Although there is a widespread belief that the Book of Job presents a religious hero who possesses the virtue of patience in the highest degree, or who faces pain without questioning God’s justice, that is not the author’s intention. On the contrary, this Old Testament text is not primarily intended as words of comfort, nor does it bring definitive answers to the profound questions concerning the reality of suffering that have constantly challenged human beings in every age and place.
In fact, over the course of its 42 chapters we become progressively and inexorably aware that the author’s position regarding the nature of suffering is defined in blunt terms. For him, suffering cannot be understood solely on an intellectual level; indeed, it is not possible to make ultimate sense of it. In other words, human beings suffer a deep and inherent limitation as to their ability to understand and make sense of the suffering they experience themselves or see in others. And “yet we struggle to accept that in many cases we will never know the real reason for our suffering.”
This absence of meaning and understanding is not only mirrored by the content of the Book of Job, but is based on and reinforced by its formal elements. For example, on a linguistic level, the Hebrew used in the poetic section of the text (chapters 3-41) is significantly complex and, because of the large number of words that do not appear in any other biblical text (145 out of the approximately 1,300 instances of hapax legomena in the entire Bible), is very difficult to interpret.