Sound theology, as the book of Job illustrates, is indispensable for ministering to others. As we have seen, the counsel of Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar proved inadequate to explain the reasons for Job’s suffering. Their simplistic theology, which said that God’s righteousness means every instance of suffering is punitive discipline for a specific sin, could not account for Job’s travails. Job’s blameless, though imperfect, character meant that his defense of his innocence was sound and that his pain could not have been caused by a specific transgression (Job 31). As readers, of course, we have already had a confirmation of this, for we have been given a glimpse of the heavenly court wherein Job’s innocence has already been vindicated (Job 1–2). Moreover, this also shows that Elihu’s counsel was inadequate, for he likewise believed that suffering is always due to particular sins (Job 32–37).
While Job affirmed his personal innocence, his demands of the Lord reveal that in some measure he shared his friends’ poor theology. Job called God to answer him (Job 31:35), to justify Himself in allowing Job to suffer. This reflects Job’s implicit belief that suffering is always due to personal sin; he called God to answer because, on some level, he thought the Lord was not being true to His just character because He allowed the innocent to suffer.
In today’s passage, God finally speaks, correcting the theology of all the individuals in this book. The Lord’s speech fills four magnificent chapters in which He never actually gives an explanation to Job for his suffering. Instead, He appeals to His divine right of inscrutability and points out the limitations of human understanding. We were not there when He made the world, and even if we were, we could not have created the universe from nothing, nor could we have fenced in the sea, established the rising of the sun and the cycle of seasons, or provided food for the animals (Job 38). Our power and our wisdom are limited in that regard. In the successive chapters of His speech, the Lord proclaims His ordination of all that the wild creatures do as well as His taming of Behemoth and Leviathan, two beasts symbolic of the chaos that threatens to ruin the natural order (Job 39–41).
In sum, God’s reply to Job makes one simple point: while human beings may have questions about how the Lord rules His world, they have no justification for demanding answers from Him. He is the Creator, but we are the creatures. We do not know enough about creation to understand all of God’s ways, much less to call Him to justify Himself.