This week’s Books & Culture podcast covered three books that the publication is reviewing. The last of the three was a commentary from Tremper Longman on the book of Job. B&C Editor John Wilson read an excerpt that really caught my attention. It was from the final reflective essay in the nearly 500 page book, “Is Job a theodicy?”
The term “theodicy” comes from a Greek phrase that means justification. Many people struggle with the idea that there is evil in the world. If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there suffering in the world? He could fix that if he wanted to…couldn’t he? Many people, but few Biblical scholars, think that Job is a theodicy, an attempt to explain suffering. Certainly suffering is a major component of the book. Nevertheless, as I explained in the introduction, wisdom, not suffering, is the main theme or message of the book. Job’s suffering is the occasion for discussing wisdom. Shields rightly denies that Job should be understood as a theodicy: “The common notion that Job seeks to present a theodicy faces the rather significant difficulty that in the end, the book offers no real explanation for innocent suffering beyond Job’s individual circumstances and no explicit justification for Yahweh’s actions. That does not mean that the book of Job makes no contribution to our understanding of suffering. But it does so predominantly in a negative sense. In particular, it loudly and clearly denies that all suffering is the result of sin or that all suffering has the purpose of discipline. The cause of suffering is much too complex to be reduced to a single explanation that can be applied to every case. The book of Job serves as a warning to those who want to judge others based on the quality of their life.”
The preface and some of the introduction to the book is available here. You can check out past episodes of the B&C podcast here.
God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to propound them. The other great fact which, taken together with this one, makes the whole work religious instead of merely philosophical, is that other great surprise which makes Job suddenly satisfied with the mere presentation of something impenetrable. Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.C