Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Paradox of God: Thinking about the Story of Job

Posted by Seraphine

Throughout much of the Book of Job, Job and his friends try to impose a logical structure upon God. Job asserts that he is sinless yet suffering (and that the suffering must be coming from God), which causes him to assume that God is punishing him unfairly. His friends question his premise of sinlessness. They assume that God must be just; thus, Job must be mistaken about his own state. As we read further into the book, we discover that Job’s logic (minus his conclusion) is essentially correct, but when the Voice in the Whirlwind appears, it asks Job to hold on to a pardox: God asserts his own justness but doesn’t deny that the other beliefs Job holds about his own sinlessness and God are incorrect. In the end, God asserts that His morality is different from Job’s own; He essentially says, “I am a just God that you cannot comprehend, and you must submit because I am God and mightier than you are.”

This story resonates with me because this past year I have experienced the paradox of God. As I followed the logical train of my experiences and their meaning, I found myself ending up with conclusions that I wasn’t sure I could believe: God lied to me; I’m completely incapable of interpreting God’s communications to me; etc. My experience with God centers around the paradox that He loves me, but that He is willing to cause immense amounts of pain in my life, and perhaps even do things that, to me, feel immoral. I have had to suspend logic and accept, like Job, that somehow I cannot see the bigger picture from my limited perspective; that somehow, God is still God within this paradox.

But there’s another logical tangle in the story of Job that I have not yet resolved. The story of Job is essentially one of submission. Despite his lack of understanding, Job chooses to submit himself to God because He is God. The paradox of submission is that we must choose to submit to a being we do not fully understand, for reasons we do not fully understand, knowing full well that this submission may not turn out well. And yet, somehow, this submission seems to be the correct path. The only answer that makes this bearable is another paradox, one taken from the Gospels: “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

24 Responses to “The Paradox of God: Thinking about the Story of Job”

  1. 1.

    A fascinating post. My understanding on human suffering is that God does not create suffering that that He allows it. I find it fascinating that the Scriptures describe Job as a perfect man, and yet He suffered so intensely, perhaps a type of the Savior himself.

    I agree with you that the story of Job is submission to God. Submission is a powerful decision that allows God to work in our lives. Our suffering may not cease, but as we submit to God’s will, we learn lessons we might not have learned otherwise.

    I believe Job’s testimony of the Savior after all that he suffered is one of the most powerful testimonies on all of Scripture. And, whenever I feel tempted to blame myself or another for what I am suffering, I stop and think of Job. Perhaps his experience teaches us to be more gentle with ourselves and others when we (or they) experience adversity.

  2. 2.

    Really interesting post, Seraphine.

    What I love about Job is exactly the opposite of what other people seem to like. That he wishes he could sue God, for example: “He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:32-33). That he openly articulates his despair over God’s injustice: “Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery” (Job 9:15-18). That he has no qualms about leveling accusations against God: “It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?” (Job 9:22-24). Etc.

    In short, what I like most about Job is exactly that (in my opinion) he doesn’t ever submit. That he stays true enough to his own experience of the cosmos to wrestle with God and demand an explanation from him.

  3. 3.

    yes. i think of job as being the quintessential jew- claiming all of the benefits of being His chosen people- the intimacy(!) to suggest suing, his ongoing conversation being both inexplicable (it will always seem wrong to me- god as squabbler with satan, god as despot) but also enviable in the assurance job has of being loved and chosen by god. no, that’s not right. not loved and chosen rather- the assurance of being in a mutual relationship with god- something about the inextricableness of it all.

  4. 4.

    Awesome insights, Seraphine. Truly. ~

  5. 5.

    Carol, I tend to read the story of Job differently than you do. I don’t read a testimony in his words. Instead, it strikes me as the story of a man who demands that God answer his pleas (as Kiskilili points out), and then when God shows up in person, he does submit, but it’s not an easy or straightforward submission.

    And while I agree that it’s typical to attribute suffering to mortality (i.e. God allows suffering rather than causes it), I’m with Job on this one: I think my suffering, in part, has been caused by God. I’m willing to acknowledge there may be a very good reason for this, but God’s involvement in my suffering is something I’m pretty certain of.

    Kiskilili, I also love that aspect of the story of Job. I read the end of the book as a kind of submission, but he submits only after he gets his face to face meeting with God where he gets to explain his grievances. And since I’m someone who has yelled at God, stopped talking to Him, tried to demand things of Him, etc., Job’s attitude throughout the book really resonates with me.

    crazywomancreek, you’re totally right that the difficulties Job encounters is because of the relationship he assumes he has with God (which again, ends up being a correct assumption, since God does show up to answer him). I also love that about the story.

    Thanks, Thomas.

  6. 6.

    Kiskilili: “…to wrestle with God and demand an explanation from him.”

    Do you think he ever gets that explanation though? I don’t think he does.

    Seraphine: “choose to submit to a being we do not fully understand, for reasons we do not fully understand, knowing full well that this submission may not turn out well.”

    Excellent insight. And yet, I think there is still something about how Job reaches that submission—and how Abraham also achieves submission but still makes demands of God. Or as you put it:

    “he submits only after he gets his face to face meeting with God where he gets to explain his grievances.”

  7. 7.

    Do you think he ever gets that explanation though? I don’t think he does.

    Absolutely not. I think the tragic aspect to the book is that in spite of the replacement family (!) and all, Job never gets the one thing he (seemingly) wants most: an explanation. But this no doubt betrays my bias in reading the book, since I find God’s explanation in the whirlwind fascinating, but ultimately less than satisfactory, especially on rational grounds. And maybe it’s not meant to be understood rationally, as Seraphine (perhaps) suggests.

  8. 8.

    Okay, I’m glad I asked because that’s not quite how I read your comment #2. I can see why you don’t find God’s explanation rational from Job’s perspective, but from God’s point of view it seems perfectly reasonable: “You don’t even understand the question you’re asking, so I’m not going to bother answering it.” It’s not “nice,” but it is rational.

    Of course, God does respond to Job’s question, even though he doesn’t answer it. Like you, I find the answer fascinating, especially because of how the response changes the debate for Job. I think it’s especially interesting that God says, “[Job has] spoken about me what is right”—what exactly does God agree with? Job said some…damning stuff!

  9. 9.

    P.S. re Job’s “replacement family”: For me, the Book of Job ends at 42:9; verses 10-16 are a later addition written by some ancestor of all future Hallmark card authors. I have no evidence for this, of course.

  10. 10.

    I guess I don’t find it very rational to say someone should have to skin a leviathan, as it were, before they can ask why the God of the universe doesn’t follow a moral code.

    But like you I seriously doubt the prologue and epilogue belong originally to the book. The styles of Hebrew couldn’t more different.

  11. 11.

    P. S. So true about the Hallmark Job! In the actual book of Job, even Job doesn’t have the proverbial “patience of Job”!

  12. 12.

    These New Order lyrics swirl through my mind when considering such paradoxes:

    In the end you will submit
    it’s got to hurt a little bit

    I think there’s a valid case to be made that submission to God *has* to hurt. Not necessarily excruciating or continual, but there is no painless surrender.

  13. 13.

    I’m just not there and I don’t know if I ever will be in this life. I don’t think I could ever submit to something I felt with all being was immoral. I guess I just don’t have that faith or trust in God right now…I don’t even know if he really loves me…logically yes, but emotionally no.

  14. 14.

    You’re ahead of me–I don’t believe it logically or emotionally. The thought of “submitting” makes my skin crawl.

  15. 15.

    Kiskilili and Brian J, I think I’m with K on the irrationality of God’s response. And when I read the Book of Job, I pretty much ignore the prologue and epilogue.

    Tea, interesting idea.

    kaylana, I can definitely empathize with how you feel. The only reason I can consider trusting God again is because of how many blessings He’s thrown at me recently, but even then, I still struggle with the trusting most days.

  16. 16.

    John Murdock attended the School of the Prophets in Kirtland Ohio in the winter of 1833. He wrote about his experiences there which you can find in “An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock”, located in the Church Archives.

    One passage from that record struck me a few years ago. He wrote of a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ he experienced there. I won’t post the whole thing here, though I can send it to you if you wish. What struck me most was the sentence at the end of the paragraph in which he describes the experience.

    “[It] left in my mind the impression of love, for months that I never felt before to that degree.”

    God is the master of giving that kind of love; the kind that frees the receiver from tendencies to feel hurt and alone or to respond with anger, deceit or withdrawal and instead encourages warm, loving response.

    I think that when we read God’s response in the book of Job we read the words but we don’t experience the interaction between the two of them. I don’t see Job’s ultimate response as submission but rather as an increased comprehension of the nature of God that had previously eluded him and which ultimately leads him not to submission, but rather to reassurance, trust and hope.

    At the beginning of the book Job clearly understand’s his own pain, the concept of justice and the unfairness of unmet expectations and what he perceives as God’s atrocious neglect and has certainly spoken at God about it all and seriously sought understanding, which eludes him. At the end of the book he has fully encountered not only God’s words (which we read) but also God “face to face”. And that, I think, is what changes Job’s ability to trust him.

  17. 17.

    That’s a lovely reading of the Book of Job, and oh, how I want to believe it.

    Maybe because I haven’t had my “face-to-face” reckoning with God, it’s hard for me to actually accept as the reading that makes the most emotional sense. I’m still in a place of “you should submit even though it’s hard and doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

  18. 18.

    The word “submit” as it is translated in the KJV New Testament has an interesting meaning, different from the one we give that word in modern usage. Verses there tell us to “submit” to God and to each other. The word is most commonly a translation of one form or another of the Greek word “hupotassomai”, which is “to have a voluntary attitude of being responsive to the needs of others”. In other words, it is coming to a state of being where you choose to listen and respond to the thoughts and understanding of another as much as you do your own. It’s an action born of unselfish respect and love for other. Jesus’ loving “submission” to the will of the Father throughout his life was the ultimate example of this.

    One of the biggest challenges we face when we are hurt and hurting is that of being so overwhelmed by what we are feeling that we are unable to stop our minds from going over and over and over it again and again. That’s normal. And also, that constant self-conversation makes hearing and paying kind heed to anyone else’s thoughts, including God’s, very difficult. I’m sure he understands that and takes that into consideration.

    Personally, it is only after I have been able to get far enough along in a sorrow that I can get my mind to start to shut up a little about the injustices or pain I feel, that I am able to begin to emerge and really hear and engage in hupotassomai to my fellow human beings or to God without filtering everything they say or need through my own personal pain. It takes some time to get there. It is a process of emerging and seeing self and others more clearly and lovingly apart from my pain. (Whereas the modern meaning would imply that I was to acquiesce without argument while still fully consumed by my sorrow or pain. Very different.)

    Anyway, understanding the difference between the modern and Greek meanings of the word made a difference for me.

  19. 19.

    I really like this. Thank-you.

  20. 20.

    […] that asks us to go along in the face of outlandish claims to knowledge and events in order to make a sublime point. Margaret Barker’s fiction is no different (though far less sublime) for Latter-day Saints […]

  21. 21.

    Thank you for helping me. I lost my son in March and I have struggled with the idea of submission. I guess that is where faith comes in -Hebrews 11:1-“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Submitting to God’s will is is a tough proposition-even when it doenn’t make sense. Pain is all I see right now except I believe God has something for me to learn and share with others-it sure comes with compassion.

  22. 22.

    Wow… I love how you all dissected the story of Job. It is a blessing to be able to do so. I’m not the greatest when it comes to literature, however I thank God for teaching me His word. I assure you… the best understanding of God’s word is when we pray before reading it and mediate it continuously in our lives.

    For me the story of job provides many lessons and the more I read it the more I learn about God’s love, grace, faithfulness, kindness, power, fairness and much more. The story of Job has kept me for many years. I’ve endured many tragedies in my life, so I thank God for reminding me of Job every time I feel like giving up.

    What I get from reading Job (I’ve been reading this story since I was seven years old, I’m 34 now… at 28 I realized that when I was seven I understood better. I then asked God to help me let go of my own understanding so that I can allow Him, His Holy Spirit to teach me.):

    1) That God will sustain us!
    2) The world can take everything, but not my soul that belongs to our Almighty God.
    3) The Lord wants us to cry-out to Him… And when He answers we are to respect and honor him (submit).
    4) His purpose is not ours, lets not question him but worship Him trough the good and bad (You give and take away but I will still worship You Lord!).
    5) God will not give us anything we can’t handle. He knows me better than myself. better yet… he knows me better than my mother.
    6) We are to pray for and with our friends, family, co-workers, etc. Not judge. Sometimes it is best to just stay in silence and cry with them.
    7) God is patient… Not me.
    8) God arrives in time! Not too late. Not too early.

    I can go on and on… It is amazing how a verse can have multiple meanings. God’s word is everlasting. :o) It truly is! I’m just sharing what I learned at a very young age.

    May the Lord bless you all – with the love of Christ!

  23. 23.

    I really appreciate this post. It was like reading some of my own thoughts lately.

  24. 24.

    […] While writing this post, I was reminded of this thoughtful post by […]

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