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Suffering & Mystery

“Good Lord, there are no words.” Aaron Brown on CNN, September 11th 2001.1
“Let me have silence and I will speak.” Job 13:13

When reading the Book of Job it is difficult not to be humbled by a man whose woes far exceed anything most of us have experienced, yet who responds with such dignity. In the case of Job it is the suffer who offers counsel not the unafflicted.

In the vacuum of God's silence Job's voice is sucked from him. And that voice is perhaps the most used script for the suffering believer. Job renders such a song of suffering that remains unsurpassed in the history of literature. He says what most feel, but cannot articulate in their own words. Like the bluesman for the suffering slave, Job gives us words to say when life is garroted of meaning. Even the staunch atheist is forced to count Job's words as among the greatest work of literature humanity possess.2 But the book is also part of God's Book and so Job's laments and experiences show us not only how to speak, but how to listen.

The book of Job shows us that the existential problem of evil is helped neither by stoic submission, nor by idolatry. Rather, it is the complaint of saints through the ages whose anger at God, whose overwhelming desire for death and whose grief in the face of loss of all they love never ceases to acknowledge the Lordship of the one to whom they cry out.

The book of Job shows how the believer should suffer. Job knows the goodness of God. He knows the favor of God, but knowing the goodness and favor of God does not entail living a suffering free life. Don Carson notes that Job has always known that just because he was faithful to God he was not exempt from suffering: “For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25). Job had evidently thought about possible suffering and had even prepared himself for it.3 Job's faithfulness is, therefore, “independent of material comfort.”4

The reason for Job's suffering is entirely mysterious for Job. What possible cause could God have for meting out such horror on him? Job does not discover the reason. Even when offered a multitude of options by his friends Job does not accept them. The reasons for his suffering remain a mystery. However, Job knows that there is no such thing as mystery, only what is mysterious to him. For God, nothing is mysterious. As Calvin comments: “Could we do greater dishonor to God than to want to enclose his power within our minds? It is more than if a man wanted to clutch the sea and the earth in his fist, or hold them between two fingers. It is a still more excessive madness.”5

For believers who experience misery it is hard to understand why it is that God does not reveal the reason they are going through such a life. In fact, it seems that there is no guarantee that the sufferer will ever find out the reason. When we die we are no less finite in our capacities for comprehension that we were in our earthly lives. There is a distinct possibility that we will never be able to understand why God let it happen. It is no comfort to say that one day we will find out why. Job never knows why God puts him in such peril, yet he never ceases to believe God. The text affirms mystery for Job, but not for God. God knows exactly what is going on – his bout with Satan, his design for Job's restoration, the putting of his story to the page and the millions who have heard, read and cried out using Job's lament as their voice. For mystery is not pan-metaphysical; it does not really exist because, for God, there is no mystery.

1National Public Radio, “How Aaron Brown Became CNN's Voice of Sept. 11,” accessed April 12 2011,
2Job often features in lists of the greatest works of literature. For example in the Guardian newspaper, a decidedly non-Christian paper, Job features on the merits of its literary content: “The Top 100 Books of All Time,” The Guardian, Last modified May 8, 2002
3D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord? (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 140.
4Ibid., 141.
5John Calvin, Opera Calvini 34, 442, sermon on Job quoted in Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 334.