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Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible
Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Job: Hoping Against Hope

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Job: Hoping Against Hope
Thursday, July 1, 2021

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.

As an Israelite himself, the author considers whether what they have experienced in their corporate life might also be possible in individual life. Could there really be a way to survive after death, a place where God’s justice and love will be truly realized? In one passage at least, Job voices confident hope that there is:

I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end God will take his stand upon the earth. After this body has decayed, these eyes will look upon the Lord, and I will see God close to me—not someone else, but God! My heart trembles at the thought! (Job 19:25–27)

In this passage Job makes the gigantic leap of faith. He has walked with God this far. He knows he is still suffering. He has experienced life’s meaninglessness. Yet in the experience of God he has found meaning, he has touched on something Real, something that seems capable of going on forever. And so he believes in it, in that space where faith and hope are mixed together, resting in the wordless confidence of a felt promise. He trusts that this journey with God will continue even after death. Love of God and eternal life are beginning to become the same thing.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), 97, 100–101; and

“Genesis and Job: God, Man, Good, and Evil,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 4 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations answer questions asked and not asked. Often, after asking the Holy Spirit the message in Scripture, I get the answer from my reading the daily meditation. God has finally become more like that vision I had as a little boy. These writings have lifted the burden of the need to be quiet and conform. I am free to say I know what is true to me about who and what God is. Thank you for pulling me into a place of contentment in the discovery. I have never been this happy about my relationship with God. —Daniel D.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
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