The poetic Old Testament Book of Job portrays God anthropomorphically as a personal and cognitive Being.
This ancient poem, from the Ketuvim section of the Hebrew Tanakh, provides a wonderfully poetic vision of a Creator of power and confidence in His best work—the good human being. The Book of Job also presents us with a vision of justice more complex than the concept of justice as proprietary order set forth in Plato’s Republic.
But while the anonymous poet of Job creates for us a Being Who is omnipotent, self-sufficient, and cognitive, the poem does not provide us with a complete understanding or appreciation of God’s plan for us individually or for humankind as a whole. At the end of the work, we are not even sure He has such a plan. As Old Testament scholar Robert Gordis notes in his study of Job, we must look elsewhere in the Bible for that:
Moreover, when God finally appears out of the whirlwind He does not assure Job of His protection and love for His suffering creature. For that theme we must look elsewhere in biblical and extra-biblical literature. Here it is the divine transcendence, the majesty and mystery of God, far removed from man and his concerns, that finds expression. – The Book of God and Man, pp. 14-15.
To a certain extent, the ending of the Book of Job might seem to contradict Gordis’s observation. God rewards Job’s courageous response to his trials with divine bestowals—whether they take place in this world or in the afterlife. Nevertheless, Gordis’s point is essentially correct; the vision of God that the work reveals is of a Being Who is aware, concerned, and fully in control, yet, at the same time, a Being Who remains mysteriously beyond any significant comprehension on our part. The poem seems to imply that God may have valid reasons for allowing us to suffer and that we can be assured that justice will finally be ours, but the tests themselves may often seem unwarranted and unjustified.
The Baha’i teachings stress the logic and justice of God’s actions, yet here too we can find in various passages of the Baha’i writings similar evidence of a Deity Who is infinitely beyond our complete or final understanding. For example, the Bab (the Herald and Forerunner of Baha’u’llah) states:
… from everlasting God hath been invested with the independent sovereignty of His exalted Being, and unto everlasting He will remain inaccessible in the transcendent majesty of His holy Essence. – Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 125.
Yet other passages from the Baha’i teachings make it clear that while the “holy Essence” of God is inaccessible to the comprehension of man, His qualities, assistance, and modus operandi are readily apparent and comprehensible:
In fairness to the poet-author of Job, this magnificent poem unifies around a single theme—maintaining acquiescence, patience, and faith in the midst of tribulation even while knowledge of the logic or benefit of our trials may be withheld from us. It does not seem to be intended by its author to be a comprehensive theological treatise. Nevertheless, after we finish the work, we are left without any satisfying appreciation of God’s justice in our lives or in the evolution of human civilization in God’s creation.
We do come away with insight into how suffering can induce growth, even in those who are basically upright. This is no mean accomplishment. Like Job we may come to reflect on the inscrutable majesty of God’s power. But we too are left to accept divine justice as a mystery concealed from our understanding. It is appropriate, we are left to infer, that we be tested so that we may progress. But there is no sense in the Book of Job of a rational explanation for, or a systematic approach to, the purpose of physical reality in our lives.
However, we need to allude to one other vindication of what the poem does accomplish. As the Baha’i writings note, these ancient verses are steeped in symbolic and allegorical significance. Baha’u’llah wrote that the references in these ancient scriptures to a physical heaven and hell, as well as to a literal Satan or Devil, are all symbolic in nature, and yet no less valuable because they are poetic allusions.
In this context, we should note that the Baha’i writings explain the allusion to Satan or Satanic forces as symbolically representing the ego, the insistent self that would foil our attempt to become spiritual, selfless, kind, benevolent, and submissive before the authority of God and His laws about morality. Consequently, the testing of Job could well be explained as the symbolic portrayal of an internal war in the character of Job between his own ego (Satan) and his innermost convictions (the character of God).
With such a symbolic or allegorical take on the poem, the specific torments or temptations can themselves be viewed as having symbolic meanings. His wife, as with the Adamic myth, could represent some faculty of Job’s soul—his reflective or spiritual self that cries out for some logical explanation for his suffering. Likewise, the tempting by his friends to believe that he should feel guilt about some concealed sin might be Job’s temptation to accede to the common view of suffering—that it is somehow merited, that suffering is a punishment for unbelief or moral wavering.
If we approach the work in this manner, the victory of Job is not merely one of endurance; it is a triumph of his spiritual self over his ego, a victory symbolized by his reunion with all he thought he had lost. In effect, the reunion is an internal unity or harmony among all Job’s faculties—his reason, his spiritual sense of self, and his relationship to physical reality.