will find an answer to the problem of theodicy in that God may allow suffering for particular purposes known to God. This section will evaluate how the moral and non-moral attributes of God tie into the aspect that suffering has purpose.

Purpose of Trials through God’s Moral Attributes

Throughout the conversations with Job’s so-called friends, Job had accused God of wrongdoing. After being insulted by his friends, Job accused God in saying “If indeed you vaunt yourselves against me and prove my disgrace to me, know then that God has wronged me and has closed his net around me” (19:5-6, NASB). Had Yahweh truly entrapped Job for no reason? Yahweh’s response demonstrates a major thesis postulated throughout the text in that a purpose exists to human suffering. While Steinmann holds that the major theme of Job is that of human faith, Steinmann concedes that the first of Job’s “two-pronged approach to theodicy…was a rationalist’s explanation of God’s actions.”[24] While Steinmann holds that explicit answers are not provided in Job, in which this writer would concede, it must be noted that Yahweh indirectly provides generalized responses to the theodicy problem. Yahweh demonstrates that a purpose tends to exist in trials. Yahweh inquires of Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me” (38:2-3, NASB)! Smith denotes that the “word ‘counsel’ suggests that the Lord has a plan or meaning in Job’s afflictions.”[25] How is this hypothesis developed? Whereby Yahweh does not demonstrate specifics behind Job’s suffering, Yahweh does demonstrate that trials may have a purpose due to two moral attributes that Yahweh possesses.[26]

First, trials may have purpose if Yahweh is a just God. In many ways, Job felt slighted by God. Job had lost everything. Job inquires “how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate God allots in his anger” (21:17). Luc denotes that Job’s “complaint implies that he is treated more oppressively than the wicked: that which rarely happens to the wicked is happening to him.”[27]Yahweh responds by noting that Job should “look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, and tread down the wicked where they stand” (40:12-13, NASB). Here, Yahweh implies his just nature in summoning, as Alden states, “Job to look for ‘every proud man’ and appropriately ‘humble him.’”[28] That is to say, Job did not have the capacity to see all the evil in the world nor did he have the capacity to judge accordingly. Therefore, Job’s trials were not for naught. Rather, Yahweh was not unjust for allowing such an event to transpire. But why? The text does not state the purpose for Job’s suffering, but that Job should trust Yahweh’s just nature. Yahweh could see all things whereas Job could not. Yahweh demonstrated that there are purposes for one’s trials and sufferings by another moral attribute of God, as well.

Along with God’s just nature, Yahweh demonstrates that suffering holds purpose due to God’s goodness. Yahweh’s response demonstrates the great concern and compassion that Yahweh has for all creatures. Yahweh inquires of Job, “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment when its young cry to God and wander about without food” (38:41, NASB)? One may note a parallel with Jesus’ teaching in that one should “look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they” (Matthew 6:26, NASB)? Yahweh demonstrates his concern for Job and all creatures. Therefore, suffering and trials must have a purpose if such are permitted by a good God.

Through the two moral attributes provided by Yahweh in the preceding section, one may note that suffering can hold a purpose if God is morally just and good. However, God may be good and just; but if God did not possess particular non-moral attributes, then God would become powerless to deliver a particular end.

Purpose of Trials through God’s Non-moral Attributes

Yahweh also demonstrated the purpose of trials through his non-moral attributes. Non-moral attributes describe the abilities of God. John S. Feinberg defines God’s non-moral attributes as “natural attributes belong to God’s very constitutional nature apart from his actions.”[29] God possesses many non-moral attributes. God’s omniscience and omnipotence, which were addressed primarily in God’s response, are considered to be two of God’s non-moral attributes. Nevertheless, Yahweh’s application of his non-moral attributes provides two features pertaining to the purpose of a person’s suffering.

The first non-moral attribute of God is exhibited in Yahweh’s response which demonstrates that suffering can have a purpose; that attribute is wisdom. Wisdom is slightly different than knowledge. Wisdom is defined as “practical skills associated with understanding and living a successful life.”[30] Termed another way: wisdom is knowing how to use information to bring about good ends, or applied knowledge. If God is wise, then God knows how to bring about good through even the worst of times. Alex Luc denotes that in Job 28 there exists “a wisdom poem at the end of the dialogs between Job and his three friends. While storm stands for Job’s unbearable experience, here God sees wisdom in it.”[31] In Yahweh’s response, the wisdom motif is revisited. Yahweh raises several inquiries to Job implying that Job has little to no knowledge pertaining to the workings of creation. Yahweh inquires “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone…” (38:30)? Many other examples could be provided. Nevertheless, Yahweh demonstrates his wisdom, wisdom that would later be described in Proverbs 9 and personified in the Logos of John 1. Job could trust that his suffering held purpose because of the wisdom of God, but Job would have another reason to trust God in the midst of his suffering.

Throughout the message of Yahweh, particularly in the second discourse, Yahweh demonstrates his sovereignty, or complete control, over all creation. Herein is the crux in finding purpose in the sufferings of life: if God is morally good and just, as well as sovereign, then God can be trusted with the events of life. Through the descriptions of the Behemoth and Leviathan, Yahweh denotes his sovereign control. For with the Leviathan, while humanity could not “capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose” (40:24), Yahweh could. Yahweh has power that humanity does not possess. Also with the Behemoth, while humanity could not “strip off its outer coat” (41:13), Yahweh could. In addition, one finds descriptions of God’s sovereignty in the whirlwind theophany.

Yahweh appeared to Job with a whirlwind (38:1). As noted earlier in the paper, the storm motif appears throughout the book of Job. Job’s family and livestock were destroyed by a storm in the earlier chapters of the text. Job states “are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away” (21:18, NASB). Job offers a defense in noting about God that he had snatched “me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm” (30:22). Job had encountered the storm initially and compared his plight to a storm. Then Yahweh appears to Job in the midst of a storm (40:6). The storm motif denotes the sovereign power of God. Alex Luc offers a compelling and powerful lesson in that “The reader who cries, ‘Where is God while the storm lingers?’ may find an answer, ‘God is in the storm’. When the storms of life tarry and God seems to retreat into total silence, the book of Job will continue to bring hope.”[32] The suffering of Job had purpose because of the sovereign power of Yahweh.

Conclusion

 This paper has evaluated the response that Yahweh delivered to Job’s accusations pertaining to Job’s sufferings. The paper has defended the thesis in that the response of God demonstrates particular divine attributes which address the overall theme of Job. The paper reviewed the two major theological attributes of God’s omniscience and omnipotence given in Yahweh’s message. The paper also evaluated how the moral and non-moral attributes of God contribute to the general framework of the theodicy theme of Job. Perhaps the most pressing issue that the paper has revealed is that God is not separate from the storms of life. The storms of life are at the discretion of a good, wise, powerful, and sovereign God. Paul sums up Job’s theme well with his statement to the Romans in that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).

The content of this article represents the academic work of the author. Be advised the paper represented in this article has been scanned through SafeAssign. Any efforts of plagiarism will be detected.

 Bibliography

Alden, Robert L. Job. Volume 11. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Brooks, Page, and D. A. Neal. “Theodicy.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Carson, D. A., et al., eds. New Bible Commentary. 4th Edition. Leicester, UK; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Hunt, Harry. “Job, Book Of.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad Brand, et. al. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Luc, Alex. “Storm and the Message of Job.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 87 (March 1, 2000): 111-123. Accessed April 9, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Shields, Martin A. “Wisdom.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry et. al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Smith, James E. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Steinmann, Andrew E. “The Structure and Message of the Book of Job.” Vetus Testamentum 46, 1 (January 1, 1996): 85-100. Accessed April 9, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

 Walton, John H., et. al. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.

———————————Footnotes——————————–

[1] Otherwise, this issue is termed the problem of theodicy.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[3] The remainder of the paper will only use chapter and verse addresses for texts found within the book of Job.

[4] All Scripture noted as NASB comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), Job 38–42, Logos Bible Software.

[6] Robert L. Alden, Job, vol. 11, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 1993), 38.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2011), 496.

[8] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 783.

[9] Alden, Job, NAC, 370.

[10] John H. Walton, et. al. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 509.

[11] Harry Hunt, “Job, Book Of,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Chad Brand, et. al., eds (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 927.

[12] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 487.

[13] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 302.

[14] YHWH, or Yahweh, (often translated LORD) is the personal covenant name for God used in the Old Testament. The paper will use either the generic term God when referring to divinity in a general sense and Yahweh when referring to divine communication with Job.

[15] Alex Luc, “Storm and the Message of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 87 (March 1, 2000): 115, Retrieved April 9, 2015.

[16] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, 783.

[17] Alden, Job, NAC, 395.

[18] Walton, et. al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 510.

[19] D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), 481.

[20] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, 786.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Andrew E. Steinmann, “The Structure and Message of the Book of Job,” Vetus Testamentum 46, 1 (January 1, 1996): 100, retrieved April 9, 2015.

 [23] Page Brooks and D. A. Neal, “Theodicy,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, John D. Barry et. al., eds (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), Logos Bible Software.

[24] Steinmann, “The Structure and the Message of the Book of Job,” Vetus Testamentum, 100.

[25] Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Logos Bible Software.

[26] By moral attributes, the paper indicates the traits of God’s personal character.

[27] Luc, “The Storm and the Message of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 114.

[28] Alden, Job, NAC, 394.

[29] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 236.

[30] Martin A. Shields, “Wisdom,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, John D. Barry et. al., eds (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), Logos Bible Software.

[31] Luc, “Storm and the Message of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 116.

[32] Luc, Storm and the Message of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 123.

Copyright May 2015. Brian Chilton.

Advertisements

One thought on “The Correlation of God’s Response and the Theodicy Problem of Job”

  1. great theme brother… I always find it a good summary to say that God answered Job in two ways without finding any fault in Job for questioning God in the middle of the trial…as James tells us, in trials if we lack wisdom as to their purposes, Go dwill give us THAT wisdom and will answer the righteous who does not question God’s goodness or righteousness, nor fails to trust him just as Job never failed to trust him…the two answers were “Since you cannot answer me as to why or how I have decided to order the minutest details of this universe that I created, you would be unable to comprehend ALL of my reasons for allowing this trial.” but secondly, we have Ch 1 because God it seems DID tell him the direct reason. Satan challenged God regarding Job, and God allowed Satan to do what he did to prove Job’s love was sincere and not “conditional on physical blessings.” That is all Job had asked for…”why did you allow this?”…thus, one of the three reasons for trials are 1) “for God’s sovereign purposes that occur in the heavenly realm”…and the peace that Job received “I will speak no more”…is what God will give when the purpose is not for 2) our sin, or 3) to form character in us in an area he wants to change or use…just my two cents worth brother. Again, awesome paper and theme
    .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s