Summary: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) Yes, I’m quoting God from the book of Job, chapter 38, second verse - a book that I’ve finally decided, reluctantly, needs to be looked at.
I say reluctantly because it’s a depressing book, and depressing not only because it deals with the series of depressing events that befall the story’s main character, but depressing too because the man’s search for an answer to his problems never gets a result that I find satisfying.
I’m assuming that you are at least a little familiar the book of Job, but in case you’ve never read it let me give you a quick outline:
The book of Job is about a called Job (no surprises there) - a character who we are told at the beginning of the book was “a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil”.
If you didn’t get to meet the historical Job, you’ve no doubt met his modern equivalents, and quite possibly in church. He’s the sort of guy who is so pristine and respectable that he probably makes you squirm a bit.
He’s the guy Winston Churchill described as having “all the virtues I despise and none of the vices I admire”. He’s just a little too clean and upright and Peter Perfect when we first meet him, but then everything falls apart for him.
All at once his children die, his livestock are killed, all his belongings are destroyed and he gets a terrible case of boils on his skin, and from this desperate position of physical and emotional desperation, Job begins his quest to get answers from God as to why such evil should befall a good man.
It’s a story that, up to this point, resonates with us on a number of levels. Job suffers. We too have suffered. We might not have suffered to the same extent that Job suffered and yet we would like to have answers just as Job wanted to have answers.
And so as Job goes on his quest - searching for answers to the things that don’t make sense in life, his quest becomes our quest, his questions are our questions, and if his God is our God, we look for his answer to become our answer.
Which is why it is so unsatisfying when we reach the climax of the story (some 38 chapters later) only to find that the answer God gives Job to his unjust suffering is some sort of riddle!
"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (38.1-7)
For thirty-eight chapters we hear Job pleading his case with God:
“I would speak to the Almighty” he says, “to argue my case with God.” (13:3)
And in Job’s pain his prose degenerates into poetry (as indeed poetry has been described as prose with violence done to it) as he laments his inability to get an answer to life’s questions:
“Where is wisdom to be found and where is the place of understanding? Humanity does not know the way to it. It is not found in the land of the living … it cannot be gotten for gold!” (28:12-13,15)
Job rails, depressed and yearning for death:
“Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures” (3:20-21)
Job cries the cry of the human condition, without papering over the cracks in life with any glib clichés: And it’s that experience that I suspect we have all had, where the whole of creation seems to have gone into reverse - where instead of light appearing in the darkness, the light that we have been living in seems to be being increasingly eclipsed and enveloped by the darkness:
“When I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came” (30:265)
And so Job cries out to God, not so much for relief, let alone a reversal of fortune, but simply for some way of making sense of it all, such that he can see that his pain is not meaningless.
And then God finally replies - out of the whirlwind God replies - but it’s not to be the reply we were hoping for:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! …"