Job, 1880, by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922)
Job was a good man, and as the story told in the Old Testament book of Job begins, it would seem that his goodness was well rewarded. He was not only a good man, but he was a wealthy man; ‘the greatest man in the East,’ says chapter one. He had huge flocks, dozens of servants, good health, and a large and happy family. That is how the story begins.
Then the scene shifts from earth and into heaven, into the very presence of the Almighty God himself, where Satan stops in for a little visit. God asks Satan, “What have you been doing?” Satan says he has been out and about, roaming to and fro on the earth. God asks Satan if he has seen Job, that good and righteous man with whom God is obviously very pleased. “Yes,” says Satan, “I have seen him.” But Satan was not as impressed with Job’s goodness, and said to God sarcastically, “Why shouldn’t Job be good and worship God? You have given him everything and blessed him in every way. Take it all away,” challenges Satan, “and Job will curse you to your face.”
“All right,” says God, accepting the challenge to put Job to the test, “Go ahead and do what you want to his fortunes, but do not harm Job.” Immediately, the scene shifts back to earth, where Job is hit with one catastrophe after another. His flocks are stolen or destroyed, his servants are killed and scattered, and all ten of his children are killed. Yet, incredibly, Job remains faithful and says, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Then the scene shifts back to heaven again. The conversation between God and Satan is repeated, with God pointing out Job’s goodness and continued faithfulness. Not yet ready to concede defeat, Satan points out the fact that Job himself was spared any physical suffering. So God agrees to continue the test. This time God allows Satan to harm Job physically, with the only condition being that he must stop short of killing him.
Once more, the story moves back to earth where Job is afflicted with a most painful skin disease, putting him in such pain and misery that before long he is soon wishing he was dead. But he remains faithful. His wife has had enough and encourages Job to give up. “Curse God and die,” she says. But Job will not hear of it, saying, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” He then goes outside of the city to bear his troubles alone, and there he sits in silent misery. All of this takes place in the first two chapters of Job. There are forty more chapters to go.
Thirty-five of these remaining forty chapters are made up of a conversation between Job and some friends who come to be with him. The friends first sit in silence with Job. When the conversation begins, it centers on the question of why Job must endure so much suffering.
Even though all the participants have the same theology and the same understanding of God, they disagree with great emotion and powerful words. They agree that God is just, and that the way God deals with us is to reward goodness and to punish wickedness; always, and with mathematical precision. Therefore, if things are going well for someone, they must be living a good and obedient life. And, by the same rule, if things are going badly for you, that means you have been a bad boy or girl. That is how the world works.
With that belief firmly in place, the friends view of Job’s situation is that Job must have really done something terrible because he is really getting clobbered. Therefore, they do all they can to get Job to admit to his sins and repent, so that God can forgive him and heal him. (continued…)
Job 1:8-12 — The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan replied. “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Job 1:20-22 — (After all the disasters came upon his household and property…) At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Job 2:9-10 — (After Job himself is stricken…) His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
My dear Lord, I pray for the grace to meet suffering well when it comes upon me. Let me bear pain, reproach, disappointment, slander, anxiety, and suspense as you would want me to, O Jesus, and as you have taught me by your own suffering. Amen.
–J. H. Newman (1801-1890)