*** DEBUG END ***

Faith has doubt built into it

11 April 2014

Anthony Phillips on the paradox contained in the Book of Job

The Book of Job: A biography
Mark Larrimore
Princeton University Press £16.95
Church Times Bookshop £15.25 (Use code CT127 )

THIS beautifully written and presented book should be compulsory reading for anyone concerned with the irrationality of life, atheist and believer alike; for, just as unjust suffering challenges the believer, so does his faith amid such suffering challenge the atheist.

There is no more profound examination of the issue of theodicy than the book of Job.

Larrimore sets out to describe the reception of the book of Job from biblical times to the modern era. For successive generations, the book has questioned both the place of man in the created order and the nature of the God with whom he (if he chooses) has to deal - though, as Larrimore points out, it is only with the rise of modernity that man has had that choice. Before then, it was not whether or not to live with God, but how.

In five chapters, the author examines the ancient interpreters; the use by medievalists of Job in philosophical discourse; the place of Job outside the text; the problem of theodicy; and the impact of historical critical biblical study on the interpretation of the text.

In his conclusion, Larrimore highlights the contemporary vitality of Joban interpretation, particularly for Jewish writers in light of the Shoah.

So, among a large cast, the author refers to the apocryphal Testament of Job, the Talmud, St Gregory the Great, Maimonides, St Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Christian liturgies, Pope, Kant, Chesterton, Blake, Elie Wiesel, and Margarete Susman.

The paradox of Job is God's charge against him for speaking without knowledge, yet vindicating him for having spoken rightly -which makes nonsense, of course, of the spurious claim that Job's restoration rested on his recantation, however one translates those difficult verses in the epilogue.

Nowhere does Larrimore make reference to the Eden narrative. Yet there - perhaps centuries before Job was written - the parameter of what it meant to be human is spelt out in the forbidden fruit. Man can enjoy neither immortality nor the knowledge of good and evil - that is the kind of knowledge which God alone possesses, through being outside his creation.

While man is free to explore that creation to establish its order, he must yet die in ignorance of all that lies beyond it, which includes the origin of evil. Our faith must, by the very nature of our creation, have within it an agnostic component.

Yet, as Job illustrates, man must ever challenge the facile answers of the friends improperly seeking to defend their God. Indeed, it is only by his challenge to God that Job's faith is made real.

This is a lesson that the Church needs to take on board, as its weekly mouthings become increasingly irrelevant to "man come of age". Job deserves to be venerated as a saint, as Larrimore's superb biography of his book confirms.

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of the King's School, Canterbury.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)