The biblical book of Job poses paradoxes and disputes that confuse the ablest of scholars. A righteous man suffers total loss of possessions and is afflicted with a horrible disease. His friends and peers first sit silently and compassionately with him, then unload barrages of both trite folk wisdom and sophisticated philosophy that fail to resolve the suffering man’s dilemma or explain his plight. A younger man, Elihu, listens patiently, then contributes his own explanation. Job himself displays both valorous faith (“The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”) and anger (in summary, he wants an explanation for his situation from God). In the end, God rebukes the peers, ignores Elihu, and after giving Job a stiff taste of reality medicine, acknowledges his faith and humility under fire. He advises Job’s friends to request that Job pray for them. He restores Job’s losses.
After God administers the reality check with a brusque summary contrasting his knowledge and power with that of limited humanity, Job responds:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6 NRSV).
Job submits with humility. He repents of his challenge to God and acknowledges God’s power. He requests forgiveness (that is the meaning of the “dust and ashes”). He has experienced soul-shattering physical suffering; his wife urged him to curse God and die, yet Job pursued truth and justice, assured even when he challenged God that God was in control.