The author of the biblical book of Job wrestled with the mystery of evil. If we look at this book as a drama or play, we can easily see Job as the protagonist, God as the hero, and Satan as the villain. Job’s three friends keep the drama going as they look at all the traditional solutions to the problem of evil and find them wanting. In the end, God interrupts the conversation and gives the answer which leaves theologians and intellectuals at a loss for words to this day.
With Israel’s exile still fresh in mind, the biblical author confronts the mystery of suffering, pushes hard against it, and refuses to be satisfied with pious platitudes. He begins to suspect that there is something more. He has seen the old logic of quid pro quo breaking down, and wonders whether the answer can even come in this life. There is a longing for immortality in his soul. Job expresses this in chapter 14:
There is hope for a tree, that if it is cut down, it will start its life again. Though its roots are old and its stump decays, it can sprout new branches from the ground. But mortals die and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As water disappears into the air and into the earth, so mortals lie down and do not rise again (Job 14:7–12).
Job is hoping against hope, believing against everything he has been taught to believe. The author senses something more to life than what appears. As a nation, the Israelites have seen themselves defeated in exile, yet a remnant still survives and carries with it the hope of rebirth.
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Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, wisdom teacher, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
With thanks to the Center for Action and Contemplation, where this article originally appeared.