During his suffering, Job feels that God is both too distant to reach and much too close for comfort. His sufferings make him feel like God is relentlessly oppressing him—looming so close that Job begs God to look away from him long enough to let Job breathe. And yet, at the same time, God seems to “hide his face” from Job (to feel totally absent) and to elude Job’s searching, preventing Job from pleading his innocence to God. When, near the end of the book, God finally speaks, he thunders “out of the whirlwind,” asking Job if he understands the kinds of things God knows—like how the earth was made—or can do the kinds of things God does, like create fearsome creatures or send thunder and lightning on the earth. God’s questions suggest that he is both intimately close to his creation and unimaginably far beyond it. Through God’s scathing interrogation of Job, the book implies that rather than trying to grasp the mystery of God (arrogantly seeking to put themselves on the same plane as God), people should humbly submit to God and worship him instead.
While suffering, Job thinks God seems both too close and too far away. In the midst of his suffering, Job laments that God doesn’t seem to leave him alone—in fact, as God oppresses Job daily, it’s like God won’t look away long enough to let Job “swallow [his] spittle,” an image of a relentlessly looming, intimidating presence. Even as Job begs God to “withdraw his hand” and stop frightening him, he also accuses God of hiding his face and refusing to reply to Job’s questions. God only seems to reveal himself to Job in terrifying ways, and he remains aloof from Job’s pleadings. There’s a basic asymmetry between Job and God: no matter where Job looks, he can’t seem to find God, and yet he’s aware that God constantly sees and judges him—he can’t hide from God. Overall, it seems like Job wants God to be accessible and understandable on Job’s own terms.
When God finally responds to Job, he shows that, in fact, he is both incredibly close to his creation and infinitely beyond creation. God speaks “out of the whirlwind,” an image that suggests that God is right within his creation, and yet he’s mysteriously distinct from it, too—his voice can be heard, but he can’t be physically seen. This suggests that God is physically close, but it doesn’t mean he’s predictable or reducible to human understanding. The bulk of God’s speech consists of precise and intimate details of creation—like the measurement of the earth’s dimensions or the depth of the sea—and he asks Job if Job can “bind the chains” of the constellations or if he knows when mountain goats give birth to their young. God also gives poetic descriptions of two mysterious, mythic creatures (Behemoth and Leviathan) which are monstrous in strength, and yet they’re like tame pets for God. This long meditation on creation shows that God is both closely involved with overseeing his creation and, at the same time, is powerful beyond anything human beings can understand.
God’s response shows that, while he does pay attention to his creation, and is even present in its midst, he is far too great for his creatures to understand, and the appropriate response to this mystery is not protest, but worship. In a way, God’s speech confirms Job’s complaints about him—God is both alarmingly close and untouchably distant. But God’s point is that this shouldn’t be grounds for complaint, but instead should compel Job to worship him—after all, if God can be trusted with the vast and detailed universe, can’t Job trust him with his own life, too? But doing so requires Job to accept that God’s nature and ways are a mystery Job can never fully grasp. Accordingly, Job admits that he’s been talking about things he doesn’t understand—things “too wonderful” for him—and he humbly repents of his arrogance. With his questions, Job essentially tried to pry into God’s mysteries. Now he understands that this will never bring him to full understanding, but now that he’s been reacquainted with the mystery of God, his relationship with God is restored to the way it should be—he’s a humble creature worshiping his creator.
The Mystery of God ThemeTracker
The Mystery of God Quotes in Book of Job
The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvelous things without number.
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.
Only grant two things to me,
then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
and do not let dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Why do you hide your face,
and count me as your enemy?
Will you frighten a windblown leaf
and pursue dry chaff?
If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
By his power he stilled the Sea;
by his understanding he struck down Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways;
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth,
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight,
and apportioned out the waters by measure;
then he saw [wisdom] and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to humankind,
‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?
Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”