It is typical that the most powerful and even beautiful religious poetry should also be the most difficult to deal with. After nearly forty chapters of hearing how bad Job has it, and how much he would like to speak with God about the undeserved suffering he had subjected to, when God finally does speak we see that the question of Why People Suffer has no answer at all.
Between the skeptic who condemns even the belief in a God that “allows” any of the atrocities we can think of, and the fundamentalist who is certain that suffering can only ever be God’s just response to human action—between the two is the mystery in the middle. And it is to remain a mystery.
Here is Job 38:1-41:26, in the JPS translation:
1Then the Lord replied to Job out of the tempest and said:
2Who is this who darkens counsel,
Speaking without knowledge?
3Gird your loins like a man;
I will ask and you will inform Me.
4Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.
5Do you know who fixed its dimensions
Or who measured it with a line?
6Onto what were its bases sunk?
Who set its cornerstone
7When the morning stars sang together
And all the divine beings shouted for joy?
8Who closed the sea behind doors
When it gushed forth out of the womb,
9When I clothed it in clouds,
Swaddled it in dense clouds,
10When I made breakers My limit for it,
And set up its bar and doors,
11And said, “You may come so far and no farther;
Here your surging waves will stop”?
12Have you ever commanded the day to break,
Assigned the dawn its place,
13So that it seizes the corners of the earth
And shakes the wicked out of it?
14It changes like clay under the seal
Till [its hues] are fixed like those of a garment.
15Their light is withheld from the wicked,
And the upraised arm is broken.
16Have you penetrated to the sources of the sea,
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been disclosed to you?
Have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18Have you surveyed the expanses of the earth?
If you know of these—tell Me.
19Which path leads to where light dwells,
And where is the place of darkness,
20That you may take it to its domain
And know the way to its home?
21Surely you know, for you were born then,
And the number of your years is many!
22Have you penetrated the vaults of snow,
Seen the vaults of hail,
23Which I have put aside for a time of adversity,
For a day of war and battle?
24By what path is the west wind dispersed,
The east wind scattered over the earth?
25Who cut a channel for the torrents
And a path for the thunderstorms,
26To rain down on uninhabited land,
On the wilderness where no man is,
27To saturate the desolate wasteland,
And make the crop of grass sprout forth?
28Does the rain have a father?
Who begot the dewdrops?
29From whose belly came forth the ice?
Who gave birth to the frost of heaven?
30Water congeals like stone,
And the surface of the deep compacts.
31Can you tie cords to Pleiades
Or undo the reins of Orion?
32Can you lead out Mazzaroth in its season,
Conduct the Bear with her sons?
33Do you know the laws of heaven
Or impose its authority on earth?
34Can you send up an order to the clouds
For an abundance of water to cover you?
35Can you dispatch the lightning on a mission
And have it answer you, “I am ready”?
36Who put wisdom in the hidden parts?
Who gave understanding to the mind?
37Who is wise enough to give an account of the heavens?
Who can tilt the bottles of the sky,
38Whereupon the earth melts into a mass,
And its clods stick together.
39Can you hunt prey for the lion,
And satisfy the appetite of the king of beasts?
40They crouch in their dens,
Lie in ambush in their lairs.
41Who provides food for the raven
When his young cry out to God
And wander about without food?
1Do you know the season when the mountain goats give birth?
Can you mark the time when the hinds calve?
2Can you count the months they must complete?
Do you know the season they give birth,
3When they couch to bring forth their offspring,
To deliver their young?
4Their young are healthy; they grow up in the open;
They leave and return no more.
5Who sets the wild ass free?
Who loosens the bonds of the onager,
6Whose home I have made the wilderness,
The salt land his dwelling-place?
7He scoffs at the tumult of the city,
Does not hear the shouts of the driver.
8He roams the hills for his pasture;
He searches for any green thing.
9Would the wild ox agree to serve you?
Would he spend the night at your crib?
10Can you hold the wild ox by ropes to the furrow?
Would he plow up the valleys behind you?
11Would you rely on his great strength
And leave your toil to him?
12Would you trust him to bring in the seed
And gather it in from your threshing floor?
13The wing of the ostrich beats joyously;
Are her pinions and plumage like the stork’s?
14She leaves her eggs on the ground,
Letting them warm in the dirt,
15Forgetting they may be crushed underfoot,
Or trampled by a wild beast.
16Her young are cruelly abandoned as if they were not hers;
Her labor is in vain for lack of concern.
17For God deprived her of wisdom,
Gave her no share of understanding,
18Else she would soar on high,
Scoffing at the horse and its rider.
19Do you give the horse his strength?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
20Do you make him quiver like locusts,
His majestic snorting reading] terror?
21He paws with force, he runs with vigor,
Charging into battle.
22He scoffs at fear; he cannot be frightened;
He does not recoil from the sword.
23A quiverful of arrows whizzes by him,
And the flashing spear and the javelin.
24Trembling with excitement, he swallows the land;
He does not turn aside at the blast of the trumpet.
25As the trumpet sounds, he says, “Aha!”
From afar he smells the battle,
The roaring and shouting of the officers.
26Is it by your wisdom that the hawk grows pinions,
Spreads his wings to the south?
27Does the eagle soar at your command,
Building his nest high,
28Dwelling in the rock,
Lodging upon the fastness of a jutting rock?
29From there he spies out his food;
From afar his eyes see it.
30His young gulp blood;
Where the slain are, there is he.
1The Lord said in reply to Job.
2Shall one who should be disciplined complain against Shaddai?
He who arraigns God must respond.
3Job said in reply to the Lord:
4See, I am of small worth; what can I answer You?
I clap my hand to my mouth.
5I have spoken once, and will not reply;
Twice, and will do so no more.
6Then the Lord replied to Job out of the tempest and said:
7Gird your loins like a man;
I will ask, and you will inform Me.
8Would you impugn My justice?
Would you condemn Me that you may be right?
9Have you an arm like God’s?
Can you thunder with a voice like His?
10Deck yourself now with grandeur and eminence;
Clothe yourself in glory and majesty.
11Scatter wide your raging anger;
See every proud man and bring him low.
12See every proud man and humble him,
And bring them down where they stand.
13Bury them all in the earth;
Hide their faces in obscurity.
14Then even I would praise you
For the triumph your right hand won you.
15Take now behemoth, whom I made as I did you;
He eats grass, like the cattle.
16His strength is in his loins,
His might in the muscles of his belly.
17He makes his tail stand up like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18His bones are like tubes of bronze,
His limbs like iron rods.
19He is the first of God’s works;
Only his Maker can draw the sword against him.
20The mountains yield him produce,
Where all the beasts of the field play.
21He lies down beneath the lotuses,
In the cover of the swamp reeds.
22The lotuses embower him with shade;
The willows of the brook surround him.
23He can restrain the river from its rushing;
He is confident the stream will gush at his command.
24Can he be taken by his eyes?
Can his nose be pierced by hooks?
25Can you draw out Leviathan by a fishhook?
Can you press down his tongue by a rope?
26Can you put a ring through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a barb?
27Will he plead with you at length?
Will he speak soft words to you?
28Will he make an agreement with you
To be taken as your lifelong slave?
29Will you play with him like a bird,
And tie him down for your girls?
30Shall traders traffic in him?
Will he be divided up among merchants?
31Can you fill his skin with darts
Or his head with fish-spears?
32Lay a hand on him,
And you will never think of battle again.
1See, any hope [of capturing] him must be disappointed;
One is prostrated by the very sight of him.
2There is no one so fierce as to rouse him;
Who then can stand up to Me?
3Whoever confronts Me I will requite,
For everything under the heavens is Mine.
4I will not be silent concerning him
Or the praise of his martial exploits.
5Who can uncover his outer garment?
Who can penetrate the folds of his jowls?
6Who can pry open the doors of his face?
His bared teeth strike terror.
7His protective scales are his pride,
Locked with a binding seal.
8One scale touches the other;
Not even a breath can enter between them.
9Each clings to each;
They are interlocked so they cannot be parted.
10His sneezings flash lightning,
And his eyes are like the glimmerings of dawn.
11Firebrands stream from his mouth;
Fiery sparks escape.
12Out of his nostrils comes smoke
As from a steaming, boiling cauldron.
13His breath ignites coals;
Flames blaze from his mouth.
14Strength resides in his neck;
Power leaps before him.
15The layers of his flesh stick together;
He is as though cast hard; he does not totter.
16His heart is cast hard as a stone,
Hard as the nether millstone.
17Divine beings are in dread as he rears up;
As he crashes down, they cringe.
18No sword that overtakes him can prevail,
Nor spear, nor missile, nor lance.
19He regards iron as straw,
Bronze, as rotted wood.
20No arrow can put him to flight;
Slingstones turn into stubble for him.
21Clubs are regarded as stubble;
He scoffs at the quivering javelin.
22His underpart is jagged shards;
It spreads a threshing-sledge on the mud.
23He makes the depths seethe like a cauldron;
He makes the sea [boil] like an ointment-pot.
24His wake is a luminous path;
He makes the deep seem white-haired.
25There is no one on land who can dominate him,
Made as he is without fear.
26He sees all that is haughty;
He is king over all proud beasts.