The Beauty of Silence in the Book of Job: An Evaluative Essay


The old saying silence is golden seems not to coincide with the silence Job faced in the midst of his suffering. Since the problem of evil is a recurring human question, stories like that of Job will forever be worthy of retelling. Injustice seems to plague the human condition and when man cries out in the midst of torment, God’s silence is often uncomforting. The importance of Job’s story can be seen in the way a reader shares Job’s torment. Although most will never face the same dramatic events that Job faced, cries of lament are common among humanity. One identifies with Job as the unknown cause and solution for unjustified suffering bring increase to the torment. God’s absence from Job, and subsequent appearance in the conclusion, reveal man’s fear in trying to understand God’s ways. This fear comes from misguided philosophy which the events between Job and God prove to correct. It is in silence that man discovers God and thus discovers himself in relation with God and that is a beautiful thing indeed.

The theodicean problem within deuteronomistic theology is that reward and punishment are understood from a human worldview of God. God rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior. It is not surprising that this simplistically misguided philosophy permeates theological thinking even now. If God’s justice is black and white then there is no need for man to ponder further. Justice is granted with no room for diversion. Yet in the story of Job, a skew takes place in that a righteous man who does all things good toward God and man suffers evil. As Job’s torment worsens, God is silent to his cry for justice. If deuteronomistic theology is then the proper view of God, then Job’s suffering is worsened as it seems that he is guilty of some evil himself.

Fear within Job is evidenced in his laments from chapters three to thirty-one. One also sees that Job did not fully embrace deuteronomistic theology as his closing lament shows.

“For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty.

If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence,

if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much,

if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor,

and my heart has been secretly enticed,

and my mouth has kissed my hand,

this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I would have been false to God above.

— Job 31:23-28 (ESV)


The text clearly shows that Job, while not a perfectly sinless man, is nevertheless a righteous man who sees God as higher than the blessings he has poured out on Job. This passage shows, however, that Job’s integrity is much different than the perceived theological truths. Although Job is righteous, his words show that he understands his trust is not in his rewards of wealth. Rather his faith is in the God he did not know personally but hears of often.

Job’s lament expresses his terror of not hearing from God. Irony lies in the historical evidence of Job’s story as a folk tale dating prior to God’s self-revelation through the exodus narrative and subsequent Mosaic law. The law represented for the first time, in human history at that time, God’s personal revelation of himself and covenant relationship with a chosen people. Job’s story comes from a time when this had not occurred. God is silent. Yet man knows of God while not truly knowing God.

Job’s fear of God affects his understanding of God’s motivation to cause the evil and suffering. Although he knows that God is the cause, his theological understanding of God opposes the truths of his situation. One senses that perhaps Job is terrified of fully hearing and seeing God’s response to his lament in that further evil might still come. The text reveals Job’s divided torment as he wrestles with how to approach God in this matter.

“But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,

and many such things are in his mind.

Therefore I am terrified at his presence;

when I consider, I am in dread of him.

God has made my heart faint;

the Almighty has terrified me;

yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,

nor because thick darkness covers my face.”

 

—Job 23:13-17 (ESV)


The reader witnesses in these texts the transformation of a theology that was misguided as God’s personal revelation of himself in a fallen creation had not historically occurred at that point. Job is learning the truth of God’s justice through his torment. The rising conflict builds to a climax of revelation of God’s holiness.

Throughout the dialog chapters of Job three to thirty-one, Job is talking to God, but God is notably silent. Chapter ten begs the question of why God is silent to Job’s cries for truth. Job speaks to God as if God is not present. “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.” — Job 10:2 (ESV). Job is alone in this dialog. God is absent. His words fail to speak. Yet one senses that God is answering Job in that the silence causes Job to ask more questions. The masterfully guided discovery within Job’s own spirit is firmly in God’s controlling silence.

God is absent from the chapters of dialog between Job and his three friends. As Job debates with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the tension builds to God’s final purpose for Job in chapters thirty-eight to forty-two. As God speaks for the first time to Job, silence then shifts upon Job.

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:

‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?

I lay my hand on my mouth.

I have spoken once, and I will not answer;

twice, but I will proceed no further.”

— Job 40:3-5 (ESV)

As God speaks to Job in the closing chapters of the story, the reader begins to see the plan of God revealed masterly. As God reveals himself in the whirlwind (38:1) it is evident that God’s purpose in Job’s misery is to show his purposes are not always knowable in man’s understanding. Job learns through the silence and ongoing questioning of God’s motives that God is Creator and all that is falls under the one who is. The concluding chapters of Job show that God’s character of omniscience does not stop with Job’s silence. By allowing Job to confess repentance in chapter forty-two, God’s purpose for suffering in Job is partly seen. Repentance is evidence of humility as necessary for relationship with God. Silence is not repentance and God guides Job’s circumstances to bring this mindset to surface.

Fear resulting from misguided philosophy is proved fallible to Job. The Accuser’s attempt to distort God’s truth of himself is likewise thrown into confusion. The value of the Book of Job contends that out of the silence man experiences with God, he thus discovers himself in relation with God. Blind terror becomes reverent sight and that is a beautiful thing indeed.

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