I’m sure you know someone who is going through a time of testing. Family life, the stress of relationships, or the end of one – life can be almost too much to bear sometimes. Many these days have dire employment or financial stresses looming over them. Sometimes life feels like a test. We thought we were done with tests after school ended, but alas….
Today’s readings include the beginning of the book of Job. The drama of Job’s extreme suffering has perplexed and amazed for centuries. Here is a blameless man, upright and respected, a God-fearing man who has turned from evil. And the sufferings he goes through are unbelievable. Living life is a test for Job.
We get to know a little about him today: He has seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and VERY many servants. OK, we get the point. He is very rich.
In a traditional motif, Satan is presented as God’s right hand man. (Instead, in the Bible, Satan is often presented as an instrument for God. Satan’s job from God is to test and tempt and to discover true intentions of people. He is the Accuser, and it indicates an office of some sort, as if Satan is in the imperial service of the Lord. (This stands in the face of the cartoon version many have as Satan with a pitchfork, and fire, and in charge of all things evil. It’s a fun little image – it’s just not biblical. If you are one who sees God in charge of Heaven and Satan is in charge of Hell, you may want to read your Bible a bit more and stop believing in the boogieman!)
It is obvious the Lord has blessed Job, and God wonders if he has been tested. “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him…. Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
The stage is set, and Satan goes out to test Job. The test is to see if he will curse the Almighty. In today’s story he loses his property, namely all the animals, and his children are killed.
If, at this point you are like me, you are wondering why God seems so mean. Job doesn’t even fall into that trap. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But really, doesn’t this seem a bit harsh? Just to play a game with someone’s life because you want to test him?
One must always remember this is Wisdom Literature. Its purpose is to instruct and help us in daily living. It is not meant to be a theological treatise on God’s fairness. It is when we are meant to wrestle with our own frailty, limits, and finitude.
Just as this passage alternates between scenes in heaven and scenes on earth, so we are called to meditate on the whole universe in its order. The questions it raises are much larger than just “What a bummer deal…is God a twerp?”
And so, as we travel through Job, I encourage us to focus on the larger questions the book raises. Does virtue depend on a universe that operates on principles of reward and punishment? Can “religious faith” survive in our world? Do we believe in God because of “reward and punishment”? Or for the right reasons?
Already I am impressed with Job. He is in great grief – shaves his head, tears his robe – his children are dead! And yet he still finds opportunity to bless the name of the Lord. I tell the confirmation kids this when we are talking about how to pray. I tell them if they are finding themselves without words to simply thank God for something, ask God for something, and say why. (That actually is a pretty simple but effective prayer right there!)
Sometimes I wish the same could be true for all of us. When we get in a rut, get stressed at work, struggle to balance and juggle our home life – how would things transform themselves if we all regularly took a step back and thanked God for something. And not just any old thing – but thanked God for some aspect of the current situation. “Lord, my children are testing my patience today and I want to kill them right about now, but I am thankful they have their health, and that we have each other.”
I wonder what would happen.