A short paper from my Literature of the Bible class
| Limited Humans
The Book of Job illustrates the concept of the limited human understanding of God. The text consistently drives home the fact that there are scenes, actions, and realms that humans—try as they might—cannot grasp. They search for reasons for why things occur; reasons that cannot be explained with human logic.
Beginning with the heavenly beings reporting to God, the narrator unveils the unearthly setting to which humans are not privy. Of the host gathered in His presence, Satan, coming from Earth, is singled out and challenged by God. He asks Satan that if he has met His righteous servant Job in his travels. Satan replies in the positive and expounds on his belief that humans will turn on God should great misfortune fall upon them, using Job as his example. The Lord, knowing in advance that Job’s faith will sustain him, allows Satan to take the wealth and prosperity from Job. (New Oxford Annotated Bible, Job 1.6-12)
Satan’s initial plot fails. Job attributes his wealth to God therefore its loss must also be by God’s hand. Job can rationalize that his children, who have not been as pious as he (Job 1.4-5), have fallen victim to The Lord’s wrath; an idea that is reinforced by Bildad later in the text (Job 8.3-4). Job mourns these losses, but in his mourning, he still praises God by saying: “… the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1.21) By this train of thought, all that has happened is still within Job’s human understanding; material goods can be lost and sinners can be punished.
Satan’s second audience with God produces the next challenge for Job—the loss of his health. This begins multiple dialogues among the human characters that attempt to put God’s actions into a human framework. Each dialogue highlights human ignorance of the machinations of the ethereal world that surrounds them.
Job begins the discussion with the question of why. Why—if he is a devout man who refuses to allow his integrity to falter—is he made to suffer? The question itself shows Job’s instinct to frame his predicament in human terms. He feels he must have done something to deserve what is happening, though he does not recall anything that would have upset God. He is unable to see the greater “Why?” that is occurring around him (Job 3.11-12, 20, 23). Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—counsel Job in a similar manner. Each places the situation into a logical argument of human construction.
Eliphaz opens his dialogue graciously, speaking on how Job has helped many through their issue and suggests that Job must experience suffering as all humans must at some point. His words reflect this in the passages: “But now it has come to you and you are impatient: it touches you and you are dismayed.” (Job 4.5) and “For misery is does not come from the earth, nor does trouble sprout from the ground; but humans are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5.6-7). He speaks of the human experience to Job as something that must occur; as something no heavenly reason can be attributed.
Bildad uses phrases such as: “If you seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you…” (Job 8.5-6) and “See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers.” (Job 8.20) His view that God’s justice is perfect and would only fall upon a guilty party exemplifies the human understanding of bad things happen to bad people and if you are blameless you will not suffer.
Zophar has a different point of view. He pays respect to the mystery of God by saying, “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” (Job 11.7) Zophar, however, returns to the human condition of yes or no, right or wrong, black or white. Instead of suggesting that a higher purpose might be served by the suffering Job is enduring, he reverts to the sin Job must have committed and refuses to account for.
Job persistently up holds his innocence of any human crimes, going as far as requesting a hearing before God, an action that again shows Job’s willingness to believe in a higher power, but within the framework of human justice. The entire text of Chapter 31 is the best example of the limited human understanding that is clung to. Job lists all the earthly things he has not done and is willing to account for these actions IF he had done them. Not once though, does it cross Job’s mind that God wants to use him for an unearthly purpose; an expression of His authority over Satan, as well as an expression of his faith in his creations.
The climax of the narrative is the Lord’s confrontation of Job. While Job has kept his faith, his perception of God has been narrow. God’s questions of, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (Job 38.33) is a not so subtle hint from the Lord that Job has understanding of only one setting and that He has authority over of all settings.
Job never gets his answer to why. He gains something far greater, an understanding that surpasses human perception. This he admits in what seems an astonished tone, “… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful to me which I did not know.” (Job 42.3) Job is rewarded for his faith; but more importantly, he is rewarded for his ability to go beyond the limited human.
“The Book of Job.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and
Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. 625-673. Print.