In a recent YouTube video, I talked about epistemology in Job, Alice in Wonderland, and the reception-history of Alice in the Matrix. Job and Alice both find themselves in a world where everyday presuppositions no longer apply. In this post, I’ll expand a bit on Job’s confusion.
In some books of the Bible, there is heavy interaction between heavenly and human realms—think of the Pentateuch, where Moses regularly relies on God to perform miracles. In other books, humans have no interaction with the heavenly realm—think of Esther, which famously doesn’t even mention God.
Job opens like the latter, with no interaction between heavenly and human realms. But it is unique, in that it gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the heavenly realm.
And humans are portrayed as particularly oblivious.
In Job, God’s wrath is one of those scary facts of life that requires humans to protect themselves. The usual method is mediation, and Job does this as part of his normal routine. One ordinary day, Job counts out the number of sacrifices to match his children, and at the end of the day, that exact number is dead! The system doesn’t work anymore.
Part of why this is so scary for Job is the lack of revelation. He’s so confused, and he receives no divine word about it. He racks his brain to figure out what he did wrong, but he concludes, rightly, that he did nothing wrong. Something doesn’t add up.
When Job starts talking it out, he wants to prove his innocence in court. But his trial would not be complete without revelation! In Job 9:32–10:2, Job says he wants a trial so God can finally tell him why God is punishing him. Then he wants to be able to refute the charges. He says this again in Job 13:20–24. Unfortunately for Job, none of this would make a difference. It is based on false presuppositions, and he is not being punished. Proving his innocence would not change anything. Sometimes bad things happen to innocent people.
The divine silence makes everything so much worse. The confusion is weighing on him. But, lo and behold, God shows up in a storm wind to respond to the legal challenge! God gives Job direct revelation at the end. While Job’s questions are not fully addressed, he does indicate some satisfaction from God’s revelation. God reminds Job that humans have limited perspective—they need to constantly question their presuppositions.
Thomas Aquinas says that the divine storm wind could be a metaphor for Job’s suffering, of which he includes Job’s inability to understand divine revelation. The lack of answers, the confusion, the divine silence…all of that compounds Job’s suffering. The confusion is partly satiated by God’s conversation with Job. John Chrysostom emphasizes the intimacy of divine revelation in this conversation. He says God scoots the divine throne over to Job and leans in for a personal chat. I love that description.
At the end of Job, there is no longer a barrier between heavenly and human realms. Job has just had a conversation with the Almighty, and everything changes. The ending of Job depicts a God that interacts with humans. God warns Job’s friends of their impending doom! But then God gives them instructions for avoiding it. It’s a totally different scenario than the book’s opening. William Blake's Illustrations of Job are particularly powerful in the way they separate the heavenly and human realms at the beginning, then slowly bring them together as the book progresses. In the beginning, God is unreachable. In the end, God is standing directly before Job and his wife.
The book of Job is a quest for divine revelation. At the outset, humans are oblivious to the workings of the heavenly realms; they just have to try their best. As the book progresses, Job realizes more and more how oblivious he is. He begs for divine revelation until he gets an intimate relationship with God.