Once upon a time the devil sought an audience with the Lord, which the Lord granted for he knew the devil to be a man of wealth and taste—a taste for blood. A bit of a wild child but God put up with him because he was nice.
“Long time no see,” God said. “What have you been up to?”
“Same old same old: looking for trouble.”
“A leopard can’t change its spots. But you won’t find any trouble with my homeboy Job,” God said.
“Wanna bet? Why shouldn’t he be happy? Everything he possesses—land, money, livestock, servants, and a dysfunctional family—you gave to him. Let me have my way with him and I guarantee that he will curse you.”
“Go for it,” God said. “Just don’t kill him.”
“Trust me,” Satan said.
Instead he smote the house of Job and killed his family. His children were so drunk on wine they didn’t feel a thing. Next he whipped up a lightning storm to illuminate the hail that bludgeoned ever last head of cattle, sheep, oxen, and ostrich in Job’s fields. Forced to downsize Job laid off his servants because there was no more work to do. That only left Job with his wife, who, Jezebel that she was, taunted her husband, telling him, “Curse God—and die!”
Job shot back: “O, shut up, woman! The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” (Job 2:10, 1:21b)
Those were the last words of defense for the Lord that Job uttered for a long time.
This is my rendition of the opening scenes of the Book of Job, a great biblical novel. Divine and diabolical collusion spells big trouble for Job, whose name means “Where is God?” The greater question on the poor man’s mind was, “Why, God?”
For the Lord, who showed sympathy for the devil, endorsed Satan’s scheme to reduce the righteous man’s cosmos into chaos just to make a bet.
Sympathy for the devil, yes, but apparently none for poor ol’ Job. Not yet.
At first glance the story appears to be about patience during suffering. What the novel really is about is God’s involvement in creation. God is with us through thick and thin, white on rice, the way the seashore sticks to the sea. Whether you want him doesn’t matter: he wants us and there is nothing that we can do to make God stop offering his friendship, care, and protection.
This story is a masterpiece of biblical writing. The anonymous author weaves a striking tapestry of prose and poetry, and epic unrivaled in ancient literature, the breadth of the narrative a microcosm of scripture itself with lines of soaring verse that read like Shakespeare.
Despite Job’s trauma he never disrespects God though he does display a lot of hutzpah—he roils in self-pity, anger, and depression. Loving God yet hating him, Job, with “the patience of Job,” endures the night of the long knives, convinced of his righteousness.
In his wretchedness he cries aloud to heaven:
Is not life so dull and vapid so as to be quite meaningless? I have been condemned to months of misery. Would that I could fall asleep and never wake up, but you, O Lord, invade my dreams with phantoms. Even my death would not be peaceful. I would rather swing from the gallows than endure the daily trudge through fields of blood until you decide that I’ve had enough. Because of your plan for me I hate my life. I live every day hoping it will be my last and pray to die young. Will you not hear and grant that prayer? Is that too much to ask?
Job was brutally honest. Depression has a way of forcing the truth out of us. Human beings suffer because we are mortal. We feel bitterness, love, joy, hope, shame, and sorrow. Unlike Job, who lived circa 2,000 BC, we have the Messiah, a savior who shared our mortality. Before Christ, men and women held only a vague expectation of salvation. Job held out hope that one day God would relent.
“I know that my redeemer lives and that he will one day stand before me face to face on the earth” (Job 19:25).
There is great poetic irony in that statement, which we shall see later on in the story.
Job had three friends who pretended to console him but instead jeered and gloated. With friends like them who needed enemies? They, too, had sympathy for the devil. Job felt like a boxer against the ropes, one body blow after another and every time he swung back he failed to connect. Members of the rescue squad delivered one self-serving speech after another that made Job physically sick. Sicker.
“I will not shut up!” he countered. “I will continue to speak from the hell of my heart and complain of the bitterness in my soul.”
One of the missionaries, Billy, the youngest, brazen and impulsive, interrupted Job only to say little to support him for the kid spoke only to hear himself talk. Job blew him off. Age, guile and wisdom beat youth and a bad haircut.
Suddenly another storm kicked up, worse than the first that took away Job’s family and fortune. He prayed to see his vindicator face to face on the earth and now here he was.
It was the Lord.
Fed up with listening to the men bickering God addressed Job out of the storm, a common scriptural setting when he intervened with biblical characters. He reduced Job to silence and his buddies deserted him. Fair-weather friends will do that.
God put Job on the witness stand and began to interrogate him. “HEY! Who are YOU to obscure divine plans with words of ignorance?” Like a teacher God sprang a pop quiz on Job to enlighten his mind and to provide him with what he lacked: perspective.
“Where were YOU when I founded the earth?” God asked. “Who determined its size—do you know? Into what bases were its pedestals sunk and who laid the cornerstone while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the holy angels of God cheered me on?
“Was it you who let the wild ass live freely? For it scorns the traffic of the city and never hears the shouts of the driver or feels the lash of the whip.
“Can you draw the crocodile from the water with bait and tackle and put it on a leash for your daughter to lead it around as a pet?”
God’s rebuke was not meant to chastise Job so much as to illustrate the grandiosity and beauty of creation and to help Job remember the irreplaceable value of his life, that which he wanted to so cavalierly cast away.
Is it okay to question God? I recommend it highly. Our relationship with him is complex. Recovering from mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma and affliction can strengthen our faith, remind us of our need of the Divine. Better still is when we praise him for our blessings. Even when we mistrust God or feel angry he is still on our minds. To know him is to love him and every encounter can be an unforgettable experience.
God loathes nothing that he has created: human, flora, fauna, mineral. As his sons and daughters we are worthy of dignity and love, for “he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45).
Upon us all a little rain must fall. Some more than others but that we need to take up with God personally through prayer so that we, too, like Job may obtain greater perspective.
Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist wrote, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” How easily can we distract ourselves and avoid plunging into the heart of the matter. As human beings we tend to be like ducks: they appear to glide effortlessly across the water but beneath the surface they’re paddling away like hell.
And Job? Well, thus did he see Noah’s great rainbow, a sign of hope.
Ultimately his story is a comedy, not because it’s funny—it’s brutally tragic and thought-provoking—but because Job’s calamities are reversed. God restored his land, returned his fortune, and he begot more children.
Alas, like Henny Youngman he was still stuck with his wife; every silver lining has a touch of gray. What mattered most was that Job came away with a different point of view, of love, life, and his friendship with God.
And they all lived happily after.