After a thorough perusal of the Book of Job, one can only conclude that Job learns a great deal from his experience. Of significance is Job’s theophany, his mystical religious experience of communicating with God. Job’s religious experience results in his new awareness of God’s omniscience and omnipotence. Job learns to be theocentric, rather than anthropocentric. In contrast, Job never does learn about the generic cause of his suffering. The cause being the wager between Satan and God.
Job had always been a pious man and had lived a life of material comfort. Throughout chapters one to thirty-seven in the Book of Job, Job experiences misfortune. As a reaction to the extreme suffering that Job must contend with, he falls into a deep and continual state of despair. A despair that threatens his faith in God.
Job repeatedly proclaims his innocence. He feels as if he were being punished by God, with no just cause. Where there is faith there is hope. However, Job’s faith in God becomes progressively weak. Job begins to lose all hope. The weakening of Job’s faith becomes apparent when he says:
“I tell you that God has wronged me and enveloped me in his net” (Job 19, 6)
As Job’s faith in God becomes weaker, it is evident that Job begins to lose hope of ever seeing happiness again. Job replies to Eliphaz:
“My days are over, so are my plans, my heart-strings are broken… Where then is my hope? Who can see any happiness for me?” (17, 11-15)
Friends and relatives give advice to Job. However, everyone believes that Job must have sinned and is being punished. Job proclaims his innocence and finds no comfort from others. God seems far away and evil appears to be triumphant. Evidently, until chapter thirty-seven of the Book of Job, Job maintains an anthropocentric perspective. If human beings were the centre of everything, then Job’s understanding of his suffering might bring some light to his situation. However, Job has more to learn.
The three sages, the friends of Job, have failed to justify God. Thus, Job is in a state of ever deepening despair, until God speaks to him. The discourses of Yahweh are a major turning point for Job. Job’s theophany, (mystical religious experience), is his direct discourses with God, where he learns the most. Job’s profound learning restores his faith in the Divine.
The first discourse with Yahweh teaches Job about the Creator’s wisdom. Job learns that God is omiscient, all knowing. Yahweh asks Job many questions:
“Have you grasped the celestial laws?” (38, 33)
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me since you are so well informed!” (38, 4)
“Who decided its dimensions, do you know?” (38, 5)
Job begins to realize that the human intellect is limited in understanding. Job replies to Yahweh:
“My words have been frivolous! What can I reply? I had better lay down my hand over my mouth, I have spoken once, I shall not speak again: I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say.” (40, 4-5)
Thus, Job acknowledges God’s omniscience. Job realizes that perhaps he doesn’t understand his own suffering completely. However, God being all knowing, would have the absolute wisdom necessary to understand Job’s suffering.
Secondly, through the discourses of Yahweh, Job learns that God is omnipotent. God asks Job:
“Do you really want to reverse my judgement, Put me in the wrong and yourself in the right? Has your arm the strength of God’s, Can your voice thunder as loud?” (40, 8-9)
Yahweh reminds Job that he is not strong enough to save himself, let alone anyone else. Yahweh challenges Job by stating:
“Let the fury of your anger burst forth, humble the haughty at a glance. At a glance bring down all the proud, strike down the wicked where they stand.” (40, 11-12)
Job finds comfort, as a result of his mystical religious experience, communicating directly with God. Job comes to know God more completely. Job has overcome his weakening faith. Now, he has a stronger faith and a deeper understanding of God.
Job also learns of God’s omnipotence. Yahweh reminds Job of the strength of Divine power. Through faith in God, Job’s hope is restored. The suffering that Job experiences must be temporary. Eventually, Job will experience happiness once again. The progress of Job’s learning is portrayed in his final answer to Yahweh:
“Before, I knew only by hearsay, but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42, 5-6)
Job’s learning is progressive; from an anthropocentric (human centered) to a theocentric (God centered) perspective. By understanding that God is in the centre, Job begins to see himself as a small unit within a larger, yet Divine plan. Job realizes that everything cannot happen for his benefit alone. By means of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, eventually Divine justice will reign supreme. Job reaffirms what he has learned through his experience by answering Yahweh:
“I know that You are all-powerful; what You conceive: You can perform. I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words.” (42, 2-3)
In contrast to all the profound learning that Job gains through his experience, Job has learned nothing about the generic cause of his suffering. Initially, there was a wager established between Satan and God. Misfortune and suffering, were originally thrust upon Job due to Satan challenging God. Satan, was sure that Job would lose faith in God, if tested by severe suffering. Both Satan and Yahweh knew all along about the wager that led to Job’s suffering. Even after Yahweh’s discourses, Job never learns about the wager between Satan and God. The real purpose behind Job’s suffering is never revealed to him.
One can only conclude that Job’s theophany, his mystical religious experience of speaking directly with God, results in a progressive learning experience. Before his religious experience, Job understands his suffering from an anthropocentric perspective. After learning from his mystical religious experience, Job becomes theocentric, or God centered. In contrast, Job never learns anything about the real cause of his suffering– the wager between Satan and God. In the heart of the tempest, while in the depths of despair, Job’s faith and hope are restored. Job learns more about the Divine nature of Yahweh–the attributes of omniscience and omnipotence. Profound learning results from Job’s experiences, both the suffering and the theophany. Job’s happiness is re-established, and his love for God deepens.
All references to the book of Job in this article refer to:
The New Jerusalem Bible. 1990. Bantam Publishing Ltd., London