In the course of final chapters of the Book of Job, when God has appeared and speaks to Job, there is an interesting passage in Chapter 40 in which God asks Job if he thinks he is up to the role of being divine creator and ruler, dispenser of wisdom and justice …. In other words, if he thinks he is capable of running the universe according to his limited understanding of order, justice, and balance. God challenges Job: Adorn yourself with grandeur and majesty, and clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Let loose the fury of your wrath; look at everyone who is proud and bring them down. Look at everyone who is proud, and humble them. Tear down the wicked in their place, bury them in the dust together (Job 40:10-13)

God invites Job to consider that he doesn’t know what he’s asking for when he demands that God uses the strict principle of retribution to reward every good deed and punish every bad one. In theory it sounds right, but in execution, it would create a universe where no human would ever have a chance for trial and error or, more importantly, for growth and change.

This leads to God’s final response. He introduces Job to two fantastic creatures, one called “behemoth” (Job 40:15), and the other “Leviathan” (Job 41:1). After the long description in Job 39 about the known animals of the world, Behemoth is described as pretty fantastical, but only serves as a setup for Leviathan.

God is pretty proud of Leviathan who is described at great lengths in Chapter 41. We know from the many other biblical and ancient near eastern texts that Leviathan was a common figure in the people’s imaginations of that day. It lived in the deep oceans, leaving a huge wake of churning froth (Job 41:31-32)  Its skin was impenetrable to human weapons (Job 41:15-17), and it breathed fire (Job 41:18-20). Leviathan was a creature living within the boundaries of the real and mythical for ancient people. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Babylonian literature, Leviathan is a mythical symbol of violence and chaos in God’s world (see Ps 74:14  and Isa 27:1). This concept certainly emerged from the sporadic contact ancient sailors had with immense, dangerous ocean creatures that were little-known and greatly feared. The biblical authors, including the author of Job, had done deep theological reflection on the existence of such creatures in God’s world. Leviathan poses no threat to God. All of this background helps us understand God’s point in bringing up Leviathan.

God asks Job if he is able to pull in Leviathan with a fishing pole, or take it home as a pet (Job 41:1-7). God counsels Job to do no such thing because Leviathan is the kind of animal that will rip off your arm without a second thought (Job 41:8). And, notice that Leviathan is not evil or bad. Nowhere in this speech is Leviathan called wicked or unfortunate or described as a sad consequence of sin or the Fall (Gen 3). Just the opposite, Leviathan is beloved by God, a wonderful creature of great power and might. God is proud of this animal, and apparently, thinks it belongs in this larger world.

Here is a creature that will ruin your life if you happen upon it, but God loves it. Why does God even bring this up at all? Apparently, God’s world is ordered enough for the human project to flourish, but chaos has not been eradicated entirely from God’s world. The tohu-va-vohu (Hebrew for “formless and void” in Gen 1:2), the wilderness wasteland of Genesis, wasn’t eliminated when God made the world. Rather, a space for order was carved out and given over to humans who were commissioned to spread that divine order further out. Clearly a work in progress.

Leviathan is out there, raw and dangerous, and you just might encounter it. It has the power to wreak havoc on your life, but what you cannot conclude from a run-in with Leviathan is that God is punishing you, or that this creature is evil. Neither is the case. You just bumped into Leviathan, and it unleashed chaos, tooth, and claw into your life.

God’s answer to Job does not explain why righteous people suffer, because the cosmos is not designed to prevent righteous people from suffering. Sometimes terrible things happen for no reason discernible to any human. The point is that God’s world is very good, but it’s not perfect, or always safe. It has order and beauty, but it’s also wild and sometimes dangerous, like Leviathan.

So back to the big question of Job’s or anyone’s suffering: why is there suffering in the world? Whether from earthquakes, or wild animals, or from one another? God doesn’t explain why. He says we live in an incredibly complex, amazing world that at this stage at least, is not designed to prevent suffering. But it is designed to give us a chance for trial and error or, more importantly, for growth and change.

So, the book doesn’t unlock the puzzle of why bad things happen to good people. Rather, it does invite us to trust God’s wisdom when we encounter suffering rather than trying to figure out the “reasons” for it. When we search for reasons, we tend to either simplify God like Job’s friends or, like Job, accuse God based on limited evidence. The book invites us to honestly bring our pain and grief to God and to trust that he cares as deeply for us as he does Leviathan.

Adapted from a blog by Tim Mackie

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