Poor Job, he’s just like me, God had it in for him too! Have you heard that or maybe thought that? Job is the one who gets all the credit for being the man unjustly punished by God. When I hear people talk about Job that’s the only thing that I ever hear! What a shortsighted error! Sometimes I think we are just too desperate to “explain away” our misfortunes instead of looking at them more closely. Have you ever read the whole Book of Job and looked at it in greater detail? This is one of the richest books of the Bible and provides us with a concrete model of what it is like to live a viable and vibrant spiritual life.
Lets take a closer look at the Book of Job as well as the man Job himself. Job was an oriental chieftain and fabulously wealthy. He had seven sons and three daughters who likewise shared in his prosperity. He was not Jewish, a chosen one, but his faith, none the less, was a source of pride for the Very God himself. When Satan appears before God, fresh from his patrols of the earth, God actually asks him“Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil” (Job 1:8 NAB). This obviously is a source of aggravation for the devil and he taunts God and supposes that the only reason Job is good is because of the benefits that God has given him. So they strike a bargain, the devil intent on proving God a fool. Satan may tempt Job in any way he wishes but he may not lay his hands on him. So we see that Job is not cursed of God but well beloved by him and even though he does not know it he will be the instrument that tangibly proves God’s generosity and love. As some say, most things are not what they appear to be.
The devil takes family, wealth and health from Job. But perhaps the worst thing that happens to him is the people close to him start to make assumptions. His wife complains that he must be guilty of something and that he should “curse God and die”. His friends weep at his condition and can’t even speak to him because they are so shocked at his appearance. But Job does not waiver in his innocence and ponders “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?”(Job 2:10 NAB) He simply refuses to speak ill of God. The book continues as various other friends dialog with Job, begging him to repent and admit his wrong doing. Each time Job’s reply is a window into his mind and how he regards God. Each of his replies is beautifully poetic and contains not one iota of complaint. Job offers nine separate replies to his critical friends who insist that he should just admit guilt and make retribution to the Lord.
Job concludes with a tenth “Summary of His Cause”. He never waivers, he did nothing wrong, but contemplates much regarding the situation he is in now compared to what he used to have: “Oh that I were as in the months past! as in the days when God watched over me, While he kept his lamp shining above my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; As I was in my flourishing days, when God sheltered my tent (Job 29: 2-3 NAB).” His refusal to be bitter and blaming of the Lord is simply extraordinary. However, he clearly acknowledges that something has changed and that his relationship with God is not the same as it used to be and he has no idea why. At no time does he vow to cut off communications with God or refuse to recognize that God is God, powerful, generous and maker of the universe. But in his final summary, he does insist that God make clear to him what is the cause of his distress: “Oh, that I had one to hear my case and that my accuser would write out his indictment. Surely I should wear it on my shoulder or put it on me like a diadem;… this is my final plea; let the Almighty answer me(Job 31: 35-37 NAB)!” He does not ask for a solution but states that knowing what he did would be good enough for him and maybe even a source of pride.
Remember that Job was most beloved by God. Job’s fervent request to hear from “his accuser” is answered! God enters into an amazing dialog with Job. God’s immediate address to Job lays out the fact that God Himself knows things and has experienced things that it is impossible for any human to experience. God points out the extraordinary experiences that are his alone, as well as pivotal to the existence of our very world.
He points out that there is a “bigger existence” a divine plan or order of which is really impossible for one human to comprehend although we are still part of it. He asks Job: “Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance(38:2)”? And in a rather funny line he tells Job “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you tell me the answers (38:3)!” This is similar to a modern equivalent that would go something like this: Hang on to your pants and get ready to back up the statements you’ve been so sassy about making, big shot! [Personal interpretation]
God proceeds and offers a series of breath taking questions: “Were you there when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have an understanding. Who determined its size; do you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? ….And who shut within doors the sea when it burst forth from the womb. When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door. …Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place. … Have you entered into the sources of the sea or walked about in the depths of the abyss? … Tell me, if you know all: Which is the way to the dwelling place of light, and where is the abode of darkness. Out of whose womb comes the ice and who gives the hoarfrost its birth in the skies, … Who puts wisdom in the heart…. (Job 38: 4-36 NAB)?” Job is literally struck speechless during this session. Who wouldn’t be? God continues: “Will we have arguing with the Almighty by the critic? Let him who would correct God give answer (40:2).” Job then admits that he has questioned God once and then twice but no more, there is no human answer for the questions that are being asked, no matter how smart you are! But God persists, noting that since Job has been asking all the questions, which in reciprocity, God also has a right to question Job; “Would you refuse to acknowledge my right? Would you condemn me that you may be justified (40: 8-9)?” More unbelievable questions follow: “Have you an arm like God, or can you thunder with a voice like his? … Can you lead about Leviathan [the crocodile] with a hook or curb his tongue with a bit… can you play with him as a bird? Can you put him in leash for your maidens (40:9-29)”? Job finally relents and admits “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand.” He apologizes and assumes the action of mourning, covering himself with dust and ashes.
At this point in the narrative God turns to Job’s “friends” who approached Job with their wisdom about why he should just admit guilt and appease God. He instructs them to go to Job and make sacrifice for their groundless accusations. If they can get Job to pray for them they will not be severely punished! He does, God accepts Jobs prayers and then restores all that he has lost in a double portion.
As you can see, the story of Job is much more than a narrative about how God punishes. As a matter of fact the story of Job is not about punishment at all. The story of Job is about relationship with God. By no choice of his own Job became a living example, to all, of what it is like to love God unconditionally. Nothing that happened to Job could induce him to curse or abandon God. Not even his good friends who railed at him to just “give up” and admit his guilt. Job knew that he didn’t do anything wrong and that he respected and loved God. These two things are consistent throughout the narrative. Job did, however question the logic of the whole thing. Amazingly, God is so moved by Job’s faith that instead of zapping him with a lightening bolt or simply striking him dead he actually dialogs with him! Isn’t this the typical behavior of a frustrated parent? When a child has committed an act of particularly bad judgment, all the while questioning the parent’s rules or logic, the parent resists the temptation to simply “ground the kid until the age of 30 and be done with it”. A loving parent knows that a discussion will bear more fruit. So God discusses.
Job listens and finally admits that maybe his questioning came from a place that lacked understanding. But more than the final discussion and restoration, Job’s demeanor during the entire ordeal is amazing. His attitude toward the God of the Universe is at all times “open”.
He never turns his back or opts for other Gods. He does not use any of his resources to seek an “alternative solution”. He addresses and aims his comments and complaints at God the entire time. He does not “look to his own understanding” to solve his dilemma. He questions God and only God with honesty, albeit tinged with his frustration. Job realizes that whatever is happening, no one or nothing else in the universe can “fix it”. He is not distracted by the incredibly strong presence of people around him who have influence. He knows, in his being, that God is the provider and the rescuer no matter what is going on or how much he doesn’t understand what is occurring. These qualities, in essence, are the demeanor of a child who knows that the parent is with them no matter how crazy things get. No wonder that Job is so favored by God that the Father proudly singles him out in the beginning of the narrative!
So, Job really is my hero in more ways than one. I want that relationship where my mind and heart never depart from the concept that God is God and he is present no matter what. I want that ability to dialog with God and have Him literally dialog back with me. I want Job’s faith even when all around me is falling apart. I want God to point to me and say, have you noticed my servant Kathryn? The book of Job is not a study in punishment; it’s a study of how to behave when you are the apple of your Father’s eye and how that changes you!